Backyard Citizen Science for Nature Lovers
Count birds, report caterpillars, plan a habitat... there's something for every nature lover to enjoy with these backyard citizen science projects.
Ever thought about becoming a scientist? What if you could do it with no extra schooling, from the comfort of home? If that sounds intriguing, then citizen science is right up your alley. Citizen science projects people of all ages and skill levels to help gather data on a variety of subjects, like bird nesting, monarch migration, and the changes in season. Scientists use this data to complete research on a much larger scale than they would be able to on their own. The internet has made citizen science more accessible than ever before, and millions of people participate in projects each year.. If you’d like to join in, check out these backyard citizen science projects you can do right in your own garden.
Backyard Citizen Science for Birders
eBird (a project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology) is the backyard citizen science project for birders. More than 500 million bird spottings have been reported to eBird in the last 15 years, and it’s become the number one place to go for information on birding hotspots, tracking, and more. The smartphone app makes it easy to use in the field, but you can also submit sightings using your computer. Learn more and submit your to eBird sightings here.
eBird is for reporting all sightings, but Project FeederWatch is specifically for backyard birders. Each winter (the time when birds visit feeders most), participants report sightings at their backyard bird feeders on two consecutive days once every week or so. The heart of these reports are the common, everyday birds you often take for granted. Monitoring these populations is vital to understanding the health of ecosystems and impacts of climate change. There is a small fee to participate in FeederWatch, to help support the costs involved in the project. In exchange, you receive a starter kit that includes a full-colored poster of common feeder birds. Learn about Project FeederWatch here.
If winter is for watching feeders, spring is for watching nests. NestWatch is a backyard citizen science project that monitors nesting birds, tracking their outcomes and exploring trends like timing, number of eggs, and more. NestWatchers visit a nest (after taking an online training course in the safest way to do so) every few days and report their findings. Get certified and start reporting here.
The cool thing about Merlin is that you’re helping contribute just by using it. Merlin helps identify mystery birds you’ve spotted using a picture you snap with your smartphone, or by answering a series of questions. It uses the eBird database of sightings to help find the answer. When you verify that Merlin’s ID is correct, it saves that info to help improve future performance. So just by looking up your own bird spottings, you’re helping others too! Download the free Merlin app in your appstore, or visit the Merlin site for more info.
Great Backyard Bird Count
You’re probably familiar with Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, which has been tallying birds for nearly 120 years now. The CBC is conducted in the field with other birders, and is one of the most popular citizen science projects of all time. Not everyone is able to get out and join a count, though, so in 1998, Audubon teamed up with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to create the Great Backyard Bird Count. It takes place over four days in February each year, and participating is as easy as watching the birds that visit your backyard and reporting them to the count. Mark your calendar and learn more about an upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count here.
Other Backyard Citizen Science Projects
Journey North has a variety of backyard citizen science projects. One of their most popular is the monarch monitoring project, which tracks monarch migration each spring and fall. They also gather data about hummingbird migration, the first appearance of American robins, and earthworm sightings. Check out all of their projects on the Journey North website.
Butterflies and Moths of North America
If you’re into butterflies, Butterflies and Moth of North America (BAMONA) is the site you need. It has all the information on any butterfly or moth species you’re likely to encounter in North America, including range, host plants, and identifying features. You can report your sightings too, to help compile data on the ever-shifting range of these wonderful creatures. Visit BAMONA here.
Project Noah might be the most truly interactive of backyard citizen science projects. It’s dedicated to documenting all of Earth’s living organisms, including animals and plants. You can upload your own sightings, even if you haven’t been able to identify them, and members of the Project Noah community will offer ID suggestions. You can also spend hours browsing the site to look at spottings from around the globe, and helping others ID their findings. Check out Project Noah here.
If you want to attract even more wildlife to your backyard, you need Habitat Network. This free program helps you plan and execute an amazing wildlife habitat, no matter how much land you have to work with. You can look to your neighbors or others around the world for inspiration, and join in an active community to chat with folks about the habitat elements that interest you most. Get started by mapping your own yard at Habitat Network, and see what it can do for you.
eButterfly is one of the newer citizen science projects, but it aims to be for butterflies what eBird is for birds. It’s a place to report your sightings, keep track of your butterfly life list, upload and share photos, and more. Submit your observations online at eButterfly here.
Ever spotted a banded bird? Learn how to report your spottings as a citizen scientist here.