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Citizen Scientist: Birder

June 8, 2011

In Bozeman, the fall Raptor Watch gets a lot of press, and rightly so since the Bridger Mountains are one of the key migration routes for golden eagles…but there are many other opportunities for beginning and advanced birders to contribute as “citizen scientists” or just for personal enjoyment.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology has structured a variety of birding projects for citizen scientists.

For beginners:

  • Pigeon Watch is a great way for elementary students to get involved with birding, by trying to count the 7 different varieties of pigeons, thereby learning more about genetics.   Cornell will even provide posters.
  • If you can locate a nest, NestWatch is a great way to study the behaviors of one species.

Once you’ve learned to identify more birds:

  • BirdSleuth provides curricula for middle schoolers to learn about birding.
  • Records the birds you’ve seen on eBird.
  • Participate in the annual Backyard Bird Count or Christmas Bird Count.

How does one progress from beginning birder to advanced birder?

  1. Buy a good field guide (Sibley’s is one of the best) and binoculars (or a camera with a great telephoto lens will do in a pinch).
  2. Go on the spring and fall field trips with Sacagawea Audubon Society .  Their expert birders will point out birds and provide tips on how to identify them. (Children should be accompanied by a parent, but one of the field trip leaders is a teenager himself!)
  3. Livingston Adult Community Education and the Yellowstone Ranger District teamed up in 2011 to host several birding field trips and bird banding demonstrations in May and June to celebrate International Migratory Bird Day.  Last year, Bozeman offered birding classes as part of the summer recreation calendar.
  4. Read some of the books on bird identification, like Hawks in Flight, or Sibley’s Bird Behavior.
  5. ""Listen to bird song recordings and start to memorize the songs.  Expert birders will identify birds by just their songs!   The American Robin Migration Tracking Project is a good way to start learning bird songs.   There are also apps, websites and computer programs to learn bird songs, like the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs.

Birding can be fun for photographers and artists, too.  Read how one Bozeman teenager has combined his love of birds and of art here.

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