Bird Town Pennsylvania has pulled together listings of Community Science Projects that can be supported either through individual or group efforts. Please browse the listings and pick a project that would be beneficial to your community to support birds, pollinators and the overall ecosystem. Every piece of data is important and will help scientists in their research.
What is Community Science?
Community Science projects are based on scientific methods and use scientific protocols. They are designed in such a way that non-scientists can be engaged in the collection of data that the scientists then use to further their research. Individuals and groups are asked to volunteer their time and go into nature and collect information that is then “crunched” by scientists to study such things as diversity in nature and trends in populations. Volunteers participate because they love nature, enjoy the outdoors, and want to help preserve our natural environment to help it flourish.
Volunteers who engage in these projects may have no formal training in the specific area and it is not required. All that is required is curiosity, a willingness to go out and explore, and a smartphone or computer where you can record the information collected by you or your group.
General Environmental Projects
A joint initiative with National Geographic and the California Academy of Sciences, iNaturalist is an easy to use, free, online social network of people sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature. It is a platform for science and conservation efforts, providing valuable open data to research projects, land managers, other organizations and the public.
How to participate:: Set up a free account on the iNaturalist website or download the app from the Apple or Google Play store and create your login there. Pick a username and password. Create your own project or join one. To start, just open the app and tap on the green circle with the plus sign at the bottom. Tap on the camera to take a photo , complete the form with species and view suggestions, save and upload.
Bird Monitoring Projects
Both the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society operate a number of community science programs which all require setting up a simple account to enter data.
This app is primarily geared to birders with a knowledge of bird species. By capturing and reporting your bird checklists, you contribute to hundreds of conservation decisions, peer-reviewed papers, thousands of student projects, and help inform bird research worldwide. eBird is among the world’s largest biodiversity-related science projects, with more than 100 million bird sightings contributed annually by eBirders around the world and an average participation growth rate of approximately 20% year over year.
How to participate: This program will require a knowledge of regional birds. First create an account then take the eBird Essentials Course on-line. Submit checklists when you go birding. Learn more about your sightings and follow eBird Best Practices all of which can be found on the website.https://support.ebird.org/en/support/solutions/articles/48001158707#Create-a-free-account
Note: a companion app called Merlin can help you to learn to identify birds: https://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/
This bilingual inclusive program which is equity based and strives to serve historically underrepresented communities, seeks to promote community led scientific research programming and also incorporates art, culture and other artistic expressions. To share how urban birds use green spaces, pick a location, choose three days and times to watch and complete a checklist. For more details, visit here: https://celebrateurbanbirds.org/cub/instructions. To enter data, a Cornell Lab account must be set up.
How to participate: This program will require a knowledge of regional birds. Based on your location when you sign up, you will be provided with a list of birds to observe in your region along with a link to learn about birds in your region.
By submitting counts of birds at your feeder, you help monitor what’s happening in your own backyard, and assist scientists in tracking long term trends in bird distribution and abundance. To help identify birds, a chart is provided when you sign up, with the common feeder birds which helps to make identification easy.
How to participate:: There is a fee of $18 for non-members of Cornell Lab of Ornithology and $15 if you are a member. You pick one or more locations in your backyard to observe birds, once a week, over the typical season which runs from November – April. A detailed chart of birds in your area will come as part of your membership kit so it is easy to learn about your birds.
The Christmas Bird Count is a census of birds in the Western Hemisphere, performed annually in the early Northern-hemisphere winter by volunteer birdwatchers. These are typically done as a group and you do not have to have a lot of bird knowledge to join a group. This is a good way to learn about birds while going out with experienced birdwatchers.
How to participate: Participation is free. However, you will need to provide your own transportation, binoculars and weather appropriate clothing. You will need to find a compiler who can put you in touch with a local group. Reference the website to find a compiler or local group.
NestWatch is a nationwide monitoring program designed to track status and trends in the reproductive biology of birds, including when nesting occurs, number of eggs laid, how many eggs hatch, and how many hatchlings survive. The database is intended to be used to study the current condition of breeding bird populations and how they may be changing over time as a result of climate change, habitat degradation and loss, expansion of urban areas, and the introduction of non-native plants and animals. While a knowledge of birds is required, there are resources on the website to help with identification of both birds and their eggs. Bluebirds are a commonly monitored species. The site provides a code of conduct, a nesting monitor manual and protocols.
How to participate: First, take an online quiz on their site to become certified. Once approved, find nests or monitor nesting boxes, record the data and submit your findings online. Parks and local Audubon chapters frequently set up groups to do this activity so that’s one way to do this activity as part of a group and also a great activity for Bird Towns.
The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a free, fun, and easy event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at birdcount.org. Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, or anywhere in the world. These are typically done as a group, but can also be done in your backyard, and you do not have to have a lot of bird knowledge to join a group. This is a good way to learn about birds while going out with experienced birdwatchers.
How to participate:You can watch alone or with a group. First determine where to observe birds, then observe birds for at least 15 minutes over the 4 day period. Report findings using either eBird or the Merlin Bird ID apps.
Global Big Day is an annual celebration of the birds around you. No matter where you are, you can join virtually to help celebrate World Migratory Bird Day, and share the birds you find with eBird. These are typically done as a group, but can also be done in your backyard, and you do not have to have a lot of bird knowledge to join a group. This is a good way to learn about birds while going out with experienced birdwatchers.
How to participate: You will need an eBird account. Simply watch birds for at least 10 minutes or more and report observations to eBird. You can select multiple observation sites.
Other Bird Monitoring projects Not Associated with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology or Audubon
The Barn Owl, American Kestrel, Short-eared Owl and Northern Harrier are in decline. These fabulous four benefit landowners by preying on pests, and they also indicate a healthy environment. To better understand them and their distributions, they need your help! Join by reporting sightings, hosting nest boxes, and encouraging conversations about the benefits of grassland raptors.
How to participate: If you have an interest in this project fill out this form for additional information.
Help Hawk Mountain scientists by submitting sightings of wing-tagged vultures. As nature’s clean-up crew, vultures remove decaying carcasses from our environment and help manage the spread of disease. When you report sightings of a wing-tagged vulture, you help to learn more about the movement ecology of these scavengers, resulting in mediation of human-vulture conflict and overall better health of the planet.
How to participate: You really just have to know the difference between a turkey vulture and a black vulture, and the website provides you with details on how to do this. If you spot a vulture with a wing tag your asked to fill in and submit a form so that these birds can be tracked.
Emphasis: Pledge to protect pollinators
Requirements: Sign an online pledge to:
1. Grow a variety of bee-friendly flowers that bloom from spring through fall.
2. Protect and provide bee nests and caterpillar host plants.
3. Avoid using pesticides, especially insecticides.
4. Talk to my neighbors about the importance of pollinators and their habitat.
Benefits: US map is marked with garden location, bragging rights
Cost: Free, sign available for $57 donation
Butterfly Monitoring Projects
This website provides information on tagging and monitoring monarch butterflies as they migrate in the eastern U.S. It also includes monitoring of other animals and birds including Hummingbirds, American Robins, Red-winged Blackbird, Barn Swallows, Common Loons, Bald Eagles, Orioles.
How to participate: To share sightings, an online registration form is required including your email and home address.
Providing an abundance of information about Monarchs, from migration, their biology, this program shows how to create a Monarch Waystation to tagging data and more.
How to participate: To submit tagging data, a simple online form must be completed.
This network of volunteer-based monitoring programs throughout North America collects butterfly abundance and distribution data.
Programs that are especially relevant for PA include eButterfly, The North American Butterfly Association and The Vanessa Migration Project and more detailed information can be found below for these 3 programs.
Similar to ebird, a real-time, online checklist and photo storage program, eButterfly is provides a way for the butterfly community to report, organize and access information about butterflies in Central and North American and the Caribbean. For over 60 years, eButterfly has provided rich data sources for basic information on butterfly abundance, distribution, and phenology at a variety of spatial and temporal scales across the region. The data is stored and collected by the University of Ottawa and shared with the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).
How to participate: An account is needed to participate.
The NABA has led the Butterfly Count Program in the US, Canada and Mexico since 1993. Butterflies are observed at sites within a 15 mile diameter count circle in a one day period. An annual report is published sharing the geographical distribution and relative population size.
How to participate: To participate in a local butterfly count, go to their map page here: (https://www.naba.org/counts/count_circles.html) which will give you contact information and the date of your local count. If there isn’t a local count, consider starting one by going here for more information: https://www.naba.org/counts/start.html.
Insect Monitoring Projects
Bumble Bee Watch is a collaborative effort to track and conserve North America’s bumble bees. This community science project allows for individuals to:
- Upload photos of bumble bees to start a virtual bumble bee collection;
- Identify the bumble bees in your photos and have your identifications verified by experts;
- Help researchers determine the status and conservation needs of bumble bees;
- Help locate rare or endangered populations of bumble bees;
- Learn about bumble bees, their ecology, and ongoing conservation efforts; and
- Connect with other community scientists.
How to participate: An account is needed, including your name, town, state and zipcode.
All over the country, data has been collected on pollinators in yards, gardens, schools and parks. Counts are taken of the number and types of pollinators visiting plants (especially sunflowers). Information has been gathered by this project on pollinator service since 2008, and they now have the largest single body of information about bee pollinator service in North America. Thanks to thousands of observers, it can be determined where pollinator service is strong or weak compared to averages.
How to participate: An account is needed including email and password.
Across North America ladybug species composition is changing. Over the past twenty years native ladybugs that were once very common have become extremely rare. During this same time ladybugs from other parts of the world have greatly increased both their numbers and range. This is happening very quickly and it’s not know how, or why, or what impact it will have on ladybug diversity or the role that ladybugs play in keeping plant-feeding insect populations low. Help find out where all the ladybugs have gone to prevent more native species from becoming so rare.
How to participate: Collect some ladybugs. Photograph them. Upload the photos using their submission form, which requests name, date, location and more detailed information.
This program’s purpose is to better understand pollinator presence in different regions worldwide. The data will be used to track the critical timing of pollinator activity and the host plants that they reply on for part of their life cycles, and ultimately, to help reduce pollinator decline. Questions seeking to be answered include:
How does human development impact pollinator diversity and abundance? Are certain activities more likely to affect insect and pollinator decline?
Are areas that are experiencing decline of key pollinator species also experience declines in other species? (e.g. grassland birds or amphibians)?
Is climate change causing the life cycles of flowers and pollinators to get out of sync?
How to participate: There are 2 levels of involvement:
Level 1: Set up an account on iNaturalist and join the Global Pollinator Watch project. Any observations submitted within the four target order of insects including butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera), bees, wasps, ants and sawflies (Hymenoptera), flies (Diptera) and beetles (Coleoptera). Collectively these 4 orders represent half of the described species of animals on earth.
Level 2: Set up an account on iNaturalist and join the project as above. Added here is including where you observe the insect and adding the Observational Field. More information is provided here: https://earthwatch.org/sites/default/files/2022-04/Adding%20Insect-Plant%20Associations%20in%20iNaturalist_2022.pdf