Citizen Science

You don't have to be a scientist or researcher to participate in scientific studies! Even casual observations of the natural world can reveal species declines or previously unknown populations. Below are a list of opportunities targeted to birders of all persuasions. Read on to learn more about the birds around you while contributing to a greater understanding of our world.

Great Backyard Bird Count

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When:
February
Skill:
Novice - Advanced
Info:
Great Backyard Bird Count

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Website:

Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.

Since then, more than 100,000 people of all ages and walks of life have joined the four-day count each February to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds.

We invite you to participate! Simply tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, February 14-17, 2014. You can count from any location, anywhere in the world!

If you’re new to the count, first register online then enter your checklist. If you have already participated in another Cornell Lab citizen-science project, you can use your existing login.

Click here for more info on how to get started.

In 2013, Great Backyard Bird Count participants in 111 countries counted 33,464,616 birds on 137,998 checklists, documenting 4,258 species—more than one-third of the world’s bird species!

Read a summary of the 2013 count.

During the count, you can explore what others are seeing in your area or around the world. Share your bird photos by entering the photo contest, or enjoy images pouring in from across the globe.

Help make the most successful count ever by participating this year!

Then keep counting throughout the year with eBird, which uses the same system as the Great Backyard Bird Count to collect, store, and display data any time, all the time.

Project FeederWatch

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When:
November - April
Skill:
Novice - Advanced
Info:
Project FeederWatch

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website:

Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April and send their counts to Project FeederWatch. FeederWatch data help scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.

Anyone interested in birds can participate. FeederWatch is conducted by people of all skill levels and backgrounds, including children, families, individuals, classrooms, retired persons, youth groups, nature centers, and bird clubs. Participants watch their feeders as much or as little as they want over two consecutive days as often as every week (less often is fine). They count birds that appear in their count site because of something that they provided (plantings, food, or water).

New participants are sent a Research Kit with complete instructions for participating. You provide the feeder(s) and seed. In addition, U.S. participants receive a subscription to the Lab of Ornithology’s newsletter, Living Bird News. Canadian participants, receive Bird Studies Canada’s quarterly publication, BirdWatch Canada.

There is a $15 annual participation fee for U.S. residents ($12 for Cornell Lab members). The participation fee covers materials, staff support, web design, data analysis, and a year-end report (Winter Bird Highlights). Project FeederWatch is supported almost entirely by participation fees. Without the support of our participants, this project wouldn’t be possible.

Project FeederWatch is operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada.

Rusty Blackbird Blitz

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female rusty blackbird ©Lloyd Spitalnik

When:
March
Skill:
Beginner - Advanced
Info:
Rusty Blackbird Working Group

From the Rusty Blackbird Working Group Website:

Although scientists have made huge strides in understanding Rusty Blackbirds on their breeding and wintering grounds - partly thanks to the original Rusty Blackbird Winter Blitz - we know surprisingly little about the migratory requirements and habits of this species. Are there hot spots where many individuals congregate during migration? Are similar migratory stopover areas used by Rusties each year? Are stopover areas protected, or might availability of these areas be limiting Rusty Blackbird survival?

To address these questions, the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group, in partnership with eBird, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, is coordinating a Spring Migration Blitz for 2014. This Blitz will challenge birders to seek out the elusive Rusty Blackbird throughout its migratory range, from the southern United States, through the Midwest and along the East Coast, and up into Canada.

The Spring Migration Blitz will kick off in March of 2014; each state, province, or territory is assigned target dates for conducting the Blitz based on estimated peak migration periods. Looking to get involved? Volunteers like you are critical to the success of this initiative! In 2010 alone, eBirders reported more than 11,700 Rusty Blackbirds during the Rusty Blackbird Winter Blitz. We encourage all experienced birders to participate; contact your state coordinator for more information!

Nightjar Surveys

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nighttime survey ©Scott Anderson

When:
May-June
Skill:
Beginner - Advanced
Info:
Nightjars

From the Center for Conservation Biology website:

Nightjars, or goatsuckers, are the most enigmatic group of birds in North America. Very little is known about the basic aspects of their biology, habitat use, and population status due to their cryptically nocturnal lifestyle.

In recent years, conservationists and the general public have come to share a general sense that populations of Nightjars are dramatically declining. However, there were no standardized data available to help describe these changes or to help with reversing population losses. This survey program was created to gain a better understanding on population status by implementing a standardized approach across the nation that will help determine the magnitude and scale of population changes so a course for conservation may be plotted. The Nightjar Survey Network relies entirely on volunteer participation. The program is coordinated by The Center for Conservation Biology at a national level with the help of partner organizations at state and local levels.

Nocturnal behaviors of Nightjars are influenced strongly by moonlight. Activities such as calling and foraging increase under bright moonlight conditions and it is thought that breeding may actually be timed with the lunar schedule. We have designed protocols to take advantage of these behaviors by conducting surveys only during bright moonlit nights so detection rates will be higher and more consistent.

Nightjar surveys are easy to perform and will not take more than two hours to complete. Volunteers conduct roadside counts at night, on scheduled bright moonlit nights, by driving and stopping at 10 points along a predetermined 9-mile route. At each point, the observer counts all Nightjars seen or heard during a 6-minute period. No artificial broadcast of the species call is used. When surveying a route, you are gathering information on changes in Nightjar populations over time while simultaneously increasing the knowledge on numerical changes in population to the composition of habitats in the landscape.

We welcome you to register for a survey route; your participation is key to the success of the program..

Project NestWatch

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northern cardinal nestling ©Scott Anderson

When:
All Year
Skill:
Novice - Advanced
Info:
Project Nestwatch

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website:

NestWatch is a nationwide monitoring program designed to track status and trends in the reproductive biology of birds, including when nesting occurs, number of eggs laid, how many eggs hatch, and how many hatchlings survive. Our database is intended to be used to study the current condition of breeding bird populations and how they may be changing over time as a result of climate change, habitat degradation and loss, expansion of urban areas, and the introduction of non-native plants and animals.

New participants are sent a Research Kit with complete instructions for participating. You provide the feeder(s) and seed. In addition, U.S. participants receive a subscription to the Lab of Ornithology’s newsletter, Living Bird News. Canadian participants, receive Bird Studies Canada’s quarterly publication, BirdWatch Canada.

Participating in NestWatch is easy and just about anyone can do it, although children should always be accompanied by an adult when observing bird nests. Simply follow the directions on our website to become a certified NestWatcher, find a bird nest using our helpful tips, visit the nest every 3-4 days and record what you see, and then report this information on our website. Your observations will be added to those of thousands of other NestWatchers in a continually growing database used by researchers to understand and study birds. Simply put, without your help it would be impossible to gather enough information to accurately monitor nesting birds across the country. And while you are contributing extremely valuable information to science, you will learn firsthand about birds and create a lifelong bond with the natural world.

Christmas Bird Count

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When:
December
Skill:
Novice - Advanced
Info:
Audubon Christmas Bird Count

From the National Audubon Society website:

From December 14 through January 5 tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in an adventure that has become a family tradition among generations. Families and students, birders and scientists, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists go out on an annual mission - often before dawn. For over one hundred years, the desire to both make a difference and to experience the beauty of nature has driven dedicated people to leave the comfort of a warm house during the Holiday season.

Each of the citizen scientists who annually braves snow, wind, or rain, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count makes an enormous contribution to conservation. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations - and to help guide conservation action.

From feeder-watchers and field observers to count compilers and regional editors, everyone who takes part in the Christmas Bird Count does it for love of birds and the excitement of friendly competition -- and with the knowledge that their efforts are making a difference for science and bird conservation.