Only You Can Help the Scientists through Citizen Science!

Do you like hiking or walking outdoors?  Do you enjoy watching birds at the birdfeeder?  Do you enjoy the beauty of all the wildflowers?  Are you fascinated with space?  Do you like knowing the water in your nearby stream is clean?  Do you want to make a difference for our planet?  Then become a Citizen Scientist and keep enjoying your outdoor hobbies while helping scientists move research forward.

What is Citizen Science?

Citizen Science is when members of the public get involved in doing science!  Anyone can be a citizen scientist, all you need is a curiosity for something sciency.  There are so many things to investigate on our planet (and in our universe) and there are not enough scientists to keep tabs on all of it.  That’s where citizens, like you, can get involved, by doing science!  I kind of see citizen scientists like superheroes, working your normal job by day, but when you leave work, change your clothes, and you’re off doing science and saving the planet.  There are so many projects you can get involved with as a citizen scientist like, listening to frogs call, watching butterflies fly around, observing the weather, taking pictures of plants and animals, watching birds fly around your backyard….  There are legitimately so many options!

Super hero pose in a Redwood tree
Be a Citizen Science Super hero and help save the environment!

How to Find a Project that’s Interesting to You

If you are looking for what kind of options you can get involved in, that both meet your interests and are happening where you live, there are two good Citizen Science websites.  These sites search and find projects based on topic, location, time of year… etc.  One only lists federally sponsored projects: Here (1) and the other is more general with better search features and includes local to large citizen science projects: Here (2).

Below I include some specific areas of interest and projects associated with them, but I also encourage you to use those above websites to find any project of interest to you as well as more local programs.

Some Specific Plant and Animal Citizen Science Projects

Taking a picture of an Elk

One of my favorite websites to use for the monitoring of all plants, animals and fungi is iNaturalist (3).  You can put the app on your phone and take a picture while out hiking or walking around your neighborhood.  Even if you don’t know what it is, the large number of users will help you identify what you shared (as long as your pictures are good).  Many different communities even use this app to conduct bio blitz so that people can come out and identify everything they see within the borders of the park, city, reserve, or land trust.  This really helps these places understand the diversity of plants, animals, and fungi that they actually have.  I have used it both in leading guided hikes and in teaching biodiversity labs to introductory college biology students.  I really love this app both for my personal curiosity and as a teaching tool.

Birders
Birders

If you love birds there are plenty of citizen science bird focused options from bird watching, migration counts, nest monitoring, and probably things I don’t even know about!  These include (but are not limited to) NestWatch (4) where you can monitor nests in your backyard, ebird (5) where you can observe birds anywhere, the Christmas Bird Count through the Audubon Society, and the Great Backyard Bird Count (6) which happens in February every year.

Bloodroot in spring
One of my favorite spring plants: Bloodroot

If you like plants there are an absolute ton of citizen science programs!  Many states have their own programs, some cities, parks, reserves, and land trusts will have their own programs too.  Of course there are national and global programs too.  Here is a sweet plant (animal too) program where you can track the seasonal changes of plants (and animals).  It is called Nature’s Notebook (7).

squirrel tree frog
Squirrel Tree Frog

Of course some of my favorite citizen science programs are frog call and frog monitoring programs!  Some states will have state-wide programs, like I previously talked about in Adventures with Adams.  But there are also national programs like FrogWatch too (8).

Spicebush Swallowtail
Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) is identified by two rows of orange spots on its outer hindwing. The Black Swallowtail (P. polyxenes) also has two rows of orange spots but the spicebush has a missing spot where a blue swoosh took over.

I also previously mentioned the MonarchWatch (9) program in The Great Traveler, but there also is a North American Butterfly Count (10).  This citizen science program includes all butterflies (not just Monarchs) throughout Canada, United States, and Mexico!  I actually participated in a butterfly count one day when I was working at the Land Trust.  It was a lot of fun.

Water and Space Citizen Science

water quality testing
When I was trained on Georgia Adopt-A-Stream water quality testing by the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TNACI). Picture duplicated from TNACI Facebook page.

Water quality testing is a great way to help your local waterways too.  You can get a testing kit to test for the amount of oxygen in the water, the pH level, the quality of macroinvertebrates (big water based animals without a backbone like crayfish or snails) as well as the bacterial count in the water.  Some states even have specific programs of water quality testing like Georgia Adopt-A-Stream (11), Wisconsin’s Water Action Volunteers (12), and Arizona’s Water Watch (13).  If you live in a different state, many of them offer state or local water quality testing programs too, however I am unaware of a website that lists the different local water quality testing programs.

If you are a lover of space, NASA has its own citizen science page (14)!  Most of it you don’t even need fancy equipment like telescopes for, just your phone and a spirit of adventure.

galaxy night sky
November 2020 when I was testing my galaxy photography skills from a hill in Flagstaff, AZ

All in all, there are oodles that you can do to be a part of something amazing!  What better time than now as April is Global Citizen Science month!  Especially with spring finally being here, there is plenty to get involved with as butterflies start showing up, frogs start calling, plants start blooming… etc.  So get out there and enjoy the longer warmer days in the sun!

Citations:

  1. Federally Funded Citizen Science Website: https://www.citizenscience.gov/#
  2. SciStarter: https://scistarter.org/
  3. iNaturalist: https://www.inaturalist.org/
  4. NestWatch: https://nestwatch.org/
  5. eBird: https://ebird.org/home
  6. Great Backyard Bird Count: https://www.birdcount.org/
  7. Nature’s Notebook (seasonal plant and animal monitoring): https://www.usanpn.org/natures_notebook
  8. FrogWatch: https://frogwatch.next.fieldscope.org/
  9. MonarchWatch: https://www.monarchwatch.org/
  10. North American Butterfly Count: https://www.naba.org/butter_counts.html
  11. Georgia Adopt-A-Stream (water quality testing): https://adoptastream.georgia.gov/how-do-i-get-started-adopt-stream
  12. Water Action Volunteers (Wisconsin water quality testing): https://wateractionvolunteers.org/
  13. Arizona Water Watch (water quality testing): https://azdeq.gov/azww
  14. NASA Citizen Science Page: https://science.nasa.gov/citizenscience

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