By Dave Curry
The first pair of bluebirds passed through the back yard on Sunday morning and had to stop and check out the birdhouse in the garden. Like well-heeled investors looking for a time share townhouse, bluebirds can’t pass up a deal. Is it dry and clean? Is there plenty of food and water nearby? Is it safe? The mild winter, so far, may have inspired these early birds. They will probably continue shopping and moving around for a while. Many more blues will begin to pass through towards the end of the month but serious nesting won’t begin for a couple of months yet.
So now is the time to get those birdhouses out there. A nice open spot 50 to 100 feet away from the woods may be ideal. Remember, in bird real estate it’s location, location, location. And an opening of 1.5 inches in diameter is good for most cavity nesters.
Do you want to be a scientist?
This weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count and you can participate. If you have a feeder in your backyard, you may already know most of the birds that visit there. All you need to do is sign up online at birdsource.org, print out the data sheet, observe and estimate the number of different birds you see, and then enter that data onto the GBBC website via your home computer.
It is that easy. And now you are a scientist. You will be contributing information into a database that will be looked at by scientists from around the world to study distribution, effects of weather and climate, timing of migrations and the effects of certain diseases.
To qualify, you need not be an ornithologist. Anyone with an interest in birds can do this. In fact it is a great activity for kids. A good bird book can help with identification. Small groups or classes can work together with a parent or teacher and collect important information.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon along with several other partners have sponsored the GBBC for many years. More than 100,000 checklists were turned in last year from all over the country. Several prizes will be given to participants, such as bird feeders, books and mugs.
If you are not into bird watching, there are many other fields of Citizen Science that you can be involved in. You can count craters on the moon at Moon Zoo. There are old weather records that you can help to digitize at Old Weather-Phase III. Citizens can also input information on weather and earthquakes.
This writer has been involved in frog calling surveys and macro biotic surveys for water quality testing. The former involved learning a few frog calls and then listening at night to survey an area. The latter involved seining out fresh water creeks and rivers to determine the critters living there, such as mayflies, stone and caddis flies. In general, the more species of bugs found there, the cleaner the water. These types of surveys are always a lot of fun, particularly if kids are involved, and the diversity of critters can be amazing.
The US Geological Survey and Cornell University are two leaders in public participation science. More info can be found at usgs.gov and birds.cornell.edu. And if you plug in “Citizens Science” into any search engine, it will reveal dozens of opportunities to join in.
You are not too young or too old to join in. Find a program that interests you. Participate, learn new insights, collect valuable information and have fun doing it. So, do you want to be a scientist?
If you have questions for Dave about citizen science, contact DLCurry@frontiernet.net