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Go Birding: Help the World

What makes birding such a phenomenon? No matter where you are, the presence and variety of birds are astonishing. No matter the time of year, there’s always something to see. Birds communicate in the same ways we do, through sight and sound. They’ve evolved a stunning range of patterns, colors and an astonishing musical repertoire. And we humans are equipped to revel in it. Beyond all that, they can fly, launching themselves up into a medium with no boundaries while we remain earthbound. And so we are inspired to dream, lifting our gaze skyward to the birds and see what it means to be free. – Paraphrased from “Three Years After a Fateful Day in Central Park, Birding Continues to Change My Life” by Christian Cooper, New York Times, May 26, 2023.

As someone whose fictional writing has focused on a whole host of birds (albeit imaginary, talking ones) I couldn’t help noticing a recent (May 25) article in The New York Times (NYT) on the subject of bird study. The initiative described was so appealing that I just had to share it more widely.

The newspaper is working with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on a Citizen-Science project aimed at gathering observations from everyday folks (readers) about bird life found either in one’s own backyard, nearby or deeper into the hinterland.

The article goes on to explain the summer-long project, over which time the NYT will make a special effort to cover the latest developments in the science of birds and share what it’s learning with subscribers.

The data collected will help scientists understand better how birds are affected by forces like climate change and habitat loss. If you subscribe to the NYT, you can participate by signing up here. If not, you can connect directly with Cornell University. The Lab provides “dozens of ways” to become part of their mission to study and protect birdlife.

For more than two decades the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has run eBird, a project that collects observations from amateur bird watchers. Nearly 900,000 participants around the world have submitted some 18 million lists a year of what they have spotted during their bird-watching sessions. And the number of lists has been growing at a pace of some 20 percent a year.

Those contributions have proven to be a treasure trove for scientists, assisting in the study of changes in bird populations and behavior. According to Tom Auer, who leads the geospatial data science team at the Cornell lab, the collected data reveals the “complex relationships between people and birds”.

“For example, the voluminous eBird data has established how the bright lights of big cities draw in migratory birds, especially young ones. And cities, with their canyons of concrete and asphalt, are generally poor habitats for birds. Cornell scientists are now studying whether the diversion leads to exhaustion and starvation, and whether fewer birds survive the migratory journey.

“But, as the project relies on the efforts of volunteers, the data does not cover all places equally. ‘You can imagine obvious places where there aren’t data,’ Mr. Auer said. ‘Mostly because people are drawn to places where they can see the most birds’.”

So, this summer, the NYT is inviting readers around the world to participate in the science project, filling in data gaps and giving researchers a clearer picture of biodiversity in places that birders frequent less. It’s seen as important work. Nearly half of all bird species worldwide are known or suspected to be in decline, and climate change could accelerate this trend. By gathering data like this, participants will help inform decisions about conservation efforts.

The project runs to September and anyone interested can join at any time, thereby connecting with a global community of readers, scientists and researchers. Participants don’t need to be experts or have special equipment. “Share what you’ve learned,” says the NYT. “And maybe even discover a new way of seeing nature.” Meanwhile, the NYT will provide a series of challenges aimed at getting participants on the path toward contributing scientific data.

I’ve already downloaded the free Merlin Bird ID app, which is the first step in the process. I can already attest to how easy the app is to use, how responsive it is to barely audible calls and how quickly it identifies the various songs. In three days, I’ve already recorded eleven different birds. The next step is to report findings through the eBird app, which enables sending observations to the Cornell Lab’s database.

Finally, news on the home front: The Ravenstones‘ wonderful illustrator, Kari Rust, has a new book coming out this week, courtesy of Owlkids: The Weird Sisters: A Robin, a Ribbon, and a Lawn Mower, second in the series written by Mark David Smith, for kids in the six to nine age group. The book description reads as follows: “this whimsical chapter book mystery series is full of clever wordplay, humorous misunderstandings, and expressive illustrations”. It can be ordered directly from the Owlkids Store website. Please check it out.

Cover Photo by Chris Briggs on Unsplash