Citizen Science: Bird surveys

There are a number of regular bird surveys carried out in the UK. For example,  Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), The Garden Nesting Survey (GNS) are the projects involving citizen science concept.

These projects invite everyone to become a citizen scientist and contribute their data. The data collected will be analysed by professionals in order to monitor the bird population, address the problems faced and develop the necessary solutions to maintain the health of the environment.

To become a citizen scientist for the Breeding Bird Survey, volunteers need to spend two early morning in spring, walking two 1km routes, counting all the birds seen or heard, and recording the number of colonial nesting birds. The organisers will provide training in bird identification by sight, sound and call.

What is citizen Science?

There are many citizen science projects that are open for everyone to participate in. According to the Natural History Museum, there are mainly three type of tasks for citizen scientist:

  • recording observations 
  • collecting samples
  • transcribing handwritten records

Most projects don’t require special skills or prior training to participate, and can do a little good for the world while enjoying nature.

Some more citizen science project

There are many projects on different topics, here are some examples:

Galaxy Zoo –  Citizen scientists help identify the shapes of galaxies in the images provided to enhance machine learning strategies to analysis the astrophysical processes.

Smartfin Surfers install smartfin on their boards to collect readings of changes in pH, chlorophyll, salinity, oxygen and temperature, which helps to better understand the impact of climate change on coastal habitats.

Snapshot Serengeti – Citizen scientists helped identify the animals in the photos, which were taken by camera traps installed in protected areas from Tanzania to South Africa.

Cradle of Humanity  – Citizen scientists helped in transcribing the written text and entering data relating to the location and stratigraphic context of the specimen for the National Museums of Kenya.

Orchid ObserversCitizen scientists took photographs of orchids in the wild to provide data for professionals to study the effects of climate change on orchids.

Does the data generated by citizen science produce the correct information?

Some people may be concerned about the correctness of the data collected by non-experts, which may influence the final result. “Using citizen science butterfly counts to predict species population trends” is a study on using the data collected by citizen scientist to estimates the trends and see if they were consistent with professional data. The study compared between two projects.

 Big Butterfly Count (BBC)The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS)
Protocol standardSimple sampling protocol  Standardized schemes  
Method1. between 17 July and 9 August  2020 (24 days/year) – choose a place to spot 18 butterfly species 
and 2 day-flying moths species

2. watch for 15 minutes – record which species  
1. Weekly 5m fixed-route counts for over 6 months in more than 1000 site

1.1 Between 13-17°C, providing there is at least 60% sun

1.2 Above 17°C, not actually raining

1.3 No wind speeds are above 5 on the Beaufort scale

2. All butterfly seen are identified and counted 
Outcome1. Engage people with little or no experience with biodiversity monitoring

2. Aims to enhance public awareness and interaction with nature

3. Gather species-abundance data

4. Mass-participation – May have Identification mistakes

5. Data mainly from garden
1. High levels of commitment and identification skills are required, less participants

2. Participants are experienced amateur butterfly observers or professional conservationists  
DataLack of credibility Professional data

The projects collected data differently, but the study found that the estimated information matched, which means that the data collected by citizen science is useful in some ways. In addition, a reputation system will be included in the latest citizen science project to improve the results obtained.

Is citizen science a good thing?

Citizen science can engage the public and help to collect large amounts of data (Crowdsourcing) at a low cost, specially in measurement of biodiversity.

According to Philip Mirowski, Against citizen science, citizen science also has side-effects for the research community:

  • Some project sold the collected data to make profit
  • Through citizen science projects, paid data is now free data, so that some professionals may lose their jobs
  • If citizen scientists can replace the qualified scientists to collect data, the public will be convinced that being an expert is a waste of time and effort.

Fun to collect

No matter citizen science is a good thing or not in long term. It can help to collect massive amount of hard to collect data in a short time. For example, collect the size of the nostrils and the diameter of the index finger to determine if the nostrils are larger in people with thick fingers. Citizen science projects can be a good way of spotting the general trend. However, for further analysis is to be carried out, a standardised data collection plan is required..