Citizen scientists keep eyes to the sky for Arboretum bird count

Ross Lopes
Life Reporter

Citizen scientists can act like the “canary in a coal mine” by monitoring the environment by keeping an eye on birds. If they notice something wrong, they can sound the alarm.

Humber North’s Arboretum communications assistant Marilyn Campbell said birds are a good indicator of changes affecting the ecosystem. The absence of a species in Toronto might be an indicator that something is going wrong in the feeding or nesting grounds, she said.

“That’s why you need a lot of people to contribute [to citizen science] and do it regularly so you can actually follow the patterns and see where things are changing,” Campbell said.

The Arboretum held its second annual Winter Bird Count for Kids, in partnership with Birds Studies Canada, on Dec. 9 to introduce them to citizen science relating to birds.

The bird feeders at the Humber Arboretum make it easier for birds to get a quick snack before migrating. (Ross Lopes)

Humber Arboretum Director Alexandra Link said citizen science is scientific work that the general public can undertake by gathering data and even submitting it to the scientific community.

“Citizen science happens in all sorts of disciplines, but we were focusing specifically on citizen science around birds,” Link said.

Birds are a key part of the eco-system. They control the insect population, feed the soil for plants to flourish, and are also a beautiful part of the environment, which is why people feel very close to birds, Link said.

“[The Arboretum] is one of the top birding spots in Toronto,” she said. “We are a fly pass, birds who are migrating come through here in the spring and fall, so we get a lot of unusual or funky birds.” Some of the well-known birds regularly seen at the Arboretum include five different species of owls, chickadees that will eat from the palm of someone’s hand and, of course, hawks, Link said.

“We have resident birds that live here that are often seen flying in the sky and they are absolutely beautiful,” she said. Arboretum communications assistant Marilyn Campbell said birds are also a good indicator species of changes affecting the ecosystem.

“The absence of a species in Toronto might be an indicator that something is going wrong in the feeding or nesting grounds,” Campbell said.

“That’s why you need a lot of people to contribute [to citizen science] and do it regularly so you can actually follow the patterns and see where things are changing,” Campbell said.

Bird Studies Canada also runs a number of different programs during the year. The bird feeder project, for instance, is happening now for people who own bird feeders at home, she said.

“They ask you to watch so many times in a given week, for a certain [number] of minutes and record what you see,” Campbell said. “By doing it regularly, then you are giving very specific information.” The Arboretum launched a new program called the Arboretum Ambassador program for students to take part in citizen science that goes towards co-circular credits, Link said.

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