Get Started with Citizen Science with the Great Backyard Bird Count!
Birds: They pollinate, eat mosquitos, spread seeds, poop fertilizer… oh yeah, and they’re dinosaurs. They are a fascinating way to get your feet wet in the wonderful world of citizen science. Read on to learn just some of the reasons why birds are awesome, and how you can help them!
Community Composition and Trends
Bird population trends can help you understand what’s happening to the plants and animals they consume, and can say a lot about the overall state of an ecosystem1. Maybe there are mostly habitat generalists who are resilient to change, indicating a disturbed habitat, or maybe there is a stable population of specialists who are change intolerant, telling you that the area is doing alright1.
Long Distance Migrations
This species has the longest non-stop migration in the world, and they can do it really fast. Their route takes them straight across the Pacific, so they couldn’t stop if they wanted to2! A female Godwit holds the record at 11,500km, which she did in just 9 days2.
Surprising Ways of Life
When you think of a giant ground-dwelling bird an ostrich probably comes to mind. Let me introduce you its Australian cousin: the Cassowary. Females can reach a whopping 5.6” tall, with an ability to run 50 km/h, and jump 7” high3. Males are in charge of incubating the eggs and raising the young until they are about a year old3. They have incredible head ornaments called ‘casques’, the purpose of which still eludes scientists, but they might play a role in the low booming sounds they make to communicate through dense forest 3.
Many ducks have evolved the ability to swim underwater in search of prey. They are so good at it that they “sacrificed” the ability to walk well on land. Their legs are positioned so far back on their bodies to facilitate swimming that it can be quite difficult or impossible for them to walk or take flight from land. Head to Lake Ontario during the winter to see lots of diving ducks!
Yep – some birds have gone underground. The aptly named Burrowing Owl lives in old burrows made by other animals, and hunts on the ground for invertebrates and small vertebrates4. They’ve even evolved to have a higher tolerance for carbon dioxide, which is important to have in burrows where oxygen isn’t as available as above ground4.
Register for EcoSpark’s School Watch Program if you want to learn
how to incorporate bird-related, curriculum linked citizen science
into your classroom. Registration is open until April 5th and
includes a copy of our School Watch Guide featuring over a dozen
citizen science projects, including the Great Backyard Bird Count
happening February 15th to 18th. Pick a day, see how many birds
you can find in at least 15 minutes, and submit your observations
on eBird. Scientists use the data to answer big picture questions about birds.
Sara's passion for ecology, bird watching, and educating the public about the environment started during her undergraduate degree, where she focused on biodiversity, conservation, and ecology. Through a graduate degree in Environmental Science, Sara discovered the immense value of citizen science for advancing conservation, and has been working professionally and on a volunteer basis to encourage the public to take an active role in protecting their local environment and beyond. Working with EcoSpark was the logical way forward as Sara continues with her passion of spreading knowledge about nature and how fun and amazing it can be!