Spring is finally here, so summer vacation won’t be far behind. If you have children or grandchildren, finding an exciting hobby or activity over the holidays is challenging, but it may just be as close as your nearest park, vacant lot, or backyard. From an early age, my father taught me to identify birds by sight and sound, and it has brought immense enjoyment throughout my life. Our favorite sounds were the call of a Bobwhite quail or the thunder of a turkey gobbler, yet even when hunting was slow, an interest in birds kept me interested and alert. Birding is not only fun, it can add to conservation and ecology through research; you and your youngsters can easily become “citizen scientists.” The Cornell Lab of Ornathology is a leading institution in bird study and invites you to join their program.
Amateur naturalists and hobbyists are getting their due today after more than a century of volunteering for bird counts and other studies. An article in the top journal Science recognizes these “citizen scientists” as crucial contributors whose work can stand on equal footing with professional science. Lead author Rick Bonney, director of program development and evaluation at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, notes that it’s uniquely human talents like passion, curiosity, and perception that make citizen scientists indispensable sources of data and insight. Bonney says:
“For most of history science was something people did as amateurs or hobbyists, but in the twentieth century it became a very specialized profession. Today the doors have been thrown open again. Anyone can be the eyes and ears on the ground, collecting data that even the most sophisticated instruments can’t.”
“It’s people in their backyards looking at flowers and looking at birds, but it’s way bigger than that, too. There are well over a million citizen scientists solving real-world problems: figuring out protein structures; transcribing the writing on ancient scrolls. People are studying genes to galaxies and everything in between.”
“We’re seeing participation growing exponentially, and that’s largely because of the Internet. Online tools and especially smartphones are really clearing away the barriers to participation. Social media makes it easy to find new opportunities, including for communities who previously haven’t had the means to get involved. Citizen science appeals to people’s innate curiosity, and also to their desire to make the world a better place. It adds meaning and value to their hobbies, and gives them a way to contribute to social or environmental causes.” For more information, go to birds.cornell.edu.
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Photo: The Sedalia Weekly Observer (top)