Inga Howe-Geniesse

Citizen Science: Bird’s Eye View

“Citizen Science” refers to the method of relying on everyday people to collect or analyze data as part of a larger scientific project. With the advent of Internet technology, this method of research– akin to crowd-sourcing– has become more popular than ever before, especially for environmental scientists, whose research often encompasses large areas of land that would otherwise not be feasible to visit. For Lil’ Sprouts, Citizen Science projects offer the chance for accessible, hands-on environmental education in one’s own backyard. Some of the projects we feature are adventurous nature treks while others are more leisurely undertakings– but all encourage exploring nature in one capacity or another.

Below, read our profile of Feeder Watch, a Cornell-run program that tracks long term trends in bird populations. Read more of GC’s Citizen Science profiles here.

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With winter finally leaving– albeit in fits and starts– migratory birds are beginning their seasonal trek back north. As they journey to their spring and summer homes, they need plenty of nutritious food to keep them moving forward, and they often stop at friendly feeder outposts to meet these needs.

Since the mid 1970s, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada’s Feeder Watch has tracked the seasonal migrations of birds with the help of 20,000 participants and their bird feeders. Feeder Watch operates on a large scale and is a team effort, broaching backyard fences and international borders. The data collected is regularly utilized and published in scientific journals and magazines to analyze patterns, as well as changes in behavior. The data is subsequently made available online and can be viewed by anyone in a number of formats.

Errol Taskin

For Lil’ Sprouts, Feeder Watch offers a flexible opportunity to get involved in a large-scale citizen science project, one whose data is regularly called upon for research. This project is also an intriguing way to get kids excited about the wildlife just outside their window. How many different kinds of birds do they see? Are they big? Small? Do they come in a group, a pair, or by themselves? Kids get further engaged in the project by making their own bird feeders and experimenting with what combinations draw the most feathered friends.

The count ends on April 8th, so now is the last chance to join. Though participating in the Cornell Program costs a small fee ($18), you can always practice birding on your own– during long walks or in your own backyard.

Citizen Science Bird Feeder

Pam Koch

Sprouts Science

  • Why do birds migrate?

Birds move to warmer climates as resources begin to dwindle from the winter cold. They return again in the spring when it warms up, as insect populations begin to boom. There are several different types of migratory birds: short-, medium-, or long-distance migrants. Some birds do not migrate at all, if they can find sufficient sustenance in their area.

  • Why are birds important to gardens?

Birds help regulate garden health. Some birds, like hummingbirds, pollinate flowers, ensuring the garden remains robust. Others eat up the seeds of invasive plants, including weeds, before they have a chance to take over. In addition to seeds and nectar, many birds also feed on insects– including those that can destroy your plants. Bird droppings (known as guano) contain many nutrients essential to plant health, and as such can act as a natural fertilizer. Guano contains high levels of nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium and is highly sought-after.

If you’re looking to add more bird-friendly plants to your garden, we’ve got you covered!

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