Birds of a Feather: Citizen-Science and Data Analysis

Do you need an innovative way to engage students in data collection and analysis? Or maybe you’d like to teach life science concepts in a more authentic context. Whether you are a science teacher, a math teacher, or both, you may want to consider a citizen-science project from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Focusing on bird observation, the projects provide important information about species distribution and behavior to ornithologists. However, much of the data is also accessible online – providing opportunities for students to analyze and conduct inquiry-based projects.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology sponsors many different citizen-science projects. We’ve highlighted four that might be most appropriate for middle school participation. You can learn more about all the projects at the CLO web site.

Participants record information about bird observations. The database is used by scientists, conservationists, and birdwatchers who want to know more about the distributions and movement patterns of birds across the continent.

Celebrate UrbanBirds
Participants learn about 16 species of urban birds, select a birdwatching area, and observe for 10 minutes, recording which species they see. Scientists use the data to study bird populations, behavior, and their interaction with the urban habitat. Celebrate Urban Birds also includes ideas and resources for urban greening activities.

Project PigeonWatch
Participants observe pigeons and record data about flock numbers, color, and mating behavior. The data is used by scientists to better understand why pigeons continue to exist in so many colors and which colors are preferred for mates. This project does not currently have online data entry available. Printable data forms can be completed and returned to the Lab.

Project NestWatch
Participants monitor nests and breeding habits of any bird species.

A series of BirdSleuth curriculum modules are available for purchase and can help teachers integrate the projects into their classrooms. However, these modules are not necessary for participation in any of the citizen-science projects.

Science and mathematics are seamlessly integrated in these projects. Participating in bird observation allows middle school students to learn these concepts in an authentic setting:

Life Science

·         Diversity and Adaptations of organisms
·         Populations and Ecosystems
·         Bird behavior


·         Data collection
·         Data analysis – graphing, statistics (range, mean, median, mode)

The citizen-science projects from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology can target the Life Science Content Standard of the National Science Education Standards. Bird observations may also lead to student-directed inquiry, which align with the Science as Inquiry Content Standard. Students also work on the NCTM Data Analysis and Probability Standard as well as the NCTM Connections Standard as they apply mathematics outside of a school context.

Best of all, these projects can be completed anytime, anywhere. Get your students outdoors and observing birds today!

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at Post updated 11/28/2011.

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