CITIZEN SCIENCEWild Birds 101 »
What is Citizen Science?
"Citizen science" is what we call a collaboration between scientists and volunteers for the purposes of collecting data. For those unfamiliar with citizen science, the phrase can seem like a contradiction. After all, scientific communities are naturally exclusive to highly specialized individuals working in tightly controlled environments.
However, when it comes to the science of birds, having citizens team up with the scientific community is an invaluable method to gather data. Given the nature and scope of studying birds, researchers have valued the input from bird-watching hobbyists as "citizen scientists" for as long as avian research has been a practice. This makes birding not only a favorite hobby of outdoors enthusiasts, but also one of the most important in contributing to science.
Citizen Science and Birding
This joint effort in the birding community earns it a special distinction as one of the most widespread research teams in the world—and anyone can join in from the comfort of their own yards. Recording the appearances of birds can help uncover all manners of mysteries about the state of bird populations, climate change, environmental developments, and more.
In fact, programs exist across many states and nationwide to aid in the research of our feathered friends, including:
The Great Backyard Bird Count
Cornell University’s NestWatch
and other state-specific ornithological societies.
Helping the Birding Community
For most, birding is enough of a pleasure to enjoy without concern over gathering data. But those who want to lend a hand to the community as a whole can easily and conveniently record their data for the benefit of researchers everywhere. These programs are flexible enough for mere hobbyists to take just a few minutes recording their observations weekly, and it also allows more dedicated birding pros to record as much as they please.
While it may seem insignificant to record the data of a single common bird sighting, this can be a puzzle piece to help complete a more thorough picture of your region along with sightings provided by fellow local bird-watchers. It can be especially illuminating if you discover a peculiar number of a specific type of species, and even more so if you spot rare or unseasonal birds in your area.
To boost your observation efforts, keep these tips in mind:
Monitor nests and seed feeders on your property regularly for patterns that arise
Learn more about birds in order to accurately record species that you find
Familiarize yourself with the best birding practices.
What's in it for Citizen Scientists?
The most alluring part of participating in citizen science is that you can record your data as extensively or as briefly as you please. Any amount of data you provide helps piece together a picture of your region that complements the greater picture. This flexibility makes bringing family members along for research all the more accessible.
This can help instill an appreciation of the scientific process in your young ones while providing a real consequence to an otherwise fun, pleasurable group activity. Engaging in citizen science is also an essential way for novice birders to make a name for themselves among local ornithologist groups and online.
For those who want to turn their passion into a more fully-fledged pastime, contributing to the scientific community can make all the difference in establishing a reputation with your peers—especially with a rare find. There’s absolutely no harm in enjoying birding for the sheer pleasure of it, but why not add your experiences to the big picture by being a citizen scientist yourself?
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