• Susan Poirier

A long partnership of birdwatchers and citizen science


Birdwatching, a connection to nature that gives our brains and bodies natural endorphins, is a healthy distraction from a stressful world. Maybe that’s why an estimated sixty million Americans now consider themselves birdwatchers.

Birdwatching nurtures observation, focus, and documenting detail—skills that citizen science also requires. Thousands of birdwatchers volunteer in research projects across North America using these same skills. The passion to contribute to a bigger cause attracts many volunteers to help scientists identify threatened species and supports conservation efforts.

Birds are threatened by multiple environmental concerns—habitat loss, agricultural chemicals, and climate change. Global warming is reducing food availability for birds at both their migratory stopovers, where they must rest and refuel on long migrations, and on their nesting grounds where insect hatching is changing because of warmer temperatures.

Birdwatching and citizen science share a long history. The idea began back in 1900 with Audubon’s first Christmas Bird Count (CBC), although it wasn’t called citizen science back then. There were just twenty-seven participants in CBC’s first year.

Data that has been collected in CBC over many decades is used to monitor changes and movement in bird species and in climate change research, as in the recently published 2014 Audubon Birds and Climate Change Study. This ‘trend data’ would be difficult if not nearly impossible to collect on such a large scale without the help from thousands of citizen scientists. In Christmas Bird Count’s 117th season (December 2017-January 2018), 73,153 birders participated.

Cornell’s Project FeederWatch is another long-running project, and it just completed its 31st season with over 20,000 participants. This project is easy and accessible for almost anyone who enjoys watching and feeding birds in their backyard during the winter. The time commitment is extremely flexible, and it’s quick and easy to submit your data online.

So if the citizen science bug has bitten you and you’re ready to begin, a great place to start is signing up for an eBird account at https://ebird.org/home where you can begin to share your bird sightings instantly wherever you are located. Your data will be compiled in a global database. And if you’re interested in an ornithology project, go to http://scistarter.com , a citizen science website and network where you can search the database with key words and location to find a project to fit your personal interests, time and physical needs.

Here’s a sample of both one-day and longer projects where you can observe birds for citizen science either in the field or watching from your own backyard:

•If you live in or near Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont or New York, Mountain Birdwatch https://vtecostudies.org/projects/mountains/mountain-birdwatch/ needs surveyors for one day in June (any day) to count birds that nest at higher elevations, such as endangered Bicknell’s Thrush.

•Audubon’s Climate Watch Survey https://www.audubon.org/conservation/climate-watch is studying bluebirds and nuthatches across the country and needs volunteers to survey between May 15 and June 15.

•Citizen scientists help to monitor the changing distribution of endangered trumpeter swans http://www.trumpeterswansociety.org/citizen-science-projects.html in this ongoing project taking place throughout eighteen states.

•Through observing hummingbirds at feeders during spring, summer and fall, you can be a part of Audubon’s Hummingbirds At Home http://www.hummingbirdsathome.org research study on how hummingbirds are reacting to climate change.

Sources:

History of the Christmas Bird Count

The 117th Christmas Bird Count Summary

Winter Bird Highlights 2017

60 Million American Birdwatchers Chase Ever-Shrinking Quarry

Top Three Results From a 115-Year-Old Citizen Science Project

#citizenscience #communityscience #volunteer

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