It’s easier than ever to be a citizen scientist for birds – Marin Independent Journal


Bird watching is a science. Or at least it can easily be. Today, many people view scientific research as a highly specialized endeavor requiring many degrees and qualifications. But modern technology and citizen science projects actually make it easier than ever for ordinary people to contribute to the collective knowledge of humanity, and there is no area where this is more evident than the study of birds. .

What birds are present in a given area? How do their distributions evolve over time? Where and when do they nest? Some of these questions can be explored on your own, but it is often helpful to have a larger framework to organize your observations.

There are many projects that need help. One of the most notable forces in modern citizen science is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which has pioneered a number of different projects that use casual, dedicated birdwatchers to collect data that can then be used for scientific research. At this time of year, their most relevant project is NestWatch, in which volunteers carefully observe the spring nesting of birds to gather information about where, when and how the birds breed.

If you notice a single bird’s nest around your home and are willing to check it carefully several times a week, you can contribute to this project.

If you’re a more serious birdwatcher (or know one), now’s also the season to contribute to Marin’s own Breeding Bird Atlas, a four-year project to systematically document the distribution of breeding birds throughout the count. Full participation in this project requires a bit more dedication (eight hours of sightings over the course of the season) and experience (ability to identify Marin’s breeding birds, ideally by sound and sight), but individual reports of nests you observe can be submitted online at the Breeding Bird Atlas website at

In the fall, the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory’s Hawkwatch program tracks the migration of birds of prey through the Marin Headlands and over the Golden Gate. This volunteer community offers in-depth training on how to identify raptors and is a great way to improve your birding skills – that’s how I got started in serious birdwatching. You can register now on its website at to be notified when recruitment opens this summer. Another local program to know about for winter is the Christmas Bird Count, a series of one-day counts sponsored by local Audubon chapters to survey bird populations in December.

Photo by Christine Hansen

Purple-green swallows are one of the most sought-after inhabitants of nest boxes.

Fall and winter also offer other opportunities for individual participation in large-scale projects. Cornell’s FeederWatch project collects sightings from backyard feeding stations from November through April, with a more concentrated burst during February’s big backyard bird count.

These programs are easy ways to start paying more attention to the birds in your own backyard, learning to recognize your local species while applying a bit more of a scientific perspective when you get accurate counts to get a better idea. the number of birds visiting. your yard.

Other projects are more open. The most important of these is Cornell’s eBird, to which individuals submit their sightings at any time of the year. As the largest citizen science project in history, eBird can take any bird sighting and add it to our collective knowledge that scientists can then build on (iNaturalist works similarly for other plants and animals besides birds), as can other birders looking to find more birds.

But even at the scale of a single observer, using a tool like eBird changes the way you encounter birds. Basic analysis tools and data organization methods automatically prompt you to think more scientifically and ask questions. When do certain species arrive at Le Marin in the fall or spring? Where in your area do certain birds occur, and why do they only occur in these specific locations? Can you notice behaviors that indicate a bird is nesting? Can you become an expert at a favorite local park and find birds there that no one else has reported before?

Scientific knowledge is not fixed and finite. Nature still has many mysteries. And you can discover things no one else knows just by walking outside.

Jack Gedney’s On the Wing airs every other Monday. He is co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited at Novato and author of the forthcoming book, “The Private Lives of Public Birds”. You can reach him at [email protected]


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