Join a community science project to help spot and identify birds of all types. Illustration by Chris Philpot.

IT’S ALL ABOUT TEAMWORK. Community science, also known as crowd-sourced science, citizen science, and volunteer monitoring, involves research and data collection conducted by folks who are not professional scientists.  

While the primary goal is for scientists to accumulate data across a wider range of landscapes and ecosystems, community science also helps people get outside, meet new people, and grow their scientific literacy while improving reliability and openness in research. “We can do and learn so much more together than we can do on our own,” says Steve Knox, leader of the Audubon Christmas Bird Count.  

Follow the rules: To be effective, learn the protocols for gathering the best data and entering it into the appropriate database, says Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird editor Chris Rustay. For example, the eBird platform—among the world’s largest community science projects—asks you to log the time spent birding, your location, and all the birds you saw or heard, not just unique species. Also, document your sightings, especially for rarities, by including photographs and other details.  

First, do no harm: No matter our motivations, we all have the potential to harm the wildlife we are observing. Some species, such as the snowy plover, are so sensitive to human presence that they will abandon their young. So avoid the nest of any bird. Playing birdsongs to attract them can expose birds to predators. Study up on good birding ethics.  

Be a good teammate: Avoid poking around on private land without permission. Be kind to fellow birders. The worst kind of birder is the one who doesn’t share. “Get with other people who share your interest,” suggests Knox. “Use social media to find people in your area and learn from one another.”


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