This comprehensive worldwide online citizen science (OCS) project collates bird species, numbers, locations and times of sightings into a large database. You can create a class as a user and, by recording observational information, use this information to focus on how to read the collated data and discuss what it means.
Participation in the project requires you to be able to identify types of birds (plenty of resources are given to support this). Opportunities for discussions around critiquing evidence (How many birds have we seen?, How do we know that we didn’t count one bird twice?) are extensive, as is the potential for practising interpreting the data you have submitted after the OCS has collated it.
Reach: Worldwide (with lots of New Zealand data)
Nature of science focus: Online citizen science projects can be used to develop any of the Nature of Science (NoS) substrands. Identify aspects of NoS that your students need to get better at or understand more fully and then frame your unit to be very clear about these things when you do them.
Science capability focus: Gather and interpret data, Use evidence, Critique evidence, Interpret representations
Science focus: Ecology – bird identification and species distribution
Some suggested science concepts:
- Birds can be identified by their external features.
- Birds have adaptive features – structural (beaks, feet) or behavioural (calls, migration) – that enable them to survive.
- Each bird species can be classified as being native, endemic, introduced, and/or endangered.
- Bird species are adapted to live in their particular habitats.
- Different birds live in different habitats. For example, introduced birds are more common in our towns than native species – their adaptations better enable them to live in close contact with people and mammalian predators.
- Changes in habitat can affect the survival of living organisms in an area and the relationships between them.
- Populations are living organisms of the same species living in the same area at the same time.
Many concepts could be learned – focusing on a few can often be more powerful. Develop your learning outcomes and success criteria from these concepts as well as the Nature of Science strand and the science capabilities.
Four examples of learning outcomes:
- identify local birds by their external features
- compare adaptive features and explain their role in a bird’s survival
- collect bird observations independently
- discuss the reasons why scientists need reliable data.
Unlike the New Zealand-based Garden Bird Survey, this site can be used year round to record bird sightings. Being a global project, it is also possible to see numbers of species worldwide. There appears to be total transparency, and you can view anyone’s sightings. This is a huge project with a lot of content support around it (identification guide pictures and sounds, videos about birding, customisable bird ID quiz maker and so on).
To participate, students collect observational data about birds – the day, time, species observed, number in each species and the total observation time. This can be done as individuals, groups or a whole class.
Once observations are submitted, you can access your own entries and use the site to compare your results to other nearby or far-flung places. There are a lot of New Zealand entries, making local and national comparisons possible.
The Explore section contains species maps, bird hotspots, photos and sounds for searching and identification, and graphing tools.
Nature of science
Using this OCS gives opportunities to discuss how scientists might use the collective data from sightings to monitor species over time, including population numbers and distributions. Students can also consider the challenges for scientists in collecting large datasets themselves and appreciate how involving citizen scientists makes the scientists’ findings more valid.
The Hub has an extensive range of resources featuring birds including Native bird adaptations, Birds’ roles in ecosystems and Predation of native birds and articles on conservation of our native species and bird classification. You can also find out more about our native birds such as the kiwi, takahē, kākā, New Zealand ducks, penguins, godwits and kererū. For all of our articles and activities, browse through our birds topic. For more on populations, see Population biology. Protecting native birds references the important role of citizen scientists.
For a New Zealand-specific project, take part in the annual New Zealand Garden Bird Survey run by Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research. The Garden Bird Survey has been running since 2007, providing extensive data to look back through and consider. You can also participate in The Great Kererū Count, an annual 10-day event in September. The iNaturalistNZ online citizen science project uses Seek, a species identification app.
Here are some planning tips for when you intend to use a citizen science project with your students.
Birds in my backyard is a ready-to-use cross-curricular teaching resource.
eBird is only one part of a suite of bird-related sites and information from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
The Ministry of Education’s Building Science Concepts series includes Book 3: Birds: Structure, Function, and Adaptation.
Birds New Zealand is embarking on the country's largest ever citizen science project to map the distribution and abundance of New Zealand birds! The New Zealand Bird Atlas Scheme was launched in June 2019 and will be run in partnership with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, with checklists being submitted directly into the eBird app or eBird website.
This project outline was written as part of Victoria University of Wellington’s Citizen Scientists in the Classroom project funded by the Ministry of Education’s Teaching & Learning Research Initiative.