Share it! Science : The Great Backyard Bird Count and other Winter Citizen Science Projects

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Great Backyard Bird Count and other Winter Citizen Science Projects

Great Backyard Bird Count Winter Citizen Science

As I mentioned in "See it? Share it!" last week, this weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count, or GBBC. The GBBC is an annual bird counting project run by the Cornell lab and the Audubon Society. Participants watch birds for 15 minutes and contribute their findings. This is just one of the many great citizen science projects that run nationally, internationally and locally throughout the year. Just because it's cold does not mean there aren't many outdoor (and indoor) projects to contribute to!    

Citizen Science projects are science research projects that utilize the abilities of interested citizens in collecting or analyzing data. Scientific discovery often involves A LOT of data and without the help of the masses the process can be much slower. Citizen science projects come with the added bonus for the volunteer of learning about something new and contributing firsthand to scientific research. Many of these projects are things that can be done as a family or in the classroom.

Citizen science is a growing movement that is quickly gaining momentum, in fact, as I write this the inaugural conference of the newly organized Citizen Science Association is happening in San Jose, CA. The programming for the 2 day conference ranges from sessions on the specifics of different projects to thinking about how to keep volunteers interested, to developing a framework for citizen science in education. Science affects everyone and this is a great way to engage students and adults in real scientific discovery!
Titmouse braving the snow! ©Ross Feitlinger

This time of year is ripe with birding citizen science. The winter season kicks off with one of the oldest citizen science projects, the National Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count (CBC). This event is just as it sounds, on Christmas Day birders grab their coats and binoculars and count the birds. Data is collected and compiled. The GBBC follows in February. Throughout November-early April you can also participate in Project Feederwatch, another bird observation project through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (Be aware there is a fee to participate in this project. Currently $15 for Cornell members and $18 otherwise- you get access to all data and data entry, in addition to their annual publication and newsletters.)

eBird is another birders haven, where you can record bird sightings throughout the year and view real-time maps to see where others have spotted similar species. In addition to these national projects there are many local projects to participate in, especially if you check with your local Audubon Society or nature center. For example, the February Bald Eagle Watch by the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory in Colorado, or the New Hampshire Winter Backyard Bird Survey by NH Audubon which is held this upcoming weekend, or the second weekend of February each year.
Weddell Seal (NOAA Photo Library)

Maybe bird-watching is not your cup of tea? Fear not, there are many other projects for you.  IceWatch USA is a climate and weather project where participants monitor a waterway, like a lake or bay to record ice and snow observations. Contributions are e-mailed to Nature Abounds, the organization that runs this project. There are also many indoor or online citizen science projects. Students can count Weddell Seals in Antarctica in an activity by the University of Minnesota's Polar Geospatial Center.  Zooniverse develops citizen science websites for a wide variety of projects. This is where you can find Project PenguinWatch, which I posted about in detail last fall. Another initiative beyond counting penguins is the Milky Way Project where people identify infrared image data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Cyclone Center helps NOAA analyze cyclone data, in Bat Detective participants classify recordings of bat calls. Plus many, many more.
Image from the Spitzer Space Telescope (NASA)

So what are you waiting for? Beat the winter blues by jumping on the citizen science bandwagon! Do you already participate in a citizen science project? Share it by commenting below!

Post updated: 4/10/16

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