Citizen Science

Tropical Audubon Society invites South Floridians to become volunteer Citizen Scientists and make a measurable difference in our environment and quality of life. In essence, Citizen Science is research conducted by members of the public, often with the help or supervision of a professional scientist or scientific institution. Whether volunteering for a TAS program or working with a TAS partner, citizen scientists can flex their intellect and/or muscle at a personal level of comfort that ultimately will benefit Nature or a particular conservation cause.

Citizen scientists are critical to the success of the annual Christmas Bird Count and Great Backyard Bird Count. And every fall, citizen scientists can help band songbirds at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park at the Cape Florida Banding Station, and/or assist researchers as they count migrating raptors as part of the Florida Keys Hawkwatch.

Most of these area projects feed data to eBird, a global effort run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, providing information on bird abundance and distribution to educators, biologists and the conservation community, among others.

Local Projects

Christmas Bird Counts

Every December since 1900, teams of enthusiastic birders have joined together across the country to count the number of individual birds within each species present on the same date in the same locale. This extremely important project is coordinated by the National Audubon Society.

The consistency of the count creates a viable set of statistics that can be compared and used to measure the effects that changes in the environment over time have had — and are having — on bird populations. These measurements act as important environmental indicators on which scientists have come to rely. In addition to collecting meaningful data, participating is a satisfying way to spend a winter day with fellow birding enthusiasts.

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Cape Florida Banding

A large percentage of the songbird species that breed in North America fly to Central America, South America and the Caribbean Islands to spend the winter months. Birds migrating to or from these locales generally use the Atlantic Flyway and funnel down Florida’s east coast, stopping at sites such as Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park (BBCFSP) to refuel. The restored native vegetation in the Key Biscayne-cited park provides ample insects and fruit for the birds to eat in order to put on fat deposits for the next leg of their journey, the overwater crossing to the Caribbean islands or the northern coast of South America. The park habitat also provides refuge for hundreds of migrating birds of all types that may be forced to land here due to bad weather.

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Florida Keys Hawk Watch

Florida Keys Hawkwatch promotes the appreciation and conservation of birds via long-term study of their migration through the Florida Keys.

Florida Keys Hawkwatch (FKH) conducts surveys from several locations in the Middle Keys, primarily Curry Hammock State Park on Little Crawl Key, a few miles northeast of Marathon (Overseas Highway MM 56.2), and Long Key State Park (MM 67.5) in Layton. (The Florida Keys extend southwest from the tip of the Florida peninsula over approximately 105 miles).

The term “raptor” is commonly given to diurnal birds of prey, such as eagles, hawks and falcons. Raptor migration monitoring in the Florida Keys has a long history at multiple locations conducted by National Audubon in the late 1980s through the 1990s. These day-counts demonstrated that the flight of migratory raptors was most concentrated in the Middle Keys.

The FHK project currently monitors the migration of all avian species with a focus on diurnal birds of prey from Curry Hammock State Park, and the morning flights of migratory land birds from Long Key State Park.

Visitors and volunteers are welcome. For more information, visit their website, contact project director Rafael Galvez, or call 305-804-6003.

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Audubon EagleWatch

Based at Audubon Center for Birds of Prey, Audubon EagleWatch seeks information about Bald Eagles, active nest locations and possible disturbances or threats to nesting activities. The EagleWatch program provides valuable information on nesting activity and the current trends of eagle populations in Florida. As a volunteer, you’ll spend some time monitoring one or more eagle nests in your vicinity. These observation reports will help eagle biologists to determine the right conservation measures to ensure the success of the species. Additionally, the reports may be used by law enforcement agencies to prevent any harm to the birds and their nesting sites.

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South Florida Raptor Study

South Florida is one of the most biodiverse metropolises in the United States. Miami-Dade County, for example, is the only county in the contiguous United States with two national parks. But it is also home to more than 2.5 million people. Very few studies have examined how native wildlife is adapting to urbanization in South Florida. This study will focus on how the Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) adapts to urbanization because it lives in South Florida year-round (no migration) and inhabits both the urban areas and protected conservation lands.There are many ways the general public can participate in this research.

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National Projects

eBird

The eBird network hatched in 2002 as a live online checklist program for birders. Conceived by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, it provides data on bird abundance and distribution in many locations around the globe.

Any birder can enter information eBird’s site, recording when, where, and how they went birding, and then checking off all the birds seen and heard during the outing. Participants’ observations are added to those contributed by an international network of eBird users.

Join eBird today and maintain your personal bird records with the ability see your data turned into maps, graphs and bar charts, while participating one of the world’s most prominent Citizen Science bird projects.

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Great Backyard Bird Count

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a four-day, global bird count held every February. Anyone can participate by tallying the numbers and kinds of birds they spot in their yard for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count.

Results can be submitted to Tropical Audubon Society and to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society citizen-science online database known as eBird. The count creates an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds.

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Project Feederwatch

Project FeederWatch, sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America.

Anyone interested in birds can participate. FeederWatch is conducted by people of all skill levels and backgrounds, including children, families, individuals, classrooms, retired persons, youth groups, nature centers, and bird clubs. You can count birds as often as every week, or as infrequently as you like: the schedule is completely flexible. All you need is a bird feeder, bird bath, or plantings that attract birds.

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NestWatch

NestWatch is a nationwide monitoring program designed to track status and trends in the reproductive biology of birds, including when nesting occurs, number of eggs laid, how many eggs hatch, and how many hatchlings survive. This Cornell Lab of Ornithology database is intended to be used to study the current condition of breeding bird populations and how they may be changing over time as a result of climate change, habitat degradation and loss, expansion of urban areas, and the introduction of non-native plants and animals.

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Hummingbirds at Home

Audubon’s Hummingbirds at Home program is designed to mobilize citizen scientists across the U.S. to bolster current research by documenting the feeding patterns of hummingbirds.

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Nightjar Survey Network

For many members of the nightjar family, including Common Nighthawk and Eastern Whip-poor-will, populations have been declining significantly in recent years, with no clear cause for these declines. The Nightjar Survey Network, run by the Center for Conservation Biology, was established to better understand North America's nightjars by mapping and measuring populations throughout the continent. Volunteers are needed to complete annual nightjar surveys that in Florida, take place during April and May.

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What Do Birds Eat?

For almost all land birds, insects are an essential dietary component, especially during their breeding season, but relatively little is known regarding which types of insects these birds depend upon most. Doug Talamy, an entomology and wildlife ecology professor at the University of Delaware, hopes to enlist the assistance of the birding community to gain a better understanding of the importance of insects to birds. A website has been created that allows birders to contribute photographs they've taken of birds carrying insects in their bills. Dr. Talamy and his team will identify the insects in the photographs and add this information to their database. At some point in the future, the database will be made accessible to the public.

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Mark My Bird

A team of researchers, based at the University of Sheffield, are taking 3D scans of the bills of all of the world’s bird species from museum collections. The 3D scans are incredibly detailed but before they can use them they require a process called landmarking. Landmarking involves placing points on features of the bill that are common to all specimens. They can use the landmarks to mathematically describe the shape of bills so that they can compare and test how they differ among species. By landmarking the 3D images you can contribute to real science. The digitised data will help researchers to understand how and why the 10,000 species of birds diversified.

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Cats Indoors

Predation by feral cats has become the number one human-caused threat to birds in the United States. An estimated 2.4 billion birds are killed annually by outdoor cats, according to the American Bird Conservancy. In Miami-Dade County, neighborhoods and natural areas, in particular county parks, are overrun with feral cats.

Endangered species such as the Key Largo Woodrat have been severely impacted by south Florida's feral cat population explosion. To learn more, read the following articles from Smithsonian and The Nature Conservancy.

Tropical Audubon Society is seeking the assistance of local citizens to collect feral cat data, which we would then share with county decision-makers. A form is available for data collection.

The American Bird Conservancy's Cats Indoors webpage is an excellent resource for anyone willing to take a stand on this issue.

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