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.
Sitting within this global site is the New Zealand Bird Atlas – a world-first approach to a 5-year project collating information about how many bird species are in New Zealand and where they are. Bird sightings (checklists) can be submitted year round using the New Zealand Bird Atlas.
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 live in different habitats.
- Each bird species can be classified as being native, endemic, introduced, and/or endangered.
- Bird species are adapted to live in their particular habitats.
- Introduced birds often compete with native bird species for food, shelter and nesting sites.
- Birds are part of many food webs within larger ecosystems.
- 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 faraway 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.
This worthy project is aiming to capture an up-to-date dataset to tell the real story of New Zealand birds. A project of this magnitude was last done 20 years ago. Much has changed due to urban sprawl, land use change and rampant predators! With many endemic birds being forced into remote back-country or offshore islands, this project will provide the information needed to guide and influence national and local government conservation policy planning for decades to come.
Sightings (checklists) are easily submitted through the eBird app, which you set up to use the New Zealand Bird Atlas. The New Zealand Bird Atlas allows citizens to log counts year round as well as view others’ sightings. Using the eBird app, you can view New Zealand divided into 10 km² blocks, allowing you to compare species and bird numbers around the country.
There is a lot of support material on the New Zealand Bird Atlas website, including how to do a checklist and bird identification resources. Having learned how to complete and submit a checklist, this would be a good project to do regularly throughout the year, even from your own school, to enable seasonal data to be collated about the diversity and spread of bird species within New Zealand. This site can be used year round to submit and view sightings.
The data collection period for this project is 1 June 2019 to 31 May 2024.
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.
Related citizen science projects
For a New Zealand-specific project, take part in the annual New Zealand Garden Bird Survey run by Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research and held in late June. You can also participate in The Great Kererū Count, an annual 10-day event in September. Log your kea sightings with the Kea Database to assist scientists and conservationists to know more about the habits of this alpine parrot. The iNaturalistNZ online citizen science project uses Seek, a species identification app.
PLD for teachers
Here are some planning tips for when you intend to use a citizen science project with your students. We also have two recorded webinars to help, Getting started with citizen science and Online citizen science.
Connected series content
The Ministry of Education’s Connected series includes the following articles and teacher support material: The takeaway table (Birds in my backyard is a ready-to-use cross curricular teaching resource using article), What Alice saw, Keep your cat inside and Bringing back the birdsong.
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.
Watch the New Zealand Bird Atlas launch video on YouTube.
This Stuff news article sums up the climate-related threats facing some of our endemic birds – a pattern that was revealed by analysing Birds New Zealand's unique bird atlas datasets. The New Zealand Bird Atlas scheme will help contribute to research such as this.
Find out more about New Zealand’s birds and the conservation efforts undertaken by the Department of Conservation under the birds section of their website.
New Zealand Birds has information on birds that can be found in New Zealand, including extinct species.
New Zealand Birds Online allows you to search by bird name and provides information on each species, including habitat, breeding, ecology and sound clips of bird calls.
A 2020 European study Biological diversity evokes happiness found that the number of bird species in a person’s surroundings correlates to happiness.
The Science Learning Hub team has curated an introductory collection of resources to help teach about bird conservation. Login to make this collection part of your private collection, just click on the copy icon.
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.