Academic journal article Science Scope

Connecting to Your Community through Bird and Citizen Science

Academic journal article Science Scope

Connecting to Your Community through Bird and Citizen Science

Article excerpt

Birds are among the most fascinating creatures on Earth, found on every continent and prevalent even in human-dominated landscapes. Some are beautiful, others are accomplished singers, and all play important roles in the ecosystems in which they live. Even amateur birders have made important discoveries about birds, and there is still a lot to learn and explore. While birding, youth connect with the natural world; if they share their observations through citizen science, they also make valuable contributions to our understanding of that world.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has developed educational resources, known as BirdSleuth, which are used around the country to support students in citizen-science participation, outdoor activities, and inquiry-based investigations. BirdSleuth's Investigating Evidence module, available as a free download (see Resources), supports students through the entire scientific process: observing birds, collecting data, posing questions, conducting investigations, drawing conclusions, and publishing results. Each fall, the Cornell Lab publishes the national edition of its student research journal, Classroom BirdScope, which features student research and creative work by young birders around the country. BirdSleuth teachers use birds and the local environment to teach concepts in science, math, language arts, and art. Emphasizing hands-on, real-world learning experiences, the activities boost academic achievement while helping students develop stronger ties to their community and appreciation for the natural world.

Citizen science

Whether you live in an urban or rural area, birds are readily found and relatively easy to identify. American robins, European starlings, house sparrows, American crows, mourning doves, jays, and grackles are just some of the species you might find in your area. After you become familiar with the bird species that are common in your area, you can begin making scientific observations. Through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's citizen-science projects, students join with people in all walks of life in observing birds and contributing data to central databases. One such project, eBird, accepts observational data related to any bird, seen at any time, anywhere in the world ( With over three million observations submitted each month, eBird is one of the world's largest and fastest-growing biodiversity databases. Researchers use eBird data to better understand bird distribution, abundance, and habitat requirements--crucial information in determining population trends and conservation needs, and students play a role in this effort. As one seventh-grade student put it, "Scientists can't be everywhere, so kids from all over can record data and send it in."

Seventh-grade teacher Katie Humason, who teaches in Minneapolis, takes her students to a local nature center every fall, where they build bird feeders from kits. Students decide which birds they would like to attract and then determine what type of feeder to build and what kind of food to provide. They create a feeding station of 12 to 15 feeders on the front lawn of the school. While they can't see the feeders from their classroom, they go outside each week to count birds and submit their counts to eBird. Later, they access eBird data and use the database to answer questions such as "Are we seeing the same birds here as they do in Florida?" and "How does temperature affect our bird counts?" By observing birds and viewing N. their findings within the broader scope of online data, students build meaningful connections to the natural world, both local and afar. Knowing that their efforts contribute to real research that is relevant on local to global scales can be a powerful, motivational force.

In State College, Pennsylvania, Howard Pillot's students at Park Forest Middle School have been very involved with eBird, contributing data for six years. Pillot says, "Citizen science makes us all more aware of our environment--both the good and the bad parts of our environment. …

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