Birds & Birding

7 Citizen Science Projects for Bird Lovers

March 30, 2016

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Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in Monongahela National Forest area near Dry Fork, West Virginia. Photo © Kent Mason

Looking to go birding and help conservation? Here are our picks for some of the best bird-related citizen science projects.

  1. Sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus). Photo © Zak Pohlen/Flickr

    Each fall, at mountains and tall hills across North America, you can gather for a hawk watch to count the thousands of raptors migrating together overhead.

    Organizations like HawkWatch International coordinate the events and teach participants techniques to identify and count the massive number of birds on the wing.

  2. Great Backyard Bird Count

    Grackle at feeder. Photo © Matt Miller/TNC

    A joint project of the National Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) invites everyone from new bird watchers to serious life listers to submit the birds they’ve spotted. 

    It’s one of the largest citizen science projects in the United States and is spreading around the world. Participation only takes fifteen minutes of observation in your backyard or favorite birding spot.

  3. A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird feeding. Photo © Lewis Feldkamp

    Ruby-throated hummingbirds are already making their way into the United States. Put up your feeders and watch for these fairy-like birds.

    Journey North observations have already revealed changes in the patterns of hummingbird migration — information that could be key in making sure that important stopover habitat is conserved for these surprisingly tough long-distance migrants.

  4. Tree Swallows at a nest box. Photo by Flickr user Richard Griffin through a Creative Commons license

    When you see nests in your yard, do you ever wonder how many eggs there are, how many hatch, and how many survive to leave the nest?

    NestWatch gives you guidelines to answer those questions without disturbing the birds and tools to share the data with scientists studying trends in bird populations.

  5. Male kestrel (Falco sparverius). Photo © Richard Griffin/Flickr through a Creative Commons license

    A gorgeous and once common bird, the kestrel is in a steep and mysterious decline. A combination of factors has likely led to the decrease in population; habitat loss and competition with invasive species are two of the primary suspects.

    You can help scientists to untangle the mystery by watching nest cams online and reporting your observations. In addition to the nest cams, you can join the American Kestrel Partnership by monitoring a kestrel nest box or boxes in your area.

  6. A California Condor and it's chick. Photo by Pacific Southwest Region USFWS through a Creative Commons license.

    This is a great year for the California Condor, the first that more birds hatched & fledged in the wild than died.

    That success wouldn’t be possible without programs that monitor the birds and treat them for lead poisoning, a serious threat to condor survival. You can help by participating in CondorWatch online. Your observations of condor images will help scientists to spot early signs of lead poisoning so that they can bring birds in for treatment.

  7. Red knot with two bands. Photo © PROKenneth Cole Schneider/Flickr through a Creative Commons license

    What should you do if you see a banded bird? Ornithologist Joe Smith explains how you can report your sighting for citizen science and build biographies of birds that are sighted again and again.

    One of the most famous birds whose life has been documented by citizen scientists and professionals alike is moonbird (B95) a red knot who has been resighted throughout his migration from South America to the Arctic many times over the last 20 years.

  8. Bonus Round – Improve Your Birding Skills!

    Whether you’re a novice, expert or somewhere in between we’ve got something for you. Text BIRD LOVER to 97779 to learn something new!

    And, if you’re looking for great a place to see the spring migration, check out these Nature Conservancy preserves that provide habitat for migratory birds.

Lisa Feldkamp

Lisa loves all things citizen science and enjoys learning about everything that goes on four legs, two wings or fins - she even finds six and eight-legged critters fascinating at a safe distance. She has a PhD in Classical Literature and Languages from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and enjoys reading Greek and Roman literature or talking about mythology in her spare time. More from Lisa

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What Are Your Favorite Bird Projects?

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  1. Thank you so much for this article, I loved it very much. I would recommend this to anyone wanting to start or begin to get involved.

  2. I own a preserve that has all species of animals of charlotte and I would like to help more animals and travel to more exotic places

  3. cranes involved in sand hill crane count in Wis very intresting

  4. I want to do a bird project for my school science fair and I am trying to choose between 2:
    1. How intelligent are macaw parrots?
    2. How durable are bird feathers?

    1. Have you talked to your teacher about which might be a better option? Another starting point is to think about how you would test each one and what resources you would need.

  5. […] Ebird is a global community of birders that submits observations in the form of checklists. This dataset helps Cornell University to interpret trends that are harder to understand on the individual level: things like migration patterns and the effects of climate change on bird populations. You don’t need to be a pro birder to start contributing to citizen scientist efforts. Here are a few ways to get started. […]