Citizen Science Programs
Turn your passion for nature into a research tool!
Citizen Science is a great way for you to connect with the natural world through fun activities that generate vital information for the conservation of wildlife.
Here are some current programs in which you can get involved.
Bees and other Pollinators
Global Amphibian BioBlitz
Inquiry 101: Thinking Like a Scientist
Photo provided courtesy of Pat Thomas
- Christmas Bird Count: For over a century, volunteers have been collecting information on the birds in their communities, The CBC database now contains more than a century of data on early-winter bird populations across the Americas. This one-day annual event is an opportunity to meet other local volunteers, hone your birding skills, and take part in a seasonal tradition. In Minnesota the Christmas Bird Count is done in partnership with the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union. For more information visit http://moumn.org/cbc.
- Great Backyard Bird Count: This annual Presidents' Day Weekend event is an opportunity for you to count the birds in your backyard and beyond. For more information about the event or to report your findings go to GBBC. This site is a joint project of National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
- Project FeederWatch: This 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.
Project FeederWatch is operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. For more information visit the Project FeederWatch webpage.
- eBird: A real-time, online checklist program, eBird has revolutionized the way that the birding community reports and accesses information about birds. Launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, eBird provides rich data sources for basic information on bird abundance and distribution at a variety of spatial and temporal scales.
A birder simply enters when, where, and how they went birding, then fills out a checklist of all the birds seen and heard during the outing. eBird provides various options for data gathering including point counts, transects, and area searches. Automated data quality filters developed by regional bird experts review all submissions before they enter the database. Local experts review unusual records that are flagged by the filters. For more information, visit the eBird page.
- BirdSleuth: For kids only! This graded series of modules introduces children to scientific inquiry studying the birds in their immediate environment. As they learn about birds and how to collect data on them, they will be contributing to the advancement of science. Modules are used by homeschoolers, classrooms, and nature centers. For more information, visit the BirdSleuth page.
- Celebrate Urban Birds: Birding is not just for people with wheels and access to green spaces outside of city limits. Urban birding, habitat building, and science join hands with this Cornell Ornithology Lab program. Participants take part in 10-minute bird observation sessions and send in their data to Cornell scientists for tabulation. This program also promotes the building of bird-friendly gardens in urban areas. To learn how to participate in these activities, and begin training as an urban ornithologist, click here.
- CamClikr: If you love spying on nesting birds via webcams, this is the citizen science program for you! This Cornell program allows webcam viewers to "tag" and classify breeding behaviors from archived images. CamClickr participants will help ornithologists answer questions that can only be answered using the cams while providing scientists with a tool to search and sort images once they are tagged. It's fun, easy, and promises to change the way you think about breeding behavior! Try it for yourself and see if you can become the top CamClickr! For more information, click here.
- Birds in Forested Landscapes: This study links volunteer birders and professional biologists in a study of the habitat requirements of North American birds and the human-caused changes on these birds throughout North America. Participants collect data on birds and their habitats within specific forest areas. They need access to good maps of the selected study area, binoculars, and a portable CD or cassette player to broadcast the recordings of their study species. This work may be undertaken by individuals or groups. For more information, click here.
: For open-minded people who can appreciate the urban pigeon as a beautiful, interesting, and intelligent bird. This project is wonderful for all age groups, and especially for those who live in neighborhoods frequented by pigeons. Participants will observe and report on courting behavior of pigeons, to help scientists understand why pigeons exist in so many colors, which in turn will help them answer questions about genetics. Specifically, participants will document the colors of each bird in a courting pair. To find out more, please click here
Photo provided courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
NestWatch: NestWatch is a nest-monitoring project developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in collaboration with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, and funded by the National Science Foundation. NestWatch teaches people about bird breeding biology and engages them in collecting and submitting nest records. Such records include information about nest site location, habitat, species, and number of eggs, young, and fledglings. Citizen scientists submit their nest records to our online database where their observations are compiled with those of other participants in a continentwide effort to better understand and manage the impacts of environmental change on bird populations. Please click here to find out more.
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Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (MLMP): This is a citizen science project involving volunteers across the United States and Canada in monarch research. Developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota, its goal is to collect long-term data on larval monarch populations and milkweed habitat. The overarching goal of the project is to better understand how and why monarch populations vary in time and space, with a focus on monarch distribution and abundance during the breeding season in North America.
As an MLMP volunteer, your contributions will aid in conserving monarchs and their threatened migratory phenomenon, and advance our understanding of butterfly ecology in general. To learn more, visit the MLMP page.
Bees and Other Pollinators
Volunteer Pollinator Monitoring for the Minnesota Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association, posted 3/12:
This spring, we need volunteers to observe local pollinators of spring beauty (Claytonia virginica and Claytonia caroliniana). While spring beauty is rarely visited by butterflies, this is a great way to learn about some native bees and flies, as well.
This project aims to document changing pollinator populations; by monitoring the insects that visit spring beauty throughout the eastern US, we can determine how pollinator communities change depending on the year, the location, and the season. This information will help us better understand the biology of native pollinators, as well as help us determine the best way to evaluate their value for native plant reproduction. At the same time, you will learn more about the native bees and flies visiting our early spring flora, and spend some time outdoors during the lovely spring weather.
To help, you'll need to locate a patch of spring beauty, Claytonia virginica
or Claytonia caroliniana
, which are common in the Eastern US and Southeastern Canada. You'll find information on our website on how to distinguish the plants and pollinators and conduct pollinator observations on your own. We ask for about 2 hours of observations over the course of Claytonia bloom
, which lasts 2-4 weeks in most areas. As you observe, you’ll fill out the provided data sheets, which you will then email or mail to us.
For more information, visit http://springbeauties.wordpress.com. To volunteer, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and location. We'll get in touch with you soon with more information.
Photo of Claytonia courtesy of Alison Parker
The Great Sunflower Project/Backyard Bee Count: Over the past few years, scientific studies have suggested that both honey bee and native bee populations are in trouble. What scientists have not studied on a large scale is how the wild bees were doing and what effect that has on pollination of garden plants, crops and wild plants.
In 2008, Gretchen LeBuhn, an associate professor of Biology at San Francisco State University, started this project as a way to gather information about our urban, suburban and rural bee populations and to empower people to learn about what was happening with the bees in their back yard. The project has enlisted people all over the world to observe their bees on Lemon Queen sunflowers. Sunflowers are relatively easy to grow and a great resource for bees. Since 2008, project leaders have expanded the list of plants studied to include Bee balm, Cosmos, Rosemary, Tickseed, Goldenrod and Purple coneflower.
To find out how to set up your experimental bee garden and collect data for this project, please click here.
Photo property of San Francisco State University.
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Acoustic Bat Monitoring: This project trains volunteers to conduct acoustic bat surveys of their local area using an AnaBat detector attached to a PDA with GPS. The detector picks up the echolocation calls emitted by bats and translates it to a frequency the human ear can hear. Each detection system records information about phenology and species presence. Data is entered into the Wisconsin Bat Monitoring Program database, with the long-term scope of this project to compile information about phenology, species presence, migration timing vs. residence, and trends of the bat species in Wisconsin.
This project is coordinated by Beaver Creek Reserve Citizen Science Center in partnership with the Wisconsin DNR. For more information, please visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.
Global Amphibian BioBlitz
This effort is hosted by iNaturalist.org and cosponsored by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. The program was started because amphibians around the world are rapidly disappearing. To conserve these fascinating creatures, scientists need your help! To hear more watch this video or read this flyer.
Contribute your photographs (locations of rare species are obscured) of amphibians along with the dates and locations where you observed them from anywhere in the world. Together, through the cooperation of scientists and amateur naturalists from around the globe, let’s census the world’s amphibians to ask who’s still here and where do they persist. Lets find every one!
Inquiry 101: Thinking Like a Scientist
"Inquiry 101: Thinking like a Scientist," is a 4-page primer on the scientific process of inquiry for young learners (and older ones too). Published by the University of Minnesota Extension Office, you can read it here.
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