Citizen naturalists are people who are concerned about the environment and choose to help make a difference both locally and nationally. They spend time outside, observing nature with a critical lens. Anyone can be a citizen naturalist—all you need is a passion for nature and helping your community. Some examples of activities commonly performed by citizen naturalists include cleaning up a local park or stream, teaching a water monitoring class or educating children about ecosystems and threats to wildlife, working to get your town certified as a Community Wildlife Habitat™, and submitting observations to a citizen science program.
Citizen science is when the public volunteers time to assist scientists in their research. Citizen scientists can support professional researchers in a lot of ways—by submitting data, sharing experiences, or spreading valuable information. Scientists benefit from having a lot more data to analyze and a pool of volunteers willing to help. Citizen science programs vary in type and scope. You might prefer to work on a local level, like collecting data on the nutrient levels in an area stream. Some of the more popular citizen science projects are nationwide. Many of the large-scale citizen science projects have websites where you study up and learn protocols before heading into the field.
Looking for a way to get involved? Try checking out one of these citizen science programs.
Fun with Frogs: FrogWatch USA is a frog and toad monitoring program where volunteers learn the calls of local frog species, identify them by song in the field and record their findings online. No formal training is required, except a willingness to learn the frog and toad calls in your area.
The Beauty of Birds: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology manages 12 bird citizen science programs, including Project Feederwatch, NestWatch, and eBird. With such a vast diversity of projects, you are sure to find one that fits your family. In addition, the National Audubon Society hosts a yearly end-of-winter bird count called the Great Backyard Bird Count. Anyone can participate, no matter your skill level or location in the United States and Canada.
Fabulous Firefly Festivities: This summer, Boston's Museum of Science wants you to monitor fireflies with Firefly Watch. With an occasional visit to your backyard to count fireflies, you could be helping scientists around the country study firefly behavior and population changes.
Monarch Mayhem: Each year, the University of Kansas monitors the autumn migration of monarch butterflies. Join them this fall with Monarch Watch and record data on monarchs that fly through your community on their journey south. Also learn how to build a monarch waystation. Or join students and scientists across North America this spring to track the monarch butterfly's migration from Mexico with Monarch Butterfly Journey North.
Many state and local governments and community environmental groups have their own citizen science programs. To learn about available citizen science programs in your state, contact your local university, cooperative extension, or government office.
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