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Citizen Science

The Idea—
Citizen science is a term that refers to public participation in scientific research (now referred to as PPSR in the literature).  I believe Rick Bonney at Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology coined the term “citizen science” in association with Project FeederWatch in the late 1980s, but older “citizen science” projects such as the Christmas Bird Count, were initiated as long ago as 1900.  From the scientist’s perspective, a citizen-science project allows one to take advantage of “crowdsourcing” opportunities, where large numbers of people can gather a volume of information that no single person or even small research team could ever accomplish on their own.  From the citizen scientist’s perspective, it provides people the opportunity to have some fun and gather information related to their personal interests while they contribute to a database that can be used to answer interesting questions related to a specific species or topic.

The Avian Science Center believes citizen scientists are the key to unlocking patterns of bird distribution in relation to human land-use practices, so we design our projects to yield information on ecological effects of alternative practices.  Our first citizen-science project was coordinated by Amy Cilimburg and involved the distribution of Flammulated Owls within the lower-elevation dry conifer forests of western Montana

[http://avianscience.dbs.umt.edu/projects/flammulated_owl.php].  Our current project involves the mapping of Osprey and Lewis’s Woodpecker nest sites within the Bitterroot, Clark Fork, and Flathead River basins in an effort to uncover the characteristics of our larger river corridors that the species find most suited to their occurrence and nest success.

We are currently streamlining the participation process so that citizen scientists can find out about opportunities through their local Audubon chapter, through the Master Naturalist program at the Montana Natural History Center, or through our own web site and Facebook page.  If you are interested in participating, simply register on our data entry page [http://www.cas.umt.edu/web_apps/avianScience/serviceForm/serviceForm.php] and enter your observation and a photograph right there!