Science Nation – Birds, Climate Change, and Citizen Science

With help from the National Science Foundation, Cornell University’s Ornithology Lab is tracking bird breeding biology and the impact of climate change on bird populations. Some of the best information they are getting is from dedicated “citizen scientists” who provide critical data on what kinds of birds are nesting where, the number of eggs laid, and the number of chicks hatched. These volunteers can do this across the continent, over long periods of time. Laura Burkholder, project leader for the lab’s NestWatch, says some species are laying their eggs more than a week earlier than they did just a few years ago, which could mean trouble if the hatch dates get out of sync with the availability of food. Bird watchers also help Cornell scientists catalog literally millions of images taken every 20 seconds from nestcams across the country. Animal Behavior Scientist Janis Dickinson, who heads the Citizen Scientist Program, says the cameras allow researchers to look at nesting success, daily survival, and long term events such as climate change.