Birds and Citizen Science

Its the 30th anniversary of the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch this year, the worlds largest survey of its kind, and indeed, with just under 400,000 participants last year, the worlds largest popular wildlife survey full stop.

It’s one example of what’s come to be known as “citizen science”, a term coined to describe science projects that are open to anyone to participate in regardless of their educational background. By being this open, and by attracting large numbers of people, they help the scientific community achieve results that would otherwise be difficult. They are of course also of huge educational value. And many of them involve birds.

The longest running bird related citizen science project is the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count. Throughout the 19th Century many North Americans participated in Christmas `side hunts’ where the simple aim was to hunt and kill as many birds as possible, regardless of whether they were needed, their rarity or their beauty.

At the turn of the century US ornithologist and Audubon Society officer Frank Chapman proposed counting the birds instead of hunting them and the Christmas Bird Count was launched. The first in 1900 involved 27 observers counting birds in 25 places. As with other citizen science projects the methodology is simple and unchanging. Observers choose a 15 mile diameter circle and set out to simply find as many different species as possible in one day over the Christmas period. In 2007/8 59,918 people took part and recorded 57,704,250 birds.

The Audubon Society, along with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, also now run two other popular mass participation projects, the Great Backyard Bird Count and Project FeederWatch.

Beyond birds, citizen science projects also take in other aspects of natural history, weather, astronomy, water quality and conservation (World Water Monitoring Day) and even the search for extraterrestrial life (SETI).

For general background, the BBC produced a series of radio documentaries about citizen science that can be heard here.


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  • About

    In this blog we'll describe the day to day comings and goings of the birds in our Devon garden.
  • About us

    Tony is a naturalist and environmental artist. Laura is a free range creative web and print designer. We've recently moved from the village of Ipplepen to the town of Newton Abbot with our two children Ralph and Oli, our dog Henry, and numerous cats (none of whom would ever dream of eating birds).
  • Species List

    List of species, including only those birds that land in the garden:
    Blue tit
    Carrion Crow
    Chiff chaff
    Coal tit
    Collared dove
    Great spotted woodpecker
    Great tit
    House Sparrow
    Long tailed tit
    Mistle thrush
    Pied wagtail
    Song thrush
    Wood pigeon

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