For the love of birds: backyard explorers boost scientists’ work

The pandemic that brought normal life to a halt – halting travel and locking people in their homes – gave many families more time to study wildlife in their own backyards.

WASHINGTON — Georgetown University ecologist Emily Williams first became fascinated by birds, not because of their beauty, or their melodious songs. She was enthralled by his extraordinary journeys.

“The feeling that this little animal that can fit in the palm of your hand, can travel thousands and thousands of miles in the spring, and then does it again later in the year, was just amazing to me,” she said. said. “I’ve always been dazzled by migration.”

This spring and summer, his research project tracking the annual migration of American robbers has been fueled by enthusiasm from homeowners in the Washington area, who asked him and a research assistant to set up temporary research stations in their backyards before dawn. Have given – and occasionally contributed their own notes and comments.

Many homeowners eagerly show her that they have discovered robins’ nests in their azalea bushes, or share diaries built on the movements of birds passing through their yards – not only robins, but also cardinals, blue jays, houseplants, etc. Rats, tufted teats, white-throated sparrows, even red-shouldered hawks.

Williams often starts her fieldwork at 4:30 a.m., but she can only be in one backyard at a time. And so his research, like that of many biologists, benefits from the collaboration and enthusiasm of a growing number of citizen scientists—some of whom record their daily observations on Cornell University’s popular bird-watching smartphone app, eBird.

“People who love birds and report their sightings – it’s really helping scientists learn more about the behavior and distribution of birds,” said Adrienne Docter, an ecologist at Cornell .

Arjun Amar, a conservation biologist at the University of Cape Town, has also used photographs uploaded by citizen scientists to Cornell’s platform as the foundation for new research projects – such as examining global variations in the stripes on the faces of peregrine falcons, which Reduce solar glare and allow them to dive at breakneck speeds. “It would not have been possible before,” he said.

The pandemic that brought normal life to a halt – halting travel and locking people in their homes – gave many families more time to study wildlife in their own backyards.

Cornell’s records show a boom in amateur bird-watching. The number of people who submitted eBird checklists – recording their bird sightings – was 37% in 2020 compared to the previous year. The annual “big day” event, when people are encouraged to offer darshan during the spring migration (this year, on May 8), also sets participation records.

Those numbers don’t come as a surprise to Williams, who says many of her non-scientist friends have gone bird-watching during the past year.

“Maybe you have to travel to Alaska or Canada to see grizzly bears, or go to Africa to see zebras – but the birds are literally right outside your door, wherever you are in the world,” she said. “People have really started paying more attention to their backyards because they have to stay at home. I think it’s a huge boon to us as scientists to have more and more people appreciate birds.


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