Citizen Science project takes flight

Previous spring bird walks have resulted in the identification of 43 species of bird, along with providing avian education for students.
Previous spring bird walks have resulted in the identification of 43 species of bird, along with providing avian education for students. Photo by Kathryn Crandall.

The Yale Citizen Science project kicked off its first fall semester with a bird walk held Friday afternoon.

The Citizen Science project, created in the spring of 2012, is the result of a partnership between the Peabody Natural History Museum and the Yale Office of Sustainability. The project hosted four bird walks over the course of the spring semester and observed and documented 43 different bird species on Yale’s campus. In addition to the bird walks, the project arranged training sessions to educate students, faculty and staff about the different birds that can be found on Yale’s campus and how to properly document their findings. These findings will be used by the Yale Grounds Maintenance Department to decide locations of future building projects, said David Heiser, head of education and outreach at the Peabody.

“We hope that more members of the Yale community will be able to better understand the urban ecology of the Yale campus so that we can all be better land stewards of our campus and our communities,” said Amber Garrard, education and outreach coordinator at the Office of Sustainability.

This year the Yale Citizen Science project is focused on reaching out to greater numbers of people from the Yale community, Garrard said. She added that any interested participant can become a citizen scientist.

“Everyone from experienced birders to new students is more than welcome to join us,” Garrard said.

In the brief time that this program has existed, it has already attracted about 170 “unique individuals” to the various training sessions and bird walks that have occurred since spring, Heiser said. There were, however, only 13 people in attendance at Friday’s bird walk, all from various backgrounds including graduate students, undergraduate students and Sterling Memorial Library staff.

The group was equally diverse in its expertise. Some members had never attended a bird walk, while others like David Tan — a foreign exchange student from Singapore — have been “birding” for over 10 years.

The tour was led by Kristof Zyskowski, Peabody collections manager, and Jim Sirch, coordinator of public education at the Peabody, and took off at noon from Beinecke Plaza and finished the exploration at 1 p.m. in the Grove Street Cemetery. By the end of the walk, the group had observed approximately eight different bird species, from the common grackle to the slightly more elusive blue jay. Though no new bird species were observed on Friday’s walk, participants said they left the walk satisfied.

“I look forward to future events through the Citizens Science project,” Abhinav Gupta ’13 said.

In addition to expanding the number of citizen scientists, the Peabody Museum has designed a new database to capture bird and plant sightings from around campus. This database will serve as the primary portal to organize data collected by citizen scientists, including species they have seen, the time of day, the location and any photos they have taken.

“Ideally, citizen scientists will record data from specific locations of their choice on a regular basis so that we can begin to develop trending data,” Heiser said.

Heiser added that the Citizens Science project will move forward with its efforts to promote a healthy relationship between the campus and its natural ecosystem. Garrard said the program also hopes to develop a culture of citizen scientists.

“It’s about building a community of active and aware members,” she said.

The next scheduled bird walk will occur from noon to 1 p.m. on Nov. 28, leaving from the Peabody Museum lobby.

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