February 4, 2016
by Richard Smart and Jeff Chapman
“Raise your hand if you think it is a Bushtit.”
“There are four by this feeder and five at that one, so that’s nine altogether.”
“I think it’s sparrow-sized or smaller”
“Are you sure that isn’t a fake bird?”
These are questions and statements made during the Nature Navigator program on Saturday, January 23. Jeff Chapman, Manager of Interpretation and Training, and Richard Smart, Coordinator of Citizen Science, were leading a group of kids, ages 10-12 years old, on a bird walk through the NHMLA Nature Gardens. The bird walk was a training to help the kids gain more experience looking for birds, identifying them, and reporting their observations. By honing these skills, we hope to get our Nature Navigators to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count.
The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) was first held in 1998, and was created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society. The GBBC is credited as being “the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.” The goal of the GBBC is to gain a better understanding of bird populations throughout North America. By getting more people to participate in the GBBC, scientists have access to more data, which can add to their knowledge of bird populations at local, state, and national levels. Here at NHMLA, we see all of L.A. as our backyard. The GBBC allows us to contribute wherever we are birding, be it your actual backyard, a local park, the L.A. River,or L.A. City Hall.
GBBC PARTICIPATION IS EASY
Step 1: Count birds anywhere you like. GBBC recommends you spend at least 15 minutes counting. Keep track of the numbers and species of birds you see and how long you watched.
Step 2: Make your best estimate of how many birds you saw of each species.
Step 3: Enter your list(s) online at BirdCount.org.
For our Nature Navigators, counting birds and entering those counted online was simple. The most difficult aspect is identifying what birds they were looking at – a major obstacle for most people when asked to participate in a citizen science bird project. While there are many different field guides that people may use to help with bird identification, there is also mobile phone app designed to to help people of all ages with their bird IDs. It's called, Merlin!
Merlin Bird ID is a FREE app, for Android and iOS mobile devices, that people can use to help them make bird IDs. First you answer five questions:
Where did you see the bird?
When did you see the bird?
What size was the bird?
What were the main colors?
What was the bird doing?
Then Merlin brings up a list of birds that you could be looking at (the list includes photos, names, and brief descriptions of the birds, and some birds have their calls uploaded to the app). The app was made by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and it earned its name since its accuracy is so high that people swear that it works like magic.
We worked with the Nature Navigators to practice using Merlin, and they were happy to have a tool that was simple to use, and that gave them information about the birds they were seeing. Quite often, when we take people outside, we want them to “unplug” when connecting to nature, but it was neat to see these kids using mobile technology to help them connect to nature. The app helped the kids become more involved in the bird walk since they weren’t relying on Jeff or Richard to make all of the bird IDs for them. Instead, they could find the answer themselves.
This year’s GBBC is being held Feb 12-15, 2016. Our Nature Navigators are motivated to help scientists by counting birds in their neighborhoods during this time frame. We hope that many of you will join them and participate in your own neighborhood. View the bird list that our Nature Navigators created on Jan 23. It contains 13 different types of birds. How many types of birds do you think you’ll see when you participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count?
Cornell Lab of Ornithology: http://gbbc.birdcount.org/about/
GBBC Toolkit, Instructions PDF: http://gbbc.birdcount.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/2016Updates_English_DownloadableInstructions.pdf