By Ty Cryan, Davidson College Intern
When you think of scientists, what images come to mind? White lab coats holding a test tube, gaze locked in a pensive stare pondering the great questions of our universe? What if I told you the real picture of a scientist looked a lot like you?
Through the Citizen Science initiative, science is no longer exclusive to professionals or people with specializations. Millions of regular people across the country and the world are already participating in Citizen Science, and you can, too! Citizen Science makes exploring the important questions of our world accessible, attainable, and, most importantly, FUN for the whole family!
But first, what exactly is Citizen Science?
Citizen science incorporates the public into the scientific process, whether that be through designing of experiments, analyzing results, solving problems, or, most commonly, collecting data. The world is a big wide place, and it’s impossible to see it all. But through the collective effort of many people reporting what they see, scientists have a better shot at understanding how all these complex systems work. The data collected allows trained scientists to make more informed decisions on matters such as ecosystem management, climate change, and even pollution. In addition to assisting trained scientists, Citizen Science helps you learn, too! By viewing your environment with an inquisitive and analytical eye, you are bound to expand your knowledge of the wonders of our natural world.
At this point, I know you are wondering, “how can I use citizen science to help birds like those found at the Raptor Center?”
Well, there are a plethora of bird related citizen science projects out there. Many of the raptor-related projects, such as the NPS’s Hawk Watch, are focused on regions of the country outside of Mecklenburg County. However, the Cornell Ornithology Lab has an array of bird related projects to suit your fancy. eBird, one of the most popular projects offered by the Cornell Lab, allows citizen scientists to share bird sightings and explore the diversity of wildlife in the local area. Learn more about eBird here: https://ebird.org/home.
Another initiative, NestWatch, allows citizen scientists to locate and monitor trends in the development of baby birds. NestWatch is a great way to get out into nature and learn about the reproductive biology of birds! Learn more about NestWatch here: https://nestwatch.org/about/overview/.
Whether you become a lifelong citizen scientist or sporadic participant, Citizen Science offers a structured way for the whole family to explore nature. If you are inquisitive about the natural world like me, noticing that cardinal darting by or the well-camouflaged owl perched overhead, then Citizen Science may be just right for you! Why not put your observational skills to the test by helping professionals make decisions with major environmental implications, and at the same time reconnecting with the natural world? And, hey, you just might learn something, too!
* While the common term is "Citizen Science," community based science such as this is open and accessible to all people who reside in the United States.