An Anytime, Anywhere Celebration of Nature in the City

by Larry on June 27, 2008

 Simple citizen-science project reaches urbanites of all ages

Eurasian Collared Doves

Eurasian Collared Doves winning photo by Marian Mendez

Ithaca, N.Y.­Nature has the power to soothe and enthuse. More people are finding that out as they join the free, year-round “Celebrate Urban Birds!” citizen-science project from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. From schools, hospitals, and senior centers, to wellness programs, scout packs, and military bases, participants are reaping the benefits of a closer connection to the natural world and a new appreciation for city birds.    

A girl in 4-H changed her mind about city birds after taking part in the project: “At first I didn’t like urban birds,” she said. “I thought of them as pests. Then I realized that they are just like me and other kids. We are ignored or people just see as us pests or don’t see us at all…yet if you look a little deeper you can see that on the inside we are pretty unique and cool!”

People of all ages and backgrounds participate in Celebrate Urban Birds through gardening, cultural activities and citizen-science. For the citizen-science part of the project, participants watch city birds for 10 minutes, check off 15 target species of birds, and send the information through the mail or the Internet to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Once enough data are gathered, scientists hope to learn more about how birds survive in cities and how they use urban green spaces such as parks, rooftop gardens, and even potted plants on balconies for food, resting sites, and shelter.

Individuals can participate on their own or through public events organized by local groups. Celebrate Urban Birds has partnered with more than 2,000 organizations to hold special “birdy” events featuring the arts, science, gardening, or other ways to draw people into bird study and observation. While supplies last, everyone who signs up will receive a Celebrate Urban Birds kit in English and Spanish with two colorful urban birds posters, educational materials about birds and urban greening, a data form, and a packet of sunflower seeds to plant in pots and gardens. More than 60,000 free kits have been distributed.

After receiving his kit, one elementary school youngster with Down syndrome declared, “I will take these posters home and put them up on my wall forever­because I’m going to be a scientist when I grow up!”  Teachers find that the 10-minute bird observation can be done within a class period, and it reinforces math, reading, scientific, artistic, and team-building skills. One teacher noted, “Our group of middle school boys was impressed with being able to help with a project sponsored by a university.”
Some groups go beyond a single event by greening their neighborhood­creating habitat for birds on balconies, rooftops, front stoops, or community spaces. Others are tapping into the arts, creating dances, drawings, murals, sculptures, puppet shows, and short films based on city birds. The Celebrate Urban Birds web site has lots of resources and suggestions about how to craft an event or project for libraries, nature centers, schools and youth groups, community gardens, home-school groups, or individuals.

Winners have been chosen for the project’s first “Beautiful Birds in Urban Places” video and photo contest. Marian Mendez of Hialeah, Florida, captured first prize with her images of birds found in her back yard. She said, “I like to single out one bird and watch it for a while, trying to see the personality and mind behind it. And I’m out in the fresh air, getting sunshine and a new perspective on life.” You can see Marian’s photos and other great entries on the web site. Stay tuned for the next photo contest! Learn more about Celebrate Urban Birds and sign up at www.CelebrateUrbanBirds.org!
 

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The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a membership institution dedicated to interpreting and conserving the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds. Visit the Lab’s web site at http://www.birds.cornell.edu .

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