Much of what we know about climate change comes from data recorded by citizen scientists — volunteers who collect information to help scientists answer real-world questions — people just like you.


Cooper: “Citizen science is about sharing. It’s about sharing the things that we see and the things that we experience.”

That’s researcher Caren Cooper. While at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, she studied the contributions of millions of birdwatchers who collect data as they enjoy their hobby — banding birds during migration; monitoring nests; and recording what birds they see when and where.

Thanks to the data collected by these volunteers, scientists have discovered that birds are breeding earlier and shifting their migrations in response to global warming.

In a study on the contribution of bird watchers to climate research, Cooper found that roughly half of the scientific papers she looked at relied on this crowd-sourced data. Cooper says citizen science can be empowering:

Cooper: “And so I think having citizen science really opens up another venue for people to be able to contribute and make a difference in terms of dealing with climate change.”

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: Copyright protected.

More Resources
Old Weather: Our Weather’s Past, the Climate’s Future
Citizen Science Central Climate Change Projects
SciStarter: Science We Can do Together

Some North American Citizen Science Projects for Bird Watchers:
*Birdnote radio broadcasts
*eBird accepts sightings all year round and from anywhere on the globe.
*Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count runs during the holidays and welcomes bird watchers of all levels.
*Project FeederWatch is a winter project that gives people with backyard feeders a chance to contribute their sightings to science.
*NestWatch is a summer project in which participants monitor the progress of nests.
*Great Backyard Bird Count happens over Presidents Day weekend, accepts sightings worldwide, and is a great project for people just getting started with citizen science.
*Not a bird watcher? Scistarter can help you find a citizen-science project in whatever subject interests you.

Bud Ward was editor of Yale Climate Connections from 2007-2022. He started his environmental journalism career in 1974. He later served as assistant director of the U.S. Congress's National Commission...