The Great Backyard Bird Count – an annual event that will be held this year from Feb. 12 to 15 – invites amateur birdwatchers, as well as experts, to gather data on birds in the area.
The project, founded by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, focuses on learning more about bird behaviour, conservation strategies, and bird environments. Public participation plays a key role in this type of scientific research.
Jon McCracken, national program manager at Bird Studies Canada, said that more and more citizen science projects similar to the Great Backyard Bird Count are taking place all over the world. A lot more scientists are now also relying on observations made by the public to help them collect data on a greater scale, McCracken added.
People can choose their levels of involvement in the project. They can watch and count birds for a mere fifteen minutes a day, or for many hours each day, according to McCracken.
Sheila Jasanoff, a professor of science and technology studies at the Harvard Kennedy School, said that the concept of citizen science is not something new. Ever since the 1700s, amateur naturalists helped record and index local animal and plant life, she explained. Nowadays, the fields of ornithology and astronomy still attract a lot of communities, Jasanoff noted.
The level of engagement and communication between scientists and the public has changes a lot with the Internet and social media. Mobile-phone technology is an especially important tool (among others) that birdwatchers have today.
Andrew Maynard, a professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University, and Director of the Risk Innovation Lab, stated that thanks to new technology, ordinary people now have a great deal of opportunities to collect data for research, contribute toward scientific progress, and become more engaged in science.
Other citizen science projects include: JellyWatch, launched with the help of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California; Firefly Watch, of the Museum of Science in Boston; Bat Detective, run by Zooniverse.
To this day, the Great Backyard Bird Count (launched in 1998) remains one of the most enduring citizen science projects. A record of 147,265 bird checklists was entered in 2015 by people in more than one hundred countries, who also took notes of changes in bird behaviour, according to the researchers.
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