Many people think that all scientists are hidden away in sterile laboratories, doing research that the rest of us can't comprehend. While that may be true for some specialists, other scientists are conducting their work amongst the rest of us. Some work outside, collecting data about animal behavior, plant diversity or climate change. Others travel the world studying how to prevent the spread of disease. One characteristic that scientists share is their need for data to prove (or disprove) their theories. That's where the rest of us can help.
Citizen science is research conducted by amateur scientists just like you and me. The only requirements are that we are curious and interested in making observations about the world around us. Do you notice interesting insects flying past? Have you smelled a funk in the air when you pass an old truck on the freeway? Are you seeing more birds in your backyard this year than you did last year? Do you like to take pictures with your cell phone? If you said yes to any of these questions, you have what it takes to be a citizen scientist! Simply find a project that interests you and join a network of people who are taking the pulse of the planet. Best of all, scientists can then analyze your data to gain insight about how to solve a variety of global problems.
One of our favorite Citizen Science projects is the Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by the Audubon Society. It's one of the longest running citizen science projects, taking place between December 14 - January 15 every year for the past 117 years. While it's an excellent project for experienced adult birders, there is one customized for families! The Christmas Bird Count 4 Kids, founded by our friends Tom Rusert and Darren Peterie in Sonoma, is simple way for families to spend time together outdoors celebrating nature.
The CBC4Kids is a half-day long event that begins by dividing participants into teams. Teams begin with "binocular boot camp," an orientation designed to help people get comfortable with the gear they will be using for the day. Armed with a short local winter bird list, teams head out on a short and safe trail. They have 90 minutes to record the species and count the total individual birds that they see. Enthusiasm builds when the teams return for lunch and the much anticipated tabulation celebration. Overall results are compiled on a computer and two kids from each team present a summary of their experiences to the crowd. The final results are verified by experienced birders and then entered into the eBird database. The experience offers families the opportunity to interact with nature, encourage curiosity and feel a sense of accomplishment in being a part of a global citizen science effort.
If you are an experienced birder, you can download the Playbook for hosting a Christmas Bird Count 4 Kids here. If you'd like to join a CBC4Kids program, follow them on Facebook to find out what opportunities are happening near you.