North American Bird Phenology Program

Change in hummer arrival(Enlarge) Changes in hummer arrival dates between the 1880-1969 period and the 1997-2010 period. We wouldn't have known this if it were not for the efforts of citizen scientists! (This is a slide from a presentation listed on the BPP website: Assessing effects of climate change on bird phenology at broad temporal and spatial scales)

The concept of North American Bird Phenology Program is simple: digitize the millions of paper bird observation records collected from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s.

The challenge: this is a massive number of records that can be transcribed only by hand—and only by volunteers.

These records from before the time of rapid climate change are invaluable … but only if they're converted to digital form.

I categorize this project as "climate citizen science," since this is probably the main motivation for initiating it. But it will also help birds, too, though, partly because climate change is one of the biggest challenges to birds, but also because it shows how bird populations are changing. This is important information to have if we want to help birds.

Example of a data card and the digital record(Enlarge)
Example of a data card and the digital record I've filled in (not all fields can be filled in)

This is a card I transcribed that was created way back in 1885 by someone in the nearby town of Auburn, NY. It's always nice when I find these local cards from so long ago. ("517" indicates it was a Purple Finch.)

Typing may not be the most exciting thing to do, but sometimes at the end of the day I don't really want to do anything exciting. It's also a good way to take advantage of the odd few minutes during the day that might otherwise be wasted. It's an especially good way to pass the time when I find myself on one of the 10-minute holds waiting for tech support. I feel like I've really accomplished something when I'd otherwise be waiting, frustrated.

Kinglet ©Janet Allen
Besides climate change, this project helps bird conservation

It's nice to take 5 or 10 minutes and do something like this, but I often find I keep going awhile. It's oddly addicting.

As of October 2011, I had transcribed 3,023 cards out of 501,385 transcribed by everyone and the 693,754 that have so far been scanned into the system.

As of February 2014, I had transcribed 6,778 cards out of 1,001,343 transcribed by everyone and the 1,042,494 that have so far been scanned into the system, waiting for transcription.

As of January 2015, I had reached my 8,000 card mark!

There's still a lot of work to be done since each card must be transcribed twice to ensure accuracy. I try to be as careful as possible, but I know that errors can creep in, so I'm glad they have this system.

Anyone can participate, but this would be an especially good project for someone who is housebound and might not be able to get out to do other citizen science projects, and they'd know they're making a valuable contribution.

The bottom line is that it's an important way to contribute to climate change research. It's also a way to honor the work of so many people so long ago who took the time to collect this data.