Archive for the ‘Audubon’ tag

Audubon’s Adopt A Bird

By January 6th, 2014 at 11:32 am | Comment


Is your friend or family member an ornithologist, a conservationist, or a general appreciator of the environment? How about a Baltimore Orioles or Philadelphia Eagles fan?  Stanford Cardinal? Consider adopting a bird through Audubon’s gift program! (Orioles, eagles, and cardinals among a number of other birds are all available for adoption). For $30, through the adoption program, the recipient will be given a personalized card showcasing their adoption, a year subscription the Audubon magazine, and a year of membership to the National Audubon Society. Your donation will support Audubon’s programs aimed toward conserving and restoring natural ecosystems for birds and other wildlife.

The adoption program contributes to Audubon’s efforts to protect flight paths that birds use during migration, or flyways, and other important bird areas around the world. Through Audubon’s work with local chapters, conservation partners, and citizen scientists, the organization has identified over 370 million acres (more land than California and Texas combined) in the U.S. for active monitoring and restoration to ensure birds safe passage and healthy breeding. A case in point is the Atlantic flyway, which is home to roughly 150 important bird areas prioritized by Audubon. Spanning diverse ecosystems all the way from Maine to Florida, the Atlantic flyway is a passageway for over 500 different species, totaling millions of individual birds. One of the main challenges posed to the birds that depend on this flyway for habitation and migration is the populous nature of the region – although the Atlantic flyway covers a tenth of the nation’s landmass, it is inhabited by one third of the nation’s people. Urban development, climate change and overfishing have adversely affected the avian community and have rendered 40% of the resident species in need of conservation. Sadly, some species’ populations have decreased by as much as half in recent years.

This year, you can choose to adopt the Atlantic puffin, a protected bird in the Atlantic flyway and a great choice for the holiday season. Donations through the adoption program have supported Project Puffin which has restored puffins to their historic nesting habitat in the Gulf of Maine. In 1973, just two small colonies of puffins existed in Maine. Over years of transplanting puffins from colonies in Newfoundland and extensive monitoring and habitat sustainment by ecologists, there are now over 1,000 puffins in Maine. These birds, with their unique beak coloring, can fly up to 55 miles per hour (which is faster than a racehorse can run) and can dive 200 feet underwater. Puffins usually mate for life and return to their home burrowing grounds to breed, a critical factor for the success of the repopulation of the Maine site. In spite of the project’s productive results, more pufflings and adult birds died last year than in all previous years of the the project. Biologists suspect that recent increases in temperature of the Atlantic Ocean have contributed to changing fish populations that puffins prey on, affecting the viability of this Atlantic flyway resident. Audubon employs a combination of supporting science and education and habitat conservation to aid in the recovery of the Atlantic puffin population.

Adopt a bird this year and check out Audubon for more information on their conservation programs.

Image: Wikipedia

Sheetal Modi is a postdoctoral fellow at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University where she studies how bacteria develop and spread antibiotic resistance. She has a PhD in Biomedical Engineering, and when she’s not growing her bacterial cultures (and repeatedly killing them), she enjoys science communication and being outside.

Surveying Seabirds of the Puget Sound this Holiday Season.

By December 25th, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Comment

If you’re looking for more projects for the holiday season, we’ve got 12 Days of Citizen Science for you!

Counting seabirds on the Puget Sound

Counting seabirds on the Puget Sound

“On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…” birds! Partridges, turtle doves, French hens, calling birds, golden rings (pheasants), geese and swans inhabit this festival folk classic celebrating food and merriment. Seabirds, cousins of our dinner table counterparts, enjoy a winter migration to good eats and family too. Yet changes in climate and their relationship with man are driving population declines. Can citizen scientists help conserve our feathered friends?

The Puget Sound Seabird Survey (PSSS), in association with the Seattle Audubon Society, is enlisting citizen scientists to catalog the diversity of coastal birds along three square miles of Puget Sound saltwater habitat.

During seabird’s annual migrations, near shore saltwater habitats, such as the Puget Sound, provide valuable food and mating sites. Nearly all species of coastal birds including geese, ducks, swans, loons, grebes, cormorants, gulls, terns and alcids have experienced population declines since the late 1970s due to ecosystem changes caused by human development. Stopping to watch these graceful birds on your way to Grandma’s house can provide important population clues for local scientists.

Now in its sixth season, PSSS is the only land-based study of seabirds in the central and south Puget Sound. (Previous studies relied on aerial and marine data.) “PSSS is a scalable program that engages citizen scientists to collect significant data on valuable environmental indicators” explains Adam Sedgley, former science manager of the Seattle Audubon Society.

Identifying grebes of Puget Sound

Identifying grebes of Puget Sound

On the first Saturday of each month from October to April, citizen scientists are paired with experienced bird watchers and seabird scientists to identify all species of wintering coastal seabirds. Armed with your keen powers of observation, binoculars, compass and rulers; teams survey one of 82 sites along the Puget Sound using a method known as distance sampling. Directly counting each bird can be a challenge to new birders – species are hard to see and identify at a distance, poor weather conditions obscure views, and birds are often underwater. In distance sampling, citizen scientists simply line up a ruler with the horizon then measure the distance to the each bird in millimeters. Record the birds you’ve seen, their distance from the horizon, and compass bearing on PSSS’s interactive website. Using this data, scientists accurately estimate population size and health creating a snapshot of seabird natural history for more than 2400 acres of Puget Sound. This snapshot helps to inform conservation and oil spill clean up efforts.

Being a birder has never been easier. PSSS and the Seattle Audubon Society have developed excellent resources for citizen scientists including the stunning photographs by local photographer David Gluckman and an interactive website with information on all species of seabirds found in the Puget Sound region as well as their habitat and life histories. They also have an interactive map for you to explore each of the survey sites based on the most birds observed or most diverse areas.

Why not take a stop while you’re venturing “over the river and through the woods” this holiday season to watch the birdies?

Images: PSSS and David Gluckman

Dr. Melinda T. Hough is a freelance science advocate and communicator. Her previous work has included a Mirzayan Science and Technology Graduate Policy Fellowship at the National Academy of Sciences (2012), co-development of several of the final science policy questions with (2012), consulting on the development of the Seattle Science Festival EXPO day (2012), contributing photographer for JF Derry’s book “Darwin in Scotland” (2010) and outreach projects to numerous to count. Not content to stay stateside, Melinda received a B.S in Microbiology from the University of Washington (2001) before moving to Edinburgh, Scotland where she received a MSc (2002) and PhD (2008) from the University of Edinburgh trying to understand how antibiotics kill bacteria. Naturally curious, it is hard to tear Melinda away from science; but if you can, she might be found exploring, often behind the lens of her Nikon D80, training for two half-marathons, or plotting her next epic adventure.

Christmas Bird Count takes flight

By December 17th, 2012 at 11:06 am | Comment

Christmas Bird Count - SciStarter

See that partridge in a pear tree?

Make sure you count it for Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, one of the largest and longest running citizen science projects in existence today. It’s a 112 year tradition, with upwards of 60,000 person-days of effort and more than 60 million birds counted each year.

“Each of the citizen scientists who annually braves snow, wind, or rain, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count makes an enormous contribution to conservation. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations – and to help guide conservation action.” –CBC Blog

From December 14 through January 5 each year, tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in this adventure. Volunteers follow specific routes within a 15-mile diameter circle, counting birds that are seen or heard. It’s not just a species tally—all birds are counted all day, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the circle that day. If you’re curious about the data and research from last year’s count, that’s available on the website too! The results of the bird count will be published in various scientific publications, most notably American Birds.

This is an ideal project to participate in with friends and family during the holiday season. Join thousands of others participating nationwide this year! Find a count happening near you.

Photo: State of Nebraska

Citizen Science Test Drive: Apps for birding.

By April 4th, 2012 at 1:15 am | Comment 1

The first blog post in our new series titled “Citizen Science Test Drive,” (where we present first-person reviews of citizen science apps, tools and platforms) featured reviews of three nature apps by SciStarter contributor Lisa Gardner.  Today, we bring you Kate Atkins, a regular SciStarter contributor and avid birder. Here, Kate shares her list of personal, favorite apps for birding.  If you would like to contribute to this series and share your experiences with our community, email

The best citizen science apps for birding used to be iOS-only. I’ve known many an Android birder to switch to iPhone or buy an iPod Touch because the apps on that side of the divide were so darn good. But with Android smartphones now commanding more than half of the market, the gap is starting to close.  Here’s the best of both worlds.

Finding Birds

iOS, $19.99
DemoApple Store
Figuring out where the birds are and when can be a challenge, particularly for new birdwatchers. Not so with BirdsEye from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

BirdsEye is precisely a bird-finding app, based on the citizen-driven eBird database. Want to see a specific bird? BirdsEye will show you the most recent, closest sighting and give you directions. Want to see what birds have been observed at a specific hotspot over the last 30 days? What rare or notable birds have been seen near you recently? Done and done.

Bird information is something of an aside, but it’s top-shelf sidematter: images from VIREO, sounds from the Macauley Library, and extra tips per bird from Kenn Kaufman.

While helping people find and view birds, this app also teaches newer birders which birds can be found where and when. Yes, this one is still iOS only, but an Android version is likely to materialize soon.

144409572Audubon Birds – A Field Guide to North American Birds
iOS $19.99
Android $9.99
DemoApple StoreAndroid/Google

The Audubon Birds app recently added bird-finding functionality via eBird to their existing field guide app.  Study birds at home, on the subway, or in the park, then go find and observe birds in the real world with a little help from your friends at Cornell and Audubon.

Recording Sightings

A good birder keeps field notes. A citizen scientist shares the data. Cornell’s eBird is the key crowd-sourced database, so the ability to either directly submit to eBird or to export lists in eBird format is a must-have feature for any logging app.

If you are not familiar with the project and wish to report your bird sightings using one of these apps, I strongly urge you to first create an eBird account and use it in a browser before taking the plunge with mobile data-logging.

iOS, $9.99
Android, $19.99
Demo | Apple Store | Android/Google

Very simply, this app records and uploads sightings to eBird, from your fingers straight to Ithaca. I’d like to see it more deeply connected to my eBird account, but for base functionality and total simplicity, BirdLog is indispensable.

BWDRoundedIconBirdwatcher’s Diary
iOS $12.99
DemoApple Store

A nice option if you want the bells and whistles BirdLog lacks. This app is pre-loaded with US, Mexico and UK bird lists. Add your locations via GPS, and list for them again and again. Exports to both eBird and Google Map formats so you can easily share your adventures.

The developers have carefully crafted interactions for use in the field. Big day and group count usage is well thought-out, and as your list archive grows, the more fun it will be to study your own patterns. This app makes a compelling case to trade in your notebook for your phone.

Extensive feature run-down complete with screenshots here.

Study & Skill-building

Before, during, and after birding, reference materials and study guides are key elements to the birding life. Most marquis field guides have wonderful app versions with extra illustrations, photos, audio files and links to web resources.

Each is a little different, so it’s worth some thought before purchasing one over another. I’m partial to the Sibley guide for its illustrations, audio files, and side-by-side bird comparison, but beginners may prefer iBird for its guided search.

Field guides

Birding by ear

Honorable mention

  • Nemesis Code’s Bird Codes and Band Codes apps. If you want to be a real ace in the field, these apps will teach you the 4-letter banding codes for birds. Learning these will cut your data entry time, and help you interpret bands if you see them on birds in the wild.

I use some non-birding specific apps to enhance my days in the field. If you’re as phone-fiddly as I am, and like tramping around outside, find out what my home screens hold at Birding Philly.

Don’t miss The Great Backyard Bird Count!

By February 13th, 2012 at 10:45 am | Comment


Your friendly neighborhood Downy Woodpecker, courtesy of Jerry Acton, NY

On the morning of Friday, February 17, I will wake up before work, pour myself a cup of coffee, and stare out my window for 15 minutes. As long as I submit my observations to the Great Backyard Bird Count, my 15 minutes of zone-out time before I jump in the shower will qualify as productive science.

The Great Backyard Bird Count runs from Friday the 17th through Monday the 20th, and it’s as easy as using a few pajama moments to participate.

Wherever you are, simply stop in your tracks and take a look around for birds. You can in your backyard, outside of the your local cafe, at the playground, or around your driveway — anywhere! Anyone can participate, and the coolest part is that even a report of a single robin matters more than usual, because people across the world will be observing and reporting all at once. In 2011 alone, this huge concerted effort yielded 1,044,346 robins alone!

The data are collected by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, The National Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada, and are used to gauge how birds have fared over the winter. With the help of citizen scientists everywhere, researchers get a widespread snapshot of bird abundance and distribution right before migration heats up.

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