Conservation Ecology: Citizen Science Project [Project Design]

Project design

So I’m behind on my posts, but I’ve been busy! You, dear reader, are three weekends behind my birding adventures! My apologies. (Just so you know: I’m birding at Heritage Park, Blacksburg on the weekends & during the week I’m birding from my kitchen window!) Seriously, it is a priority to get those posts up. We have seen a lot of interesting characters since spring has sprung!

For now, though, let me slow things down a bit and tell you a little more about my project design and how works. The following questions in bold come from the prompt and I’m going to use them to help me frame my response.

What happens to the data you’ll be collecting? How is it used?

Data that I enter into my eBird App is collected into a database and then shared with the global eBird database. I don’t know that I can explain it better than their website, so I will quote their “About” page below:

“Data Integration

eBird collects observations from birders through portals managed and maintained by local partner conservation organizations. In this way eBird targets specific audiences with the highest level of local expertise, promotion, and project ownership. Portals may have a regional focus (aVerAves, eBird Puerto Rico) or they may have more specific goals and/or specific methodologies (Louisiana Winter Bird Atlas, Bird Conservation Network eBird). Each eBird portal is fully integrated within the eBird database and application infrastructure so that data can be analyzed across political and geographic boundaries. For example, observers entering observations of Cape May Warbler from Puerto Rico can view those data separately, or with the entire Cape May Warbler data set gathered by eBird across the western hemisphere.

Data Accessibility

eBird data are stored in a secure facility and archived daily, and are accessible to anyone via the eBird web site and other applications developed by the global biodiversity information community. For example, eBird data are part of the Avian Knowledge Network (AKN), which integrates observational data on bird populations across the western hemisphere. In turn, the AKN feeds eBird data to international biodiversity data systems, such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). In this way any contribution made to eBird increases our understanding of the distribution, richness, and uniqueness of the biodiversity of our planet.”

This is a screenshot of what the App looks like. I begin by hitting Start and it allows me to move through a handful of interfaces to provide descriptive information about location, time of day, date, etc. Then all I have to do is start looking for birds I’m seeing and reporting how many into the checklist. When I’m done, I send it off!

This screenshot is from my first observation in my backyard when I was trying to figure out how to use the app. It didn’t take me long to get the hang of it; but as you can see, I saw 0 Kildeer. I hit this bird by accident, and while I could report the sighting at 0, I am still not sure how to completely remove it off the checklist. With more time using the app, I hope to become much smoother at recording observations.

Are the project managers losing any opportunities in how they use the data?

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to answer this question. So, I originally found through the website, but I think there could be more mention of it through this partnership. It would be great to be able to easily find the citizen science data and discover about the process through these other portals and partnerships. I think there are a lot of people out there who care about birds and would become engaged if they knew that the tool was there.

Are there aspects of the project design you think might be problematic? Things you’d change?

So far, the biggest problem is not being sure about the ID’s. For me, it’s got to be a positive ID–meaning I’ve got to know what it is I’m looking at before I report it. I am not reporting sightings of birds that I don’t know unless I’m sure of the family or genus and can narrow it down to sparrow spp., woodpecker spp., or hawk spp., etc., for instance. I wonder if other citizen scientists are also hesitant to submit inaccurate information.  I’ve seen some places where I can be general with my ID in the app, but I think there are some opportunities for improvement. Even though I hike with my manual, I think it would be cool if there were photos on the app that I could also view for reference. This would be helpful to other app users who might need a little assistance getting that really-right positive ID.

Are there aspects of the project design you think are innovative or clever?

I love how they partner with local organizations all over the globe. This makes it easy to tap into the regional experts and I think this is a wise use of resources. Each little group sharing information together to create this database of bird observations is a powerful use of technology, resources, and manpower. Sure, there are likely to be errors, but overall, I think that there is a lot to gain from this kind of citizen science data. I really enjoy contributing to this global conservation.

How have the results of this project been shared (or will be shared in the future)? Is the focus on communicating directly with other scientists? With the public? Both? Include links to whatever results have been publicly shared (whether that’s linking to abstracts from peer-reviewed papers, or to outreach materials, or to something else).

eBird shares their data on their website through their “Explore Data” page. Any There are other metrics you can see: arrivals and departuers, first/last records, species high counts, and summary tables. Users can also download data to use in their own projects. It seems to me that the focus is to share the data with whomever might be interested–whether you are a scientist or just a regular person who happens to be interested in birds, the data is there for you.

I found a book chapter (Case Study: Connecting With Students Through Birds) that talks about using eBird in citizen science; but it is geared towards middle and high school students:

Citizen Science : 15 Lessons That Bring Biology to Life, 6-12. (2013). Arlington, US: NSTA Press. Retrieved from

This article published in November 2016 provides a nice review of the tool and provides a ton of interesting links that would help supplement learning through birding:

Nugent, J. (2016, November). Fly into schoolyard citizen science with eBird. Science Scope, 40(3), 8. Retrieved from Accessed 16 April 2017.

I then came across this interesting article:

Dickinson, J., Shirk, J., Bonter, D., Bonney, R., Crain, R., Martin, J., … Purcel, K. (2012) The current state of citizen science as a tool for ecological research and public engagement. Frontiers in Ecology and Environment, 10(6), 291-7, doi:10.1890/110236. Retrieved from Accessed 16 April 2017.

I actually found a lot of primary sources that talk about eBird and use the data in the research. I am excited to see that it has been successful in aiding of scholarly pursuits. I look forward to seeing more studies coming out that use this crowd-sourced data.

Another article from Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment:

Hampton, S., Strasser, C., Tewksbury, J., Gram, W., Budden, A., Batcheller, A., . . . Porter, J. (2013). Big data and the future of ecology. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 11(3), 156-162. Retrieved from Accessed 16 April 2017.
 So in the end, it seems like this open-source data is just out there for anyone to use if they want to, which I think is great. The more we share, the more we can collaborate together to make more discoveries about this world that we live in. This will be increasingly important, I think, as we move deeper into the Anthropocene and we work together to understand how we have impacted our planet, her resources, and the plants and creatures that inhabit the land and sea. This is an exciting time for science!
Here I am, out in the field, birding & this is the field guide that I use. It was recommended to me by the late Sam Riffell, Ph.D. who was one of my advisers at Mississippi State University during my master’s thesis.


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