Swallow Week 2024: Citizen Science

Citizen Science and Swallows: How Every Observation Counts

Birdorable Tree Swallows in Alaska

Tree Swallows in Alaska

Swallows, those aerial acrobats that delight us with their graceful flight, play a significant role in ecosystems around the world. Beyond their interesting antics and dapper good looks, swallows are a fascinating subject for study for citizen scientists. Citizen science projects involving swallows offer bird enthusiasts of all ages the chance to contribute to the conservation and understanding of these birds. Whether you’re a seasoned birdwatcher or just starting to explore the avian world, there are a few opportunities to get involved.

Alaska Swallow Monitoring Network

Scientists and citizens team up to monitor Tree Swallows in Alaska, to study their phenology (the timing of seasonal behaviors and cues) and how climate change impacts nesting and other activities. Monitoring occurs at several locations across Alaska with nest boxes installed in appropriate habitat. More Info →

Swallows and Swifts in Italy

Rondini & Co uses iNaturalist to compile observations of swallow and swift species in Trento, Italy. The data is mainly input by students in the region. More Info →


NestWatch is a citizen science effort from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Participants monitor nests throughout the breeding season, following safety and interval protocols. Nests of virtually any species can be monitored, including commonly submitted species Tree Swallow, Violet-green Swallow, and Barn Swallow. More Info →

Purple Martins are unique in that they are almost entirely dependent on human-provided housing for nesting in the eastern parts of North America. They nest in colonies and prefer multi-compartment birdhouses or gourds strung up on poles in open areas, a nesting habit that has developed over generations of interaction with humans. Due to this reliance on humans for nesting sites, there are several citizen science projects that involve the study of Purple Martins.

Project Martinwatch

Project Martinwatch is an effort to both improve management of Purple Martin (PUMA) colonies, and to track the reproductive biology of PUMAs. Data is collected by PUMA landlords or citizen scientists who help landlords with monitoring. Participation is easy and involves performing nest checks every 5-7 days from nest building to fledgling and submitting your data at the end of the season. More Info →

Purple Martin Scout-Arrival Study

This study aims to gather data on first arrival times of Purple Martins to nesting sites. This data, usually submitted by PUMA landlords, tracks the progress of springtime migration of Purple Martins across North America. The historical and real-time information is helpful to landlords to know when to open up their colonies to nesting birds. More Info →

Purple Martin Banding

While untrained citizen scientists cannot legally band birds without a federal permit, landlords can contact their local Audubon Society, state wildlife agency, or birding club to locate an appropriate banding program, if one exists. If you find a banded Purple Martin (or any other banded bird), you can report it to the Bird Banding Laboratory. More Info →

Birdorable Purple Martin getting banded

Purple Martin getting banded

Participating in these projects not only provides valuable data to scientists but also enriches the participant's understanding and appreciation of swallows and martins. The firsthand experience of monitoring these birds fosters a deeper connection with nature and promotes conservation efforts on a personal level.

For those looking to get involved, reaching out to local birding clubs, wildlife organizations, or online platforms dedicated to citizen science is a great start. Besides these projects, entering sighting data of the swallows and other birds you find into eBird is a great way to contribute to citizen science on a regular basis.

Birdorable Purple Martin Gift Ideas for Landlords & Citizen Scientists

Birdwatcher spotting 1 Blue Jay and 1 Painted Bunting

Every year, bird enthusiasts across the globe eagerly anticipate the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), a citizen science project that offers everyone, from the casual bird watcher to the avid ornithologist, an opportunity to contribute to the understanding and conservation of bird populations. Scheduled to take place February 16 to 19, 2024, this event harnesses the power of community observation to create a real-time snapshot of global bird populations, aiding conservation efforts worldwide.

The GBBC was launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, and it has grown into a global event with participation spanning over 100 countries. The count encourages people to observe and record the birds they see in a specified period in February, using just their backyard, local park, or any outdoor space as a starting point.

Why Participate?

Participation in the GBBC is more than just a weekend activity; it's a contribution to a global database used by scientists to monitor the health of bird populations, understand challenges in bird conservation, and take steps towards protecting birds and their habitats. It's an opportunity to connect with nature, learn more about the birds in your local area, and join a global community of conservationists.

How to Get Involved

  1. Mark Your Calendar: Set aside some time between February 16 and 19, 2024, to watch birds. Even 15 minutes of birdwatching can provide valuable data.

  2. Plan Your Spot: Whether it's your backyard, a local park, or even a balcony with a feeder, find a place where you can quietly observe and identify birds.

  3. Get the Right Tools: Download the eBird mobile app or print out a bird checklist for your area. Familiarize yourself with common bird species you might see. Binoculars and a field guide or a bird identification app can enhance your experience.

  4. Count and Record: Keep track of the types and numbers of birds you see during your observation period. Be sure to note the highest number of each species seen together at one time to avoid double-counting.

  5. Submit Your Observations: Enter your findings on the eBird website or through the eBird mobile app. Your data will become part of a global dataset available for research and conservation efforts.

Birds to Watch for in Your Backyard

The beauty of the GBBC is that every bird counts, from the most common to the rarest visitor. Here are a few species you might encounter, depending on your location:

  • Northern Cardinal: These vibrant red birds are a staple in many North American backyards and are easily identifiable by their color and distinctive crest.

  • Blue Jay: Known for their bright blue plumage and loud calls, Blue Jays are often found in wooded areas but frequently visit feeders.

  • American Robin: A sign of spring for many (and a sign of winter for us here in Florida), robins can be seen year-round in many parts of the U.S. Look for their reddish-orange breast and listen for their cheerful song.

  • Dark-eyed Junco: Often called "snowbirds," these small, slate-gray birds are common winter visitors to feeders across North America.

  • Anna's Hummingbird: In the warmer climates of the West Coast, you might spot these tiny, vibrant birds, recognizable by their iridescent green and pink feathers.

Making Your Count Count

Participation in the GBBC is not only about counting birds but also about being part of a collective effort to protect them. Here are some ways to make your participation even more impactful:

  • Educate Others: Share the event with friends and family. The more people participate, the more data can be collected.

  • Make It an Event: Organize a birdwatching group or event in your community. This can be a great way to meet fellow bird enthusiasts and make the count an enjoyable social activity.

  • Be Consistent: Participate in the GBBC annually. Year-over-year data is invaluable for tracking trends in bird populations.

  • Stay Engaged: The GBBC is just one of many citizen science projects you can participate in. Stay involved with local birding groups or online communities to continue contributing to bird conservation.

The Bigger Picture

The data collected during the GBBC provides critical insights into bird population health and trends. For example, observations can help scientists understand how birds are adapting to climate change, the impact of habitat loss, and the effects of disease on bird populations. This information is crucial for developing conservation strategies and policies to protect birds and their habitats.

The Great Backyard Bird Count represents a unique convergence of citizen science, wildlife conservation, and global collaboration. By dedicating a few hours to observing and recording the birds around us, we can all play a part in a global movement to protect our feathered friends and the environments they inhabit

Birder observing flying Birdorable Razorbills

Birder spotting 4 non-breeding Razorbills

Researchers in Oregon are working on a huge survey of birds in the state: Oregon 2020. Data from field observations is being compiled to determine the abundance and distribution of Oregon's bird species.

The study in part uses data collected by citizen scientists who bird the state and enter their findings into eBird.

In a presentation given at a bird symposium last year, Birdorable cartoon birds were used to help visualize concepts in field observation data collection, like "imperfect detection" and "detection probability".

The project aims to compile its data on the birds of Oregon by the year 2020. While data collection occurs year-round, County Birding Blitzes are used to collect data in hotspots over a short period of time by a lot of different observers (kind of like Christmas Bird Counts).

To learn more about the project and maybe even contribute data, check it out at Oregon 2020.

Thank you to Tyler Hallman for sharing his presentation with us.

Contributing to citizen Science projects helps our collective knowledge, but it also helps us as individuals learn. We'd like to highlight some citizen science projects in which families can participate. If you know of a project that we could highlight on our blog, please YardMap is a citizen science mapping project that can help you learn more about the birds that visit your yard, and how to attract more. Participating in the project also helps scientists as they study how birds adapt to disturbed habitats.

Birdorable YardBird

YardMap is a project from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Participants identify their yard and then map it out, indicating types of habitat found. Using colors and shapes, items like lawn, grass, trees, and more can be marked. Bird baths, brush piles, and other objects can also be placed, to give a very clear picture of the type of habitat found in the yard. Finally, participant bird sightings are linked in via eBird. The YardMap site is full of information on how different suburban habitats impact bird populations, and how participants can help birds by making changes or additions to their yards. YardMap is social, too, with a community forum for sharing pictures and stories.


This is a fun and educational year-round family-friendly project that has the added benefit of helping scientists better understand bird habits in your neighborhood! Visit the YardMap site to learn more and get started!

I Love My Garden / Backyard Birds

Birdorable Sandhill Cranes

Contributing to citizen Science projects helps our collective knowledge, but it also helps us as individuals learn. We'd like to highlight some citizen science projects in which families can participate. If you know of a project that we could highlight on our blog, please let us know!

Each year the International Crane Foundation encourages citizen scientists to participate in the Annual Midwest Crane Count. In 2013, the count will take place on April 13.

The count covers over 100 counties in Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana. County Coordinators should be the first point of contact for anyone that would like to participate. Visit the Crane Count page to learn more about participating and see past count results.

Blog Bird Feeder

Contributing to citizen Science projects helps our collective knowledge, but it also helps us as individuals learn. We'd like to highlight some citizen science projects in which families can participate. If you know of a project that we could highlight on our blog, please let us know!

The 16th annual Great Backyard Bird Count will take place from Friday, Feburary 15th through Monday, February 18th. Participation is free and anyone in the world can contribute! Here is a what is involved, taken from the official GBBC website:

"The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual 4-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are.

Participants tally the number of individual birds of each species they see during their count period. They enter these numbers on the GBBC website."

The annual count helps scientists understand what is happening with bird populations during a specific period of time each winter. This "snapshot" of current bird activity is monitored over time to look for population trends. Results from previous counts can be seen by participants and scientists alike. This is a great citizen science project for birdwatchers of all ages! Data entry is easily accomplished via the GBBC site; younger birdwatchers may need help with keeping and entering count information.

Learn more about this project and how you can participate by visiting the Great Backyard Bird Count website.

Have you participated in the GBBC before? Will you participate this year?

Citizen Science: eBird

Contributing to citizen Science projects helps our collective knowledge, but it also helps us as individuals learn. We'd like to highlight some citizen science projects in which families can participate. If you know of a project that we could highlight on our blog, please let us know!

The first citizen science project we'd like to highlight is a big one! eBird is an online bird checklist program that helps you keep track of the birds you see. A great thing about eBird is that data entered into the system by citizen scientists like you also helps scientists study birds!

eBird, a joint project from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, is free and easy for anyone to use. Once registered, you can enter your bird sightings as often as you like, and include as much data as you want, including photos, information on the age and gender of the bird, and more. You can tell eBird what birds you saw in your back yard while having lunch, or enter a long list of the birds you saw when you spent the whole day at the local state park or national wildlife refuge. You'll be able to see your lists again any time you'd like. eBird data entry is global, so anyone in the world can use it to record their bird sightings.

It's a lot of fun to look through eBird maps and charts to see how sightings recorded by your fellow citizen scientists look over time and over a large area. For instance, using eBird, you can figure out what kinds of birds you might expect to see next time you visit a relative in another state.

Once you have a few checklists of your own, it's also a lot of fun to look through what you've seen in the past and how your sightings may change or be surprisingly similar year after year. If you saw your first hummingbird of the year on May 5th, 2012, you'll know to start keeping your eyes out for your little feathered friend in early May this year.

eBird is a fun and educational tool suitable for use by the whole family. eBird tools are used for other citizen scientist projects, too, so don't be surprised if we highlight a future project that uses eBird data. Visit the eBird.org site to learn more and get started!