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Birds are not always easy to watch. They are usually in motion, flitting from branch to branch. Often, just when we think that we have identified a member of a particular species, the bird taunts us by hopping higher into a tree or moving deeper into a thicket before we can raise our binoculars. To further complicate matters, many birds are camouflaged, either through their coloring or markings, so they blend into their habitats. Even their songs can trick us, as many birds imitate the calls of other species.
So how do scientists estimate bird populations? And how do they know if a species is healthy or in decline? This is where citizen science comes in. Citizen science—also known as crowd-sourced science—is scientific research conducted, at least in part, by non-scientists.
Bird populations are constantly changing and it takes much more than a team of scientists to keep track of them. It takes a proverbial village of volunteers and a project known as the Great Backyard Bird Count.
In 1998, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society started the Count. It was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds. Since the Great Backyard Bird Count began, over 100,000 people have participated in the four-day count that happens every February. The data collected during the Count—and other citizen-science bird projects, such as e-Bird and the Christmas Bird Count—enables scientists to estimate bird populations. But this is just the start. The data also helps scientists to explore other factors, including the impact of climate change and disease (such as the West Nile Virus) on bird populations. The data also helps scientists understand migration patterns and diversity distribution.
There are many great reasons to become a citizen-scientist and join the team of worldwide volunteers that participates in the Great Backyard Bird Count. You will be part of a global effort that not only helps scientists better understand birds, but also helps conservation efforts.
The 2016 count happens from February 12 to 15. It’s easy. You just register online, create an account, and count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more of the Great Backyard Bird Count days. You estimate the number of individuals of each species you saw during your count period and then enter your data on the website.
Complete instructions and helpful observation tips are available on the Great Backyard Bird Count website: gbbc.birdcount.org.
TO HELP SEE THE BIRDS
Nikon Monarch 5 8x42
Considered one of the best affordable sport binoculars, the Nikon Monarch is lightweight, waterproof, fog-proof and excellent in low-light conditions.
TO HELP IDENTIFY THE BIRDS
Merlin Bird ID App
Free for iPhone, iPad and Android devices from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Answer five easy questions about a bird you saw, and Merlin helps you identify 400 North American species.
TO HELP RECORD YOUR OBSERVATIONS
Field Notes Expedition Edition Notebook
This notebook is printed on Yupo synthetic paper, an amazing water- and tear-proof paper. Perfect for field notes in any weather.