Conservation and research efforts can be improved by gaining a better understanding of the birds' habitat.
Together with Cornell Lab of Ornithology, we're collecting observations from readers on the birds that surround us. These data will allow scientists to better understand how climate change and habitat destruction affect birds. Sign up to participate here.
We will also cover the latest advances in bird science and share what we are learning.
Is it true that a bird in a forest isn't there if no one can see it?
Cornell Lab of Ornithology faces a conundrum. The lab has been running eBird for more than 20 years, a project which collects amateur birdwatchers' observations. The project is successful: Nearly 900,00 participants from around the globe have sent in 18 million lists of birds they've seen during their bird watching sessions. The number of bird lists is growing by about 20 percent per year.
Tom Auer, the leader of the geospatial science team at Cornell Lab, said that the data has been a treasure trove for studying changes in bird populations and their behavior. It revealed 'complex relations between people and birds' in ways we could not have known before.
The eBird database, for example, has revealed that the bright lights in big cities attract migratory bird species, particularly young birds. Cities, with their concrete canyons and asphalt roads, are poor habitats. Cornell scientists are studying whether this diversion causes birds to become exhausted and starved, or if fewer birds make it through the migration.
As the project is dependent on volunteers, not all areas are covered equally. Auer stated that 'you can imagine obvious areas where there is no data'. People are attracted to areas where they can observe the most birds.
Farmland and industrial tracts are examples of neglected areas. Data is scarce, making it difficult to answer questions such as whether changing farming practices will help or harm birds. Auer stated that it is beneficial to spread out and cover larger habitats.
Knowing where birds aren't is just as important to scientists as knowing where they actually are. This can indicate declining populations, changing habitats, or changes in migration.
It's a big ask to ask people to travel to places with fewer birds.
Auer said the lab was interested in recruiting not only experienced birdwatchers, but also people who were just learning how to identify different species. He said that having a variety of skills improves the research quality.
Newcomers are less observant, making more errors. However, Cornell can catch many of these mistakes and the new observers can be a good comparison for the more experienced watchers.
Auer stated that if we did not have beginner birders to compare with expert birders, then we would never know how well the expert birders could detect birds. We've tested our models by removing the beginning birders. The models performed worse than when they were included.
The work of ordinary people has profoundly shaped our understanding of birds. Anyone can look up and see a wild world of birds swooping overhead.
We're inviting our readers from around the globe to join us in a project that we are doing with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology this summer. We will be collecting observations about birds in our area, filling data gaps and providing researchers with a better picture of biodiversity.
This is important work. Climate change could accelerate the decline of nearly half of bird species. You can help make informed decisions on bird conservation and study by collecting data such as this.
No special equipment or expertise is required. We'll be providing a series challenges for beginners in the coming weeks to get you started on the path towards contributing scientific data.
We have some more questions for you if you are an experienced birder. We want you to look beyond your normal hotspots to make observations where there is little data.
The project will continue until September. You can join us anytime and connect to a global network of readers, researchers and scientists. Share your knowledge. You might even learn a new perspective on nature.
Tell us about yourself in the form below. Sign-up should only take two minutes and is free.
Next, you can download Merlin or eBird from Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Please click the sentence that best describes your experience with birding. You will receive an email shortly with detailed instructions.
Please be aware that eBird and Merlin are third-party applications with their own privacy policies. The Times is not responsible (or in control) of their content or practices.
Do I qualify for The New York Times Project if I use Merlin or eBird?
Yes, of course! Please fill out the form to register for this project. As usual, you can submit your observations via the app.
Why must I register with The New York Times to submit my data to Cornell Lab?
By registering, we can engage directly with Times readers.
What is the difference between Merlin and eBird?
We recommend Merlin as a learning and reference tool for beginning birders. It will also let you share your observations with Cornell Lab.
You can submit your observations if you are a seasoned birder via the eBird application or the eBird site on your computer.
I need help setting up eBird or Merlin. What do I do?
Help with Merlin can be found here, and help with eBird here. Submit a support request for additional assistance. You can also email EMAIL if you have any questions.