Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

COASST: Monitoring seabirds of the Pacific Northwest

By July 31st, 2014 at 11:05 am | Comment 1

Identify beached birds and help monitor the health of the coastal ecosystem.

Looking for more summertime citizen science projects? Find them here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you enjoy long walks on the beach while taking in the surrounding wildlife? Are you concerned about environmental issues and passionate about community projects? Are you ready for commitment?

If so, then you might just be perfect match for COASST. (Did you think this was something else?)

Read the rest of this entry »

Kestrels in the City

By July 17th, 2014 at 9:04 am | Comment

Common kestrel falco tinnunculus (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Common kestrel falco tinnunculus
(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

With the help of the public, researchers from the University of Vienna, Austria, have found out that the Eurasian kestrel can be “seduced” by the city lights, but this decision comes at a cost, with lower reproductive success and a poorer diet.

Urbanization is a global event that is invading natural habitats, inevitably leading to a decrease in biodiversity. However, rather surprisingly, this is actually creating new habitats for some species. “Most city dwelling birds are exploiting human resources, like garbage dumps (for example gulls), feeders (granivore birds), or artificial nest sites/nest boxes for cavity breeders”, said Petra Sumasgutner, lead author in the study. “If a species can exploit the urban environment is therefore very much connected to what it needs in its natural habitat”.

In particular, the Eurasian kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) is frequently associated with urban landscapes, and Vienna seems to be a popular destination for these birds. For years, Sumasgutner observed kestrels building their nests in small cavities, abundant in old historic buildings, and her scientific curiosity led to further questions about how this is affecting the species.

To find these much wanted answers, her team decided to investigate occupied nest sites in and around Vienna, along a gradient of urbanization from least covered to most covered by buildings. Since coverage of the entire city of Vienna looking for kestrels required many watchful eyes, researchers enlisted the help of volunteers to help them in this search over 3 years. “It was a lot of effort to work with the media and the general public, but it was also a lot of fun. Especially the collaboration with the chimney sweepers and the firefighters was the best”, said Sumasgutner.

It turned out that, although the availability of breeding cavities attracts many birds to highly urbanized areas, city life is not all that’s cracked up to be for kestrels. Birds nesting in the city were more likely to abandon the nest, resulting in lower hatching rates and smaller fledged broods than those breeding in the outskirts. The authors suggest this effect may be a consequence of a forced change in the bird’s diets while staying in the city, as their natural ability to hunt rodents on the ground needed to shift to find small birds instead.

At first, it may seem these city-dwelling raptors are exploiting the urban environment, but a closer look reveals what the authors called an “ecological trap”, with unexpected costs both in terms of reproductive success and prey availability. When asked about the future of kestrels in the city, Sumasgutner’s answer is clear: “not at all in the inner-city”. After observing how kestrels can also nest in purpose-built nest boxes, the author suggested using “the same mechanism which attracts kestrels to breed in highly urbanized areas to actually lure them in a more suitable habitat, like buildings around larger city parks or also the suburban area of Vienna”.

Maybe this could be their next citizen science project, again enrolling the help of the public to save the kestrel. After all, “I would work again in a citizen science project”, concluded Sumasgutner.

Interested in kestrel citizen science projects?  Monitor American kestrels with the American Kestrel Partnership or the Massachusetts Audubon American Kestrel Monitoring Project.


Dr. Alex Reis is a freelance science writer, with a particular expertise in the field of biology and genetics. She holds a degree and MSc in Animal Science, topped up with a PhD in Embryology. In a ‘previous life’ as a researcher, she worked in the field of cell and molecular biosciences and published various scientific manuscripts including in Nature. Nowadays, however, she spends most of her time reading and writing science articles for several news outlets. Recent work includes articles published in The Munich Eye, Decoded Science, United Academics Magazine, BitesizeBio and Science NOW. After moving around the UK for a while, she now lives in the Highlands of Scotland. When not working, she can be found trying to get friendly with the ‘locals,’ from deer to seals, otters or even sea eagles.

How Many Can You Spot with Celebrate Urban Birds

By May 29th, 2014 at 9:36 am | Comment

In ten minutes, record the number of urban birds you observe in your neighborhood; your observations can improve the bird habitat in your community.

Want more birds and bees citizen science projects? We’ve got you covered!

Baltimore Oriole  (Photo: David Brezinski)

Baltimore Oriole
Photo: David Brezinski, for the US Fish and Wildlife Service

Spotting birds in an urban environment not uncommon and these feathered friends have certainly found a place for them in the city. But how are they coping with an environment that is less green and more concrete? This is exactly what a citizen science project from Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology is set out to find out.

The project — Celebrate Urban Birds — started in 2007, after consultations with community organizations across the US, as well as scientists and educators. From the start, the objective has always been to develop rigorous protocols to provide reliable scientific data, but also to encourage a strong educational and engagement component to make it happen in communities which citizen science wouldn’t normally reach.

Participation is simple: all you have to do is see how many birds from a list of 16 you can spot in 10 minutes and submit your results online. Not surprisingly, the team has been inundated with submissions across the country and beyond, from Canada to Mexico, and from Boston to Portland.

Despite this overwhelming response, the team has so far been a bit shy about showing their results, as they feel the project needs enough data to allow a reliable analysis. The good news is that, according to ornithologist Karen Purcell, the driving force behind the project, they are currently deep in analysis and we should expect some news in the upcoming months. “This is an exciting year” says Purcell, “because of the fact that we can take a look at the data and we’re going to be able to really understand what’s going on”.

The interesting part is that they’re not just looking at birds. “We’re looking at both the people factor and the community factor, in addition to the bird factor”, says Purcell. This is exactly what differentiates this project from other citizen science projects, as it is as much about the science as it is about the participants and their communities. In fact, although participants can join as individuals, it is through the links with community partners that the project thrives. “We work a lot with organizations that have community events, and that engage participants in the citizen science component, so that’s a big way in which we reach out”, says Purcell.

Very generously, “Celebrate Urban Birds” awards mini-grants to participating organizations, not only to help them develop ways for their members to learn about bird identification and submit their observations, but ultimately to improve bird habitat in the community. This approach “lets us reach a big variety of ages, people that have not participated in this kind of thing before, and the idea in terms of making it appealing towards that audience, is to create something that is useful in the community”, says Purcell.

Ruby-throated hummingbird.

Ruby-throated hummingbird.

Nothing was left to chance and this community focus is also strongly reflected in the list of 16 focal species which participants need to spot. They’re characterized by a strong urban presence throughout the US and further afield, but most importantly as the project deals with novice bird spotters, it includes some species people are likely to see, allowing them to engage with the project.

The list also contains some species chosen for conservational reasons, such as orioles and brown-headed cowbirds, and the team hopes to add more to the list. Top of the wish list at the moment is the hummingbird, which is both a great urban bird to get people to fall in love with bird spotting, and it’s also an important species due to their impact as pollinators.

The project is ongoing, and you can submit your results at any time. So, why not grab your binoculars and see how many birds you can spot in your neighborhood?

Resources: Celebrate Urban Birds Official Site

Images: Wikimedia Commons (Baltimore Oriole, Hummingbird)


Dr. Alex Reis is a freelance science writer, with a particular expertise in the field of biology and genetics. She holds a degree and MSc in Animal Science, topped up with a PhD in Embryology. In a ‘previous life’ as a researcher, she worked in the field of cell and molecular biosciences and published various scientific manuscripts including in Nature. Nowadays, however, she spends most of her time reading and writing science articles for several news outlets. Recent work includes articles published in The Munich Eye, Decoded Science, United Academics Magazine, BitesizeBio and Science NOW. After moving around the UK for a while, she now lives in the Highlands of Scotland. When not working, she can be found trying to get friendly with the ‘locals,’ from deer to seals, otters or even sea eagles.

Track Lilacs and Loons with Nature’s Notebook

By May 19th, 2014 at 10:59 am | Comment

Observe and collect data to learn how climate and habitat affect plants and animals with Nature’s Notebook.

Track the phenology of plants and animals with these citizen science projects.

Observing a tree in Tucson, Arizona.  Photo credit: Brian Powell

Observing a tree in Tucson, Arizona. Photo credit: Brian Powell

Most North Americans are relieved that spring has finally arrived, especially after a winter when ice storms, snowstorms, frigid temperatures or droughts were regular occurrences. For many, winter was not only harsh, but it was also longer than expected. How could a plant grow and survive with cold temperatures or dry conditions? How would the animals that depend on these plants be affected by these changes? These are a few of the numerous questions the USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) investigates. The organization studies phenology, the study of the seasonal plant and animal life cycle events. Consisting of staff members, an advisory committee, and partner organizations (such as the U.S. Geological Survey), the USA-NPN collects and analyzes phenology data in order to address scientific and environmental questions.

Recording observations in Tucson, Arizona.  Photo credit: Sara N. Schaffer

Recording observations in Tucson, Arizona. Photo credit: Sara N. Schaffer

Unfortunately, the USA-NPN has a small staff that cannot observe the wildlife of the entire country by themselves. They decided to enlist the help of citizen scientists so they could gather as many pieces of data as possible. In 2009, the USA-NPN established an online monitoring program for over 200 plant species. The following year, they recognized the need to include animals in the monitoring process; as a result, they added animals to the observation program and formally named it Nature’s Notebook (official site).

This year, the USA-NPN hopes to collect 1 million observations through Nature’s Notebook, and invites anyone who wants to participate. To become an observer, set up an online account; then, you can learn how to observe with aid of a detailed handbook or instructional videos. Nature’s Notebook has also created a mobile app (for iOS and Android systems), where observers can enter observations into the database while they are outdoors. The data is readily available through the Phenology Visualization Tool, where you can look at the data of a particular region or species.

Flowers at the Santa Rita Experimental Range, Arizona. Photo credit: Lorianne Barnett

Flowers at the Santa Rita Experimental Range, Arizona. Photo credit: Lorianne Barnett

The observation process might be overwhelming for someone who is new to it. With over 900 plant and animal species in the database, what should you observe? Theresa Crimmins, the Partnerships & Outreach Coordinator for USA-NPN, recommends that you “start small; pick 1 or 2 plants that are familiar to you. Make it low-effort and fun! Observe plants you know and are familiar with.” You can also join a regional campaign, and focus your observations on a particular species, such as the campaign to track cloned lilacs. For educators who want to incorporate Nature’s Notebook into their curriculum, the USA-NPN has educational material available. Crimmins recommends that instructors incorporate the program around the same time each year, in order to contribute to the long-term record of particular species. While there is a time commitment involved for this citizen science project, repeated observations are necessary to notice the long-term changes of a particular species.

USA-NPN and Nature’s Notebook have definitely made an impact on phenology in the United States. It has partnered with almost 200 organizations, contributed to many peer-reviewed publications, and is collaborating with government agencies such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service to see how the data can be used to inform decisions about wildlife refuges.  This year, Nature’s Notebook is excited to offer an opportunity to learn and interact through their webinar series. Their next webinar, on June 10th at 11am (PST), will be “A Summary of Spring”; a fitting way to celebrate the season and everything that happens within it.

References: USA-NPN 2013 Annual Report: Taking the Pulse of Our Planet

Images: USA-NPN


Rae Moore has a BS in Chemistry from McMaster University and studied Bioinorganic Chemistry as a PhD student at McGill University. She has also been a cheerleading coach, yoga teacher, and preschool science educator. Now she focuses on science education and advocacy, and blogs about scientific job searching on her blog, ThereOnceWasaChemist.com.

Citizen Science for Lovers of Birds and Bees!

By May 16th, 2014 at 10:43 pm | Comment

Let us tell ‘ya about the birds and the bees — for citizen science, that is! Here are just a few buzz-worthy projects to get you started.

Also, don’t forget to stop by DISCOVER Magazine and SciStarter’s online Citizen Science Salon; look for our new collaboration in the pages of Discover starting this month; or listen to beautifully produced citizen science stories from our partners at WHYY radio!

 

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The Great Sunflower Project

Help researchers create a national bee population map to study the decline of bees. Simply plant sunflowers and watch for bee visits a few times a month. Get started!

 

Celebrate Urban Birds

Help ornithologists learn about 16 key species of urban birds by tracking up to 16 species of birds for just 10 mins in a small area near you. Get started! (Photo: Louise Docker)

 

Bee Hunt

Use digital photography to help provide a better understanding of pollinators’ importance in growing food and maintaining healthy natural ecosystems. Get started!

 

 


North American Bird Phenology Program

Millions of bird migration records have been scanned. Care to illuminate almost a century of migration patterns and population status of birds? Transcribe records so they can be included in an open database for analysis. Get started!

 

ZomBeeWatch
The Zombie Fly has been found parasitizing honey bees in California, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont and Washington. Where else in North America are bees infected by Zombie Flies? Help solve the mystery by collecting honey bees and reporting easy-to-spot signs of infection. You’ll know it when you see it! Get started!


On Sunday, 5/18 at 9:26 am ET, the Space X Dragon Cargo will be released from the International Space Station to return to Earth. The Cargo will splash down into the Pacific Ocean returning our very own citizen science research project, Project MERCCURI, to Earth! You can watch this all take place, LIVE, on NASA TV: May 18, Sunday 9 a.m.

Learn more about Project MERCCURI at SpaceMicrobes.org.

Want your project featured in our newsletter? Contact jenna@scistarter.com