How to Do Bird Watching as a Citizen Science Project




iNaturalist screenshot

Mostly, people are doing bird watching as a hobby. But you can go one step further and become a citizen scientist with your bird observations. So, here, I am going to show you how you can do that.

When do birding, you develop your own methods to find birds. And, you have your own knowledge base and unique experiences.

However, since data recording is not our primary goal and lack of recording options, we do not record our data. Hence, over time, often we neglect some information and forget some and very little information will be retained with us.

But now, if you want to properly record your data, you don’t need to fill your notebooks or maintain spreadsheets on your bird observations. There are online applications and mobile APPs to store your observation in a meaningful manner.

You can simply share your bird observations in these online citizen science platforms. Then, your observation gets evaluated. It will be stored and analyzed by scientists to understand the distribution patterns, population fluctuations, and changes in bird occurrences.

They use that analyzed data to make conservation-oriented decisions with the information available. It aids in bird conservation.

Citizen Science Programs

Citizen science programs are simply online data gathering portals to store, share, and manage nature base observations/ records entered by users. Usually, you can enter valuable information such as species names, how many have seen/number of individuals for each observation, the location you visited, time/ time duration, behaviors.

Further, you can upload your photos, audio recordings, videos as well. This data entering process is quite straightforward and user-friendly thanks to modern-day technologies. The satellite communication technology, smartphones, and mobile APPs collectively fine tune the data gathering process to streamline user engagement in this task.

For example, Apps such as Google Earth or Google Maps aid in precisely storing your smartphone positioning with correct latitude and longitude values with an accuracy of ±5 m (personal experience) with high signal reception.

And also, those apps have optimized their user interfaces to gather data with a minimum number of touches on the smartphone screen where you can input your data while you walk in the field.

Scientific Aspect

The scientific part comes with the accurate positioning of the observations with time and date. We have to input our location, date, and time. We do not need to manually enter them.

Date and time can be automatically detected by the smartphone system settings, and location will be identified by Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) technology.

Most importantly the data/ observations entered by users, often validated by experts or regional users with higher experience on the subject. When this type of data is accumulated over a considerable period, it is quite similar to systematically collected data set since repeated data entries may occur to a single known location by several users. Due to that the error rate is also get reduced.

This kind of data collected over a long time can be used to identify long-term trends of abundance fluctuations, identify local birding hotspots, an automated compilation of location checklists, and many more.

Why Information Collected and Processed from This Method Is Valuable?

  1. Anybody who does not have firsthand experience in bird watching or without prior knowledge of a location can get an idea of the potential bird species specific to a location. And, he/she gets a general understanding of the location.
  2. Further this data/ information can be easily accessible, import, export, analyze and share by anybody on request from the main coordinators of the data portals.
  3. Someone can go for a deeper ecological analysis such as species distribution modeling, niche modeling, and even time series analysis as well.
  4. A large amount of data means, it has a considerable accuracy. With higher accuracy, many scientific predictions can be done.
  5. Since the APPs are real-time and updated daily with many data inputs entered by thousands of users, it is possible to see the real-time trends and fluctuations of bird life.
  6. Great stage to visualize the data in a creative way, where we can get clear insights about the data we put.
  7. Facilitate scientific publications and knowledge building.   

Anyone Can Do This; No Need to be a Scientist

The use of these APPs is quite straightforward to learn. Those APPs are developed for an average smartphone user. With easy and user-friendly interfaces of these APPs, even a kid (Age > 10) can make use of them.

Once you learn the basics, you will be using it frequently for sure. You can get identification help even from serious scientists, museum curators, and also local experts once you begin to upload your photos and recordings of birds/ or any animal.  

If you are not into deeper analytical stuff, still you can see and experience automated simple data summarizing and simple analyses such as monthly data averages, your life list, list of the location visited with the number of bird species, visit per year, etc.

Such information surely motivates you to engage more with APPs to store and play with your data. Because all you need to do is just input your observations to the system.

Most importantly, you are providing a piece of important information that might be crucial for someone else’s analysis of birds. More often beneficiaries could be conservation scientists or university students, who are planning to propose conservation implications to protect a bird or a bird community.

If we are generous enough to share our observations on animals and plants, many volunteers contribute their analytical skills to develop our observed data into usable information in species conservation.

With a considerable amount of work done by dedicated data scientists, we can see and experience many important aspects of data-driven information such as migratory pathway (often animated with observer’s data), abundance map, range maps, animal hotspots, habitat use, etc.   

Therefore, I highly recommend you, download and use these APPs to add more value to your observations.

Be a Recognized Birder

Some people have shared tons of observations already on these platforms. Those people have been recognized, evaluated, and appreciated for their contribution to bird conservation.

For example, eBird APP evaluates its users every month and gifting a ZEISS Conquest HD 8 x 42 binocular. So, be consistent with your data entering and be faithful with the system. And you can become a member of a large bird conservation-oriented family with more than 700 thousand eBirders.

Similar to eBird, iNaturalist is also an online platform where you can store not only bird observation but every other living form including plants. iNaturalist now has over one million users all over the world.

Due to high level of users on the platform, you get instant identification aid even if you put an unknown insect from the most remote place of your country (at least for genus level). Thus, you can get recognition from like-minded people with the same interest, and also you can be a part of any taxa-specific community.

Once you share your observations on those online citizen science information platforms, you are indeed a conservationist. Because you have shared your observation in a way someone else can use those data to conserve birds. Further, once you upload your observation to a citizen science data storing platform your data will be secured for a long time.  

But unfortunately, some people do not like to share their observations and no value will be added to that data. So, I encourage you to share your observation for the conservation of birds and became a globally recognize citizen conservationist.

In a time with increasing environmental issues and threats, your smallest contribution towards protecting the nature matters a lot. So, be a part of a great conservation community in the world by sharing your observations.