Archive for the ‘Cornell Lab of Ornithology’ tag

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.

Spring swan sightings

By March 8th, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Comment

Spring is in the air, and birds are finally on the move. A recent push of southerly winds through the middle of the United States have put early migrants – particularly geese and swans – on the fast track to their breeding grounds up north.

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans - image courtesy of Adrian Binns

This weather pattern is set to continue through this week, so keep an eye out for special species, particularly the Trumpeter Swan. This beautiful species was once on the brink of extinction, but with the help of folks like the Trumpeter Swan Society, it is recovering and expanding its territory. Key to the continued success of the species is an accurate picture of where it winters, migrates, and breeds. The Trumpeter Swan Society tracks reports of the birds in eBird, but also accepts email reports.

A few sightings have popped up in Pennsylvania this month, which is pretty special, so get out there and get looking. If you have a pond, reservoir or lake nearby, grab your binoculars – and don’t forget to eBird what you see.


Trumpeter Swan sightings, March 2012, eBird

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.

Read the rest of this entry » Don’t just sit there–do some science!

By August 19th, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Comment Don’t just sit there–do some science!Amy Mayer at wrote a nice story about citizen science, featuring a few insights from Science for Citizens contributors Drs. Lisa Gardiner and John Ohab.

Here’s a quick excerpt:

Aspiring research scientists, environmentalists, mobile technology aficionados and video game buffs all can contribute to myriad citizen science projects, along the way joining a global community of regular people contributing to research science. It’s usually fun, often free and typically takes only the amount of time you want to give it.

Although the term “citizen science” is relatively new and increasingly common, the concept is longstanding. In the 19th century, for example, amateur naturalists aided experienced ornithologists by keeping track of the various species of birds they encountered. Today, modern technology and creativity have expanded tremendously the types of projects the public can participate in. All have in common the fact that volunteer public efforts really contribute to ongoing scientific research.

Getting involved is easy

John Ohab with the Science for Citizens website says his database has over 400 projects that have a way for people to sign up and contribute their own data. Some of the more readily accessible projects simply ask you to make an observation (such as when buds appear on trees, what birds are at your feeder, or the snow depth wherever you are) and send in your data points. In most cases you submit your data via a website or Twitterfeed. SnowTweets, for instance, lets participants dash off their measurements from their phones via Twitter. Cyrosphere researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada collate the snowfall data and use it to check data from satellite observations.

Projects appeal to different people depending on their specific interests. Ohab says those that, like SnowTweet, harness the power of smartphone technology, often appeal to high school and college students.

Expanding the scientific community

One collaboration among a dozen science centers around the country is developing a smartphone app for the public to help gather data on the Urban Heat Island Effect. C3: Communicating Climate Change is a project that hopes to develop a robust database of the temperatures along the urban-rural gradient–in other words, amassing large datasets so that meaningful interpretations can be made. According to the Maryland Science Center’s website, the difference between the temperature of a metropolitan area and the rural areas that surround it, or the Urban Heat Island, “is not an effect of climate change, but rather of human activity shaping our environment. One may ask, if we can make changes on a local scale, are we also responsible for changes globally?” Citizen scientists will provide the raw data that researchers use to explore this and other questions.

Read the full story at

Beyond Gloom and Doom: Young Citizen Scientists Address Climate Change

By June 30th, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Comment

How are museums getting young people involved with citizen science? Guest blogger Katie Levedahl tells the story of how her museum, the Sciencenter in Ithaca, NY, is helping kids become citizen scientists while they learn about climate change.

It is becoming more apparent that people of all ages want to learn more than just the facts about climate change—they want to know what they can DO to address this problem.

Students at Ithaca's Sciencenter built nestboxes and installed them around their school and homes. (Courtesy of Katie Levedahl)

Students at Ithaca's Sciencenter built nestboxes and installed them around their school and homes. (Courtesy of Katie Levedahl)

The Sciencenter in Ithaca, New York, has been working on projects that go beyond learning the facts about climate change, empowering children to use science to shape a better future. Sure, we still encourage kids to save energy by turning the lights off and riding their bikes whenever possible, but a recent collaboration with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO) has allowed us to start exploring citizen science as an avenue of climate change education.

Three years ago we embarked on a project to engage middle school students in CLO’s NestWatch program, which contributes to our understanding of how climate change affects nesting birds. Studies have already shown that some bird species are nesting earlier in the year, which impacts important timing considerations such as food availability. With funding from the National Science Foundation, great support from scientists at CLO, and a group of middle school volunteers, we began using citizen science to explore the link between climate change and nesting birds.

After building and installing our nestboxes around school grounds and in our backyards, we waited for the birds to arrive. Within days, the middle school volunteers were observing and recording bird behavior, including adhering to NestWatch data collection protocols such as discretely sneaking up on the nestboxes. We recorded our observations on the NestWatch data sheet and entered them online into the growing continent-wide database. We also completed activities and research that helped us understand our own local ecosystem and its vulnerability to climate change.

In general, citizen science, or “regular, normal, average people helping with science” as our middle school participants would say, involves people of all ages learning how to collect data, make observations, and contribute to research projects. There are many citizen science projects with implications for understanding climate change — from monitoring frogs through FrogWatch to observing the timing of plant behavior with Project Budburst.

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