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Birdwatchers can take part in the 25th annual Project FeederWatch now through March 1.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology leads the effort, which recruits citizen scientists to take field observations of the birds they see and when they see them.

The information is reported online from across North America. More than 50,000 people have participated in FeederWatch. New participants are welcome to join at any time.

Professionals use the information to track bird movements and populations. By comparing a rich collection of data from over the years, scientists can discern changes. Some might signal trouble like loss of habitat. Others might be good signs.

The lab says the project has revealed "surprises and mysteries" since it began in 1987. For example, the populations of some birds are expanding their regions northward, probably due to global climate change and habitat changes. They include the Northern cardinal and red-bellied woodpecker.

Others like the once-familiar winter feeder, the evening grosbeak, have disappeared from much of their former range.

Invasive species like the Eurasian collared-dove are expanding their territory from Florida to Alaska in less than a decade. They are fast becoming one of the more familiar birds at feeders across the country.

"None of these important changes in the distribution and abundance of birds would be understood without the help of our dedicated FeederWatchers," said project leader David Bonter.

Anyone can take part. You don't have to be an expert. Children, families, individuals, classrooms, retired people, youth groups, nature centers and bird clubs are all involved.

The task is to count birds that show up at your "count site," which is generally a backyard bird feeder or something similar. Project FeederWatch is supported almost entirely by participation fees. A $15 annual fee covers materials, staff support, web design, data analysis and a year-end report. Citizen scientists get a research kit, a bird identification poster, a wall calendar, a resource guide to bird feeding and a tally sheet. People in the U.S. also receive a subscription to the Lab of Ornithology's newsletter, BirdScope.

Learn more at www.FeederWatch.org or call the Cornell Lab toll-free at 866-989-2473.

Bike program

RoadBikeRider.com recently reported on the city of Chicago's new bike-sharing program, which will be launched next summer. The first phase will offer up to 3,000 rental bikes at 300 locations. Planners hope for an added 2,000 bikes and 200 more stations by 2014. An annual bike-sharing membership will cost about $75. Members can use the bikes for up to 30 minutes for short trips. A fee will be charged for additional time and for one-time users.

The bikes will use GPS tracking systems to reduce theft. The plan calls for additional protected bike lanes on streets.

Scott Richardson is Pantagraph outdoor editor. Contact him at 309-820-3227 or email srichardson@pantagraph.com. Share stories and read past outdoor and fishing columns at www.pantagraph.com/blogs

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