Citizen scientists are making a big difference in what we know about birds and the natural world. Citizen science is the partnership of volunteers with scientists to answer real-world questions. There are many opportunities to get involved in citizen science initiatives of all levels. Explore our favorite opportunities below!
Bird-related citizen science projects
WHAT: Early-winter bird census
WHEN: Annually, Dec. 14-Jan. 5
WHERE: Across North America
WHY: Data on bird populations fuels smart bird conservation
National Audubon's Christmas Bird Count (or CBC, as its known to seasoned pros) is the nation's longest-running citizen science bird project. Over a century's worth of data has been collected since the project began, and now its as much of a tradition for many friends and families as it is a massive scientific project. Data from the Christmas Bird Count has been used in countless important research discoveries, including National Audubon's landmark Birds and Climate Change study. Madison Audubon Society members often participate in Christmas Bird Counts, and we encourage our members to get involved! Find out how to get started below.
WHAT: Online-based late winter bird census
WHEN: Annually in February (check here for upcoming dates)
WHERE: Around the world!
WHY: Scientists use information from the Great Backyard Bird Count to get the “big picture” about what is happening to bird populations. The longer these data are collected, the more meaningful they become in helping scientists investigate far-reaching questions.
Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time. Now, more than 160,000 people of all ages and walks of life worldwide join the four-day count each February to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds. It's very easy to participate! Simply tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count. You can count from any location, anywhere in the world, for as long as you wish!
WHAT: Multi-year field survey documenting breeding birds in the state of Wisconsin
WHEN: 2015-2019 (the first Breeding Bird Atlas data collection took place from 1995-2000)
WHERE: Throughout the state of Wisconsin
WHY: Results from this project will guide local and regional conservation projects here in Wisconsin
The Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II is a comprehensive field survey that documents the distribution and abundance of birds breeding in an area. The information gained will help identify the conservation needs of breeding birds in Wisconsin.
Put your love of birds to work and learn to bird watch in a new way by closely observing bird behavior and reporting the data online. It’s easy! Sign up to observe birds near your home, your favorite birding spots, and in atlas "priority blocks." Report your observations of bird behavior online using a specific eBird "portal" for the Atlas project. The Atlas is a volunteer effort, with birdwatchers, nature centers, nonprofit organizations and government agencies coming together in a jointly coordinated effort by the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory.
WHAT: Winter-long survey of backyard bird feeder visitors
WHEN: Annually, Nov.-April
WHERE: North America
WHY: FeederWatch scientists gain insight into the distribution and abundance of our winter birds
What sets the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's FeederWatch project apart from other monitoring programs is the detailed picture that FeederWatch data provide about weekly changes in bird distribution and abundance across the United States and Canada. Importantly, FeederWatch data tell us where birds are as well as where they are not. This crucial information enables scientists to piece together the most accurate population maps.
WHAT: Nest monitoring survey
WHEN: Annually during breeding season
WHERE: Across the United States
WHY: To track the status and trends of the reproductive biology of birds
Participating in Cornell Lab of Ornithology's NestWatch program is easy and amazing. 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 NestWatch 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.
WHAT: Eastern bluebird nest box monitoring projects
WHERE: Throughout Wisconsin
WHEN: Annually, spring-summer
The Bluebird Restoration Association of Wisconsin (BRAW) is Madison Audubon members' go-to resource for starting and monitoring bluebird nest box trails. When BRAW was organized in 1986, it was estimated that the Eastern Bluebird population in its historic range had declined by 90% during the preceding 50 years. BRAW works to bring to light the efforts of Wisconsin citizens who had been helping bluebirds in the past and those who have recently joined their ranks.
A real-time, online checklist program, eBird has revolutionized the way that the birding community reports and accesses information about birds, and has proven to be an incredibly valuable tool for ornithologists. Launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, eBird provides rich data sources for basic information on bird abundance and distribution at a variety of spatial and temporal scales. Access our eBird guide on our BIRDING RESOURCES page.
Other citizen science projects
WHAT: Tagging migrating monarch butterflies
WHEN: Annually, Aug.-Sep.
WHERE: Across the United States (tagging events are hosted at Madison Audubon's Goose Pond Sanctuary each year)
WHY: Recent declines in monarch butterfly populations prompted investigation to learn more about these incredible migrating insects
In all the world, no butterflies migrate like the monarchs of North America. Migrating populations travel up to three thousand miles! They are the only butterflies to make such a long, two-way migration each year. Scientists are eager to learn more about monarch migration, in order to best understand the species conservation needs. Populations of this once abundant butterfly have sharply declined, and it is urgent to understand why to forge new and effective conservation efforts.
Wisconsin Frog & Toad Survey
WHAT: A citizen-based monitoring program coordinated by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program (NAAMP)
WHERE: Across the state of Wisconsin
WHEN: Early spring, late spring, and summer
WHY: The primary purpose of the Wisconsin Frog & Toad Survey (WFTS) is to determine the status, distribution, and long-term population trends of Wisconsin's twelve frog and toad species
The WFTS was initiated in 1981 in response to known and suspected declines in several Wisconsin species, particularly northern leopard frogs (Lithobates pipiens), Blanchard's cricket frogs (Acris crepitans), pickerel frogs (Lithobates palustris), and bullfrogs (Lithobates catesbeianus). The WFTS began annual statewide surveys in 1984 and is now one of the longest running amphibian monitoring projects in North America. Phenology surveys have also recently been added to help monitor frog breeding seasons in relation to fluctuating spring weather conditions.
North American Butterfly Count
WHAT: Butterfly census conducted each summer
WHERE: In 15-mile diameter circles across the state
WHY: To monitor butterfly populations across North America
There are four North American Butterfly Counts conducted in Madison Audubon's service area. They include counts in Avoca, Baraboo, Madison, and Mud Lake/Poynette. The Poynette count includes Madison Audubon's Goose Pond Sanctuary. Get involved with a butterfly count in your region, or join us at Goose Pond!
WHAT: Wildlife monitoring using trail cameras
WHERE: Throughout Wisconsin
WHY: Trail camera monitoring provide Wisconsin DNR scientists with easy and affordable access to wildlife population data
Snapshot Wisconsin is a statewide wildlife monitoring program that relies on volunteers to host trail cameras throughout the year. Trail cameras are mounted to trees or posts and take photos when triggered by the heat and movement of a passing animal. Once the photos are uploaded and classified by the Zooniverse community, they become data that can be used to understand patterns of animal occurrence for many different species.
Have a citizen science project for us to add to this page? Just send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Banner photo by Matt Reetz