Citizen Science

Great Blue Heron © Eileen Albro Stickle

Great Blue Heron © Eileen Albro Stickle

Citizen science is the use of interested volunteers and amateur scientists to collect and submit data about natural phenomena in research projects developed by scientific and advocacy organizations. Citizen-science projects may include wildlife-monitoring programs, online databases, visualization and sharing technologies, or other efforts. Professional scientists will analyze the data submitted and publish the results in scientific journals and popular publications.

Many of  the largest of these citizen science projects involve the census of birds. The use of citizen scientists allow researchers to obtain detailed and more widely spread data that would be difficult or too costly to obtain otherwise.  Projects are available for people with varying levels of expertise, and all contribute greatly to an understanding of the changing global status of  both migratory and resident bird populations.

Citizen Science with the RTWBC

Members of the RTWBC regularly participate in a number of citizen science initiatives. All members are welcome to participate – from beginning to more advanced birders, young or old. It’s a great way to see new birds and become a better birder.

Christmas Bird Count: established by the Audubon Society in 1900, this is one of the oldest citizen science programs and now includes thousands of counters throughout the western hemisphere. RTWBC has been leading the count in Dutchess County since its inception in 1958. Members fan out to count in 15 mile circles in the Poughkeepsie, Pawling, Amenia, and Red Hook areas of the county.

Waterfowl Count: This count is held every year for one week in January. Established by the New York Ornithological Association (NYSOA) in 1955, RTWBC has covered Dutchess County since 1960. Volunteers team up to scan the Hudson River as well as inland waterways, lakes, and ponds.

May Census: Held at the height of the northward spring migration in mid-May, the census originated in Dutchess County in 1919 and was taken over by the club upon its founding in 1958. The results of the census can then be analyzed to identify population trends and provide evidence of the impact of environmental changes in the area.

Bluebird Trail Monitoring: Bluebird trails — a series of nesting boxes placed in appropriate habitat — have played a major role in bringing bluebird populations back after years of decline. First established as a single trail in 1962, there are, as of 2016, 467 boxes throughout the county. Volunteer monitors check and maintain the boxes during the nesting season to maximize nesting success and record data.

Monthly Records: Each month, records of birds seen on club field trips or by members anywhere in Dutchess County are compiled and published in the club newsletter, Wings over Dutchess. Then highlights are submitted on a quarterly basis to become part of the permanent state-level bird record. Any member is invited to submit their sightings. See the Monthly Records page of this website for details.

Citizen Science Beyond the Local

Beyond local efforts, prominent birding organizations sponsor an array of citizen science projects open to all birders and contributing to the advancement of bird science.

Great Backyard Bird Count: The National Audubon Society hosts this annual end-of-winter bird count, a four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages and skill levels in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are, anywhere in the world. Participants tally the number of individual birds of each species they see during their count period and enter these numbers in eBird, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s online bird record.

Project Feederwatch: A program of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada, Project Feederwatch 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. These data help scientists track broad scale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance. People of all skill levels and backgrounds, including children, families, individuals, classrooms, retired persons, youth groups, nature centers, and bird clubs are welcome to participate.

NestWatch: A program of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, NestWatch is a nationwide monitoring program designed to track status and trends in the reproductive biology of birds, including when nesting occurs, number of eggs laid, how many eggs hatch, and how many hatchlings survive. Become a certified NestWatcher, visit the nest every 3-4 days and record what you see, and report your information. The developing database is used to study the current condition of breeding bird populations and how they may be changing over time as a result of climate change, habitat degradation and loss, expansion of urban areas, and the introduction of non-native plants and animals.

Yard Map: A program of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, YardMap is a free, social, interactive, citizen science mapping project about habitat creation and low-impact land use. You draw maps of yards, parks, and community gardens and share valuable habitat data with Lab of Ornithology scientists, connect with other people around the country, and learn about your ability to impact birds.

eBird: A real-time, online checklist program for counting 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. eBird encourages users to participate by providing Internet tools that maintain their personal bird records and enable them to visualize data with interactive maps, graphs, and bar charts. eBird data are accessible to anyone via the eBird web site and other applications developed by the global biodiversity information community. For example, eBird data are part of the Avian Knowledge Network (AKN), which integrates observational data on bird populations across the western hemisphere. In turn, the AKN feeds eBird data to international biodiversity data systems, such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). In this way any contribution made to eBird increases our understanding of the distribution, richness, and uniqueness of the biodiversity of our planet.

Breeding Bird Survey Routes: The BBS is a cooperative effort between the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and Environment Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service to monitor the status and trends of North American bird populations. Initiated in 1966, the BBS is a system of thousands of randomly established 24.5 mile roadside bird counting routes throughout the continent. Once a year, during a specified breeding season window and a specified time of day, an observer drives the route stopping every half mile (50 stops) to record every bird heard or seen in a 3-minute count. Data can be entered online or by paper form to the USFWS. Data are used by wildlife agencies, conservation organizations, and educators to develop conservation priorities and for teaching. Maps of available routes can be found on the website. Advanced visual and auditory bird identification skills are required.