Using Citizen Science in Urban Bird Studies

by Rachel E. McCaffrey

School of Natural Resources, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721


Long-term monitoring projects and studies designed to survey large, variable areas often face a similar challenge: data collection. Researchers can sometimes overcome this obstacle by designing studies that utilize the skills of volunteers, or citizen scientists. Citizen scientists currently play active roles in a wide range of ecological projects, and their contributions have enabled scientists to collect large amounts of data at minimal cost. Because bird-watching is popular among members of the general public, bird-monitoring projects have been among the most successful at integrating citizen scientists. Several large-scale studies, such as the Christmas Bird Count and Breeding Bird Survey, have successfully relied on citizen scientists to collect data. As urban areas expand and scientists work to find ways to manage wildlife in cities, information about the associations among animals and urban environments is needed. By utilizing the large pool of potential participants in urban areas, citizen science–based studies can play an important role in collecting this information. One such study, the Tucson Bird Count (TBC), has successfully utilized citizen scientists to collect information on the distribution and abundance of birds across an urban area. The results from the TBC have been used in numerous scientific studies, and they are helping wildlife managers identify important sites for birds within the city, as well as land-use practices that sustain native birds.

Key words: birds, bird survey, citizen science, monitoring, Tucson Bird Count