Anna's Hummingbird by W. H. Sim

What is citizen science?

Citizen science engages members of the public by encouraging them to record their observations of the natural world. The public and scientific community share and collaborate on their findings. Citizen science participants everywhere use basic scientific procedures to record and report observations of natural events. Hundreds of thousands of citizen scientists all across the world contribute millions of observations every year, creating an abundance of data and expanding the number and scope of research questions and opportunities.

Participation in citizen science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a way for you to learn about birds, scientific inquiry, and conservation by contributing to scientific studies. This partnership between the public and the scientific community constitutes one of the world’s largest collaborative scientific endeavors.

The Cornell Lab’s Citizen Science program offers an array of projects that engage hundreds of thousands of people in recording bird observations—whether in backyards, city streets, or remote forests. Scientists analyze these data to understand how birds are affected by environmental change, including climate change, urbanization, pollution, and land use. Participants learn about birds and have opportunities to see their own data as well as see results from data submitted by other citizen scientists from around the world.

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Why is citizen science important?

Citizen science programs are invaluable for collecting consistent information across large geographic areas over long periods of time. Data are submitted to our programs from hundreds of thousands of people all over the world and are added to databases that have been maintained for decades. People all over the world can create a large and detailed database in a significantly shorter amount of time than could a small research team. Citizen science researchers use long-term data, cross-validation with other surveys, and modern statistical approaches to detect patterns, investigate mechanisms, and understand changes among bird populations.

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How do I know which project(s) are right for me?

Use this handy quiz to learn which project(s) fits your interests. Refresh the webpage to start over.

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Can I participate in more than one project?

Yes! And you only need to create one account to do so. Use the same username and password to sign in to Celebrate Urban Birds, eBird, FeederWatch, Macaulay Library, and NestWatch.

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How much time does it take to participate in citizen science?

This can vary from participating for 1-2 minutes a single time to spending a few hours a week over the course of a few months, depending on the project and how much you would like to be involved. We’ve broken it down by project below:

NestWatch asks participants to visit a nest they’ve found every 3-5 days. However, nest checks are brief (~1 minute) to protect the birds. Therefore, you should plan to spend 2-3 minutes on your nest visit day checking and entering data for each nest you find; nesting cycles can go on for 3-6 weeks, so the total time spent participating will depend on how many nests you watch and how long they’re active.

Project FeederWatch participation varies. We ask participants to count the birds they see at their feeder for two consecutive days. However, the specific days and the count time is up to you; it can be as short as 10 minutes each day, or many hours! You should not perform your 2-day count more than once per week, but even if you count only once all winter, we’re still very happy to have your data!

Celebrate Urban Birds participation varies as well. In data collection tasks, CUBs asks participants to learn how to identify their local birds and choose a birdwatching area. Then, participants watch birds for 10 minutes a day for three days (those days do bot have to be consecutive, but ideally they should be within the same week) and count whether or not they saw those species enter their birdwatching area. CUBs connects people of all ages and backgrounds to birds and the natural world through the arts and fun neighborhood activities. We offer mini-grants, youth development opportunities, seasonal challenges, and much more!

eBird is used as a way for people to keep track of the species, sounds, and images they record while birdwatching. The time it takes to create an eBird checklist is completely up to the participant and depends on how much time is spent watching birds. Time spent can range from a quick sighting (an “incidental” report) to an hours-long birdwatching period. Entering one full checklist of data into eBird takes about 5-10 minutes on average, but this can depend on how many total bird species you see and how many photos or sounds you upload to your list.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event. Participants count birds for 15 minutes (or longer) on one or more of the count days and can count as often as they wish.

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So, it’s great for science, but what’s in it for me?

There are numerous benefits to participating in citizen science. Not only do you get to contribute to real scientific research, you’ll learn more about birds and the natural world around you and be given the tools to help make your space the best it can be for visiting wildlife. You’ll also have opportunities to connect with your local community, or with people across the continent (or even the world!). But don’t take our word for it, here are some comments from a few of our participants:

“Project FeederWatch gave me one of the best winters I’ve ever had! I learned so much, and I looked forward to every count day.”
–Beth Melonuk, Wyoming

“I started our kestrel project 10 years ago. Myself, along with my two friends never dreamed the project would be where it is today. Helping kestrels find suitable nesting sites and suitable habitat has become our #1 goal.”
-Alice Droske, Wisconsin

“I love being a citizen scientist and I love NestWatch.”
-Sally Serrano, California

“My favorite part is the link between the community and science education, since I feel very inspired by the work of the scientists. I think that the more educated the communities become, the better results we will see in terms of biodiversity conservation.”
-Anonymous Celebrate Urban Birds workshop participant

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How do I sign into my project(s)?

You can sign in or create an account by clicking on the “sign-in” button in the upper right-hand corner of each project homepage below:

NestWatch: nestwatch.org

Celebrate Urban Birds: celebrateurbanbirds.org

eBird: ebird.org

Great Backyard Bird Count: gbbc.birdcount.org

Project FeederWatch: feederwatch.org – You will first need to join the project and pay a membership fee.

**Remember, once you create an account, your username and password can be used on any of these sites.**

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How can I access citizen science data?

You can explore publicly available data from each project by following the links below.

NestWatch data: nestwatch.org/explore-data/

Project FeederWatch: feederwatch.org/explore/

Celebrate Urban Birds: celebrateurbanbirds.org/cub/maps/species/

eBird: ebird.org/explore/

Great Backyard Bird Count: ebird.org/gbbc/explore

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Do scientists and conservationists really use these data?

Yes, frequently! When your observation is submitted to one of our projects, it becomes part of a vast database containing data from thousands of other people who have participated over the previous decades! These databases are used to answer important scientific questions by our staff and the research is often published in highly reputable journals. External researchers also may request data from us for use in their own studies. For eBird data, visit the eBird Science page. For data from other projects, please email the relevant project or take a look at “How can I access citizen science data?” on this page.

For NestWatch and Project FeederWatch, annual summary reports are also published in the form of the NestWatch Digest and Winter Bird Highlights, respectively. These publications enable the public to also enjoy data summaries without needing to conduct any analyses themselves.

You can find lists below of publications that have used project data in their research:

Research using Project FeederWatch data

Research using NestWatch data

Research using eBird data

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What’s your data privacy policy?

Read our Privacy Policy here.

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Are my data secure? (Will hackers get my email address or credit card?)

Your data are secure. Data are stored in a secure database at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Raw data (including latitude and longitude of locations of observations) are freely shared with researchers upon request. eBird checklists will display name and location data (name is displayed by default, but can be turned off by the user). All other citizen science projects do not display personally identifiable information (email, phone, address, first or last names) publicly.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology collects certain payment and billing information when you register for certain paid services, such as the Project FeederWatch membership fee. You might also provide payment information, such as payment card details, which we collect via secure payment processing services. We do not store any payment card details on our servers. We use a PCI-compliant e-commerce transaction platform to securely process your payment.

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Can I delete my account?

We prefer not to delete accounts which have valid data in them. If you’re unable to continue in a project, we’d be happy to deactivate your account for you. Remember, this will deactivate the account across ALL projects.

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Can I have multiple accounts?

Yes, but accounts cannot be merged and data cannot be transferred between accounts. Please be mindful when creating your account. We encourage you to create one account for all Lab projects.

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Can I use the same citizen science account for more than one project?

Yes! We prefer it. One username and password will work across all of the project websites.

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Who do I contact to request a media interview or event speaker?

Please contact cornellbirds@cornell.edu.

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Do I need a computer or internet access to participate?

You will need an account on our website to submit data to us. If you do not own a computer, you may choose to collect data on paper and then submit it using a friend’s computer or one at your local library.

NestWatch and eBird have mobile apps available on iTunes and the Google Play Store. You can download these apps onto your smart device, such as a phone or tablet, to record and submit data. If you do not have internet access when recording data on these apps, the app will store your data so that you can upload it the next time you are connected to the internet.

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Do you offer grants or funding to groups who participate in Lab projects?

Celebrate Urban Birds (CUBs) encourages you apply for our mini-grants to help finance creative events that integrate the arts, gardening, community participation, and of course Celebrate Urban Birds’s citizen science project. Organizations that work with underserved communities are strongly encouraged to apply. No experience with birds required. The mini-grants range from $100 to $750 (USD). Learn more.

CUBs also invites organizations and groups in Latin America and the Caribbean Islands to apply for mini-grants to support workshops for educators about birding, BirdSleuth curricula, Lab resources and citizen science; and/or to support community events, which integrate the arts, citizen science, and habitat creation or restoration. These mini-grants are offered twice per year and range from $250 to $2500 dollars (USD). Learn more.

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Do you offer support/advice for institutions wishing to start up their own citizen science projects?

Yes! Check out our Citizen Science Toolkit.

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