'Citizen scientists' can help bird research

By Robin Sowton  GSDFW Archive first published May 2, 2011     
According to the National Audubon Society, the 20 birds that are on the national 'Common Birds in Decline' list lost at least half their populations in just four decades.

The Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are able to track these declines and seek ways to protect birds and their environment--thanks to data submitted largely by volunteer 'citizen scientists.'

If you like to go birdwatching and keep a list, consider becoming a 'citizen scientist.'

There are several ways to do this. For example, considering participating in one of the major bird count events that are held each year.

  • Great Backyard Bird Count - a 4-day event to count birds across the continental US and Hawaii
  • Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) - organized by the US Geological Survey and conducted by volunteers from May through July
  • Christmas Bird Count

In 2010, the Great Backyard Bird Count resulted in participants turning in more than 93,600 checklists online.

For more information on participating in bird counts, you can contact Trinity River Audubon Center or any local birding groups.

New to birdwatching? You can participate too!

Cornell has a site called Ebird.org for both experienced birders and 'newbies' alike. Here you can post the birds you see or just track the birds in your backyard. (For example, recording bird sightings in your backyard year after year, you will see when specific bird species arrive each year and in what numbers.)

Birding at Connemara Preserve


If you are new to birding, consider joining a birding field trip. You will get to tag along with experienced birders who will be able to identify a lot more birds, you will learn how they are able to identify them, and you will get better at bird identification. And at the end of the trip, you'll have a list that you can submit.

There are field trips hosted regularly by Audubon DallasPrairie and Timbers AudubonFort Worth Audubon Society, and the North Texas Master Naturalists.

Some of the more popular local birding destinations are: Connemara Preserve, the Fish Hatchery at White Rock Lake, Cedar Ridge Preserve, John Bunker Sands Wetlands Center, and the Village Creek Drying Beds (Arlington).

The checklists that you submit will be extremely helpful to researchers at the Cornell Lab of 
Ornithology and the National Audubon Sociey. For example, with this data, they have been able to show the impact of climate change on specific bird populations.

Additionally, there is a project at Ebird.org where you can see brown pelican populations being tracked following the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf.


Brown Pelicans reported


And this brings up something especially cool about Ebird...

In addition to submitting data, you also have access to report generation tools so that you too can tap into Cornell's data.


For example, you can run a report that says 'Show me Red Tail Hawks reported for the first 2 days of May in 4 counties: Denton, Collin, Tarrant, Dallas.'

Red Tail Hawks reported May 1-2, 2012


You can also view who the top Ebirders are in your area or look up popular birding destinations.