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Citizen Science

Our goal with Citizen Science is to promote learning through engagement and collect important data on bird distributions, abundance, and nesting success across the continent and beyond. We use the Web to help people learn about birds and science, collect data, visualize patterns in the data, and even modify their own practices, cultivating sustainable habits and habitats in their backyards and parks. We believe this builds empowering cognitive connections between what we do as individuals and the environmental challenges we face. Our comprehensive suite of data gathering tools and educational materials support involvement of the public in important ecological research carried out in backyards, urban landscapes, and open spaces. Our scientific investigations focus on the consequences of biotic and abiotic change for bird populations. Fundamental citizen science projects at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology include NestWatch, FeederWatch, The Great Backyard Bird Count, eBird, and Celebrate Urban Birds, which focuses on urban and Latino audiences. We currently have NSF funding from the Informal Science Education Program to support development of a new project, YardMap, for which we

YardMap is a project begun in 2009 with support from the National Science Foundation's Informal Science Education program.

are creating a social and ecological mapping application to crowd source sustainable practices in backyards, schoolyards, corporate campuses, parks, and other public spaces. Once developed, YardMap will provide an integrated social networking and mapping environment for citizen scientists' bird monitoring efforts, gardening practices, and residential conservation efforts, allowing people to draw and share what is on their property, while we store their information in a large database along with our bird observations so that we can study simultaneously the social and ecological impacts on bird populations.

YardMap PI's: Janis L. Dickinson, Marianne Krasny, Nancy Trautmann, Nancy Wells, Y. Connie Yuan

YardMap Partners: American Community Gardening Association, National Audubon Society, Roger Tory Peterson Institute, Empire State College, U.S.F.W.S. National Wildlife Refuges

Can YardMap make it easier to be green?

In this project, we extend our work beyond bird monitoring by asking people to implement and advertise sustainable practices that increase the bird friendliness of their yards and parks and reduce energy consumption. In this project we will investigate the impact these activities have on birds and on the behavior of people within the network (diffusion of behaviors, cooperation, altruism). Our target audience is people 35 and up, but we expect that most YardMappers will be older populations, largely retired and with free time on their hands. By asking YardMap participants to invent new practices in the vein of popular mechanics to increase household energy efficiency and reduce energy use, we will be crowdsourcing innnovation in service of conservation and climate change prevention, tapping the expertise of the most educated, resourceful, and talented retired cohort in history. The YardMap takes advantage of what we know about how communities function by allowing participants to display their sustainable practices, establish identities, and advertize their talents and gifts to the online community. If online audiences become actively engaged in a sustainable online community, will this lead to rapid propagation of behavioral change in the areans of residential habitat management and personal carbon footprints?

Project Development

Citizen Science is a team effort. In developing projects, citizen science program staff face the challenge of creating data collection protocols that are both rigorous and match realistic expectations for what participants are willing to contribute. This is a science in itself and has led to new models for developing citizen science projects, as described in The Citizen Science Project Toolkit .

A Combination of Natural and Social Sciences Research

Our work combines evolutionary behavioral ecology, spatial ecology, communications, and human dimensions research to understand ecological patterns as well as educational and behavioral impacts of citizen science participation.  Using contemporary models from Cornell Cooperative Extension, we view our participants as stakeholders and revise project recruitment strategies according to what we learn about our audience from outside, professional evaluation.

The wide variety of recruitment strategies we use are designed to increase diversity, increase participant numbers, and fill the gaps in our data, particularly in less inhabited regions of the west. Our goal is to turn citizen science into a continent-wide monitoring and adaptive management tool to understand how management of habitat and support for changing human practices can increase survival and reproductive success of birds in residential landscapes where the importance of habitat quality to biodiversity is in need of further research.

In addition to participant support, we have citizen science staff with a broad array of research interests. For example, Ben Zuckerberg and David Bonter are focusing on invasive species and climate change issues; Karen Purcell (along with outside evaluator Cecilia Garibay) is engaged in furthering our knowledge of how best to bring citizen science to Latino audiences.

Because our citizen science projects are large and increase in scientific value with increased participation over the long-term, sustainability is one of the primary challenges we face. We use a combination of grant-writing, development, fees for materials, and marketing strategies to increase recruitment and sustain the projects.
Citizen Science is currently supported by:

The Arthur A. Allen Director of Citizen Science Endowment
The Adelson Family Fund for Citizen Science
The National Science Foundation
Cornell Cooperative Extension
U.S. Trust

Citizen Science Program Staff
For staff information go here; for project information, click on specific project links above.


Arecibo at Dusk

Participant checking nest boxes