Citizen Science: 14 Ways Your Family Can Explore and Document Wildlife in Your Own Backyard

Interested in taking your family's engagement with the natural world to the next level? Check out these opportunities to participate in Citizen Science: a way for anyone of any age or ability level to participate in data collection for real science about the natural world. Whether you want to help save a species, enlist experts to help you identify plants and animals, submit data for real science, provide your child or students with a meaningful educational experience, or simply engage your tech-savvy child in the natural world, Citizen Science is for you! Note that most of these projects have related apps you can download for free. Quotations are taken from project websites.

14 Ways You and Your Kids Can Be Citizen Scientists

Globe at Night
"The Globe at Night program is an international citizen-science campaign to raise public awareness of the impact of light pollution by inviting citizen-scientists to measure their night sky brightness and submit their observations to a website from a computer or smart phone." Participants records how many stars can be seen in specific constellations.

Recently acquired by the California Academy of Sciences, "iNaturalist is a place where you can record what you see in nature, meet other nature lovers, and learn about the natural world...If enough people recorded their observations, it would be like a living record of life on Earth that scientists and land managers could use to monitor changes in biodiversity, and that anyone could use to learn more about nature. That's the vision behind So if you like recording your findings from the outdoors, or if you just like learning about life, join us!" Browse or search projects for something that interests you.

Project Noah
Project Noah is a "tool to explore and document wildlife" by helping people identify plants and animals and then collecting data from them about where certain species are located. The project has interesting specific missions and is supported by National Geographic.

Managed by the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Natinoal Ecological Observatory Network, Budburst is a national network of citizen scientists monitoring plants as the seasons change. All you need to do to participate is register, learn how to observe, select a plant, go outside and observe, submit your observation

Journey North
"Journey North is a free, Internet-based program that explores the interrelated aspects of seasonal change. Citizen scientists across North America share their own observations of migrations and other signs of the seasons." Use to track and record leaf out, leaves changing colors, tulips blooming, and other seasonal changes.

The Lost Ladybug Project
Participants in this project search for and submit photos of ladybugs in order to track the changing composition of ladybug species in North America.

School of Ants
The School of Ants project is a citizen-scientist driven study of the ants that live in urban areas, particularly around homes and schools. Participants capture and mail in ants from their backyard or schoolyard for identification.

Butterflies and Moths of North America
"Citizen scientists of all ages and experience levels participate by taking photographs of butterflies and moths and then submitting their observations." Experts identify or confirm the identification of the species for you.

Project Squirrel
Run by the University of Illinois and Chicago Academy of the Sciences, the instructions for this project are simple: take a look around your home, office, school, or anywhere you are and, whether you see squirrels or not, and submit your observations. Researchers want to know where squirrels are as well as where they aren’t.

These last 5 are all related to bird watching, and run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 

The Great Backyard Birdcount
This international event happens once a year. You simply Count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the GBBC using a checklist. You can count for longer on as many days and in as many places as you like. The next event is Feb 12-16, 2016. But you can observe and submit your own bird data anytime using eBird (see below).

"Launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, eBird provides rich data sources for basic information on bird abundance and distribution at a variety of spatial and temporal scales....A birder simply enters when, where, and how they went birding, then fills out a checklist of all the birds seen and heard during the outing. eBird provides various options for data gathering including point counts, transects, and area searches. Automated data quality filters developed by regional bird experts review all submissions before they enter the database. Local experts review unusual records that are flagged by the filters." If you want to participate in eBird's upcoming Global Big Day, simply submit your data by May 9.

"Founded in 2007, Celebrate Urban Birds is a year-round project developed and launched by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Its primary purpose is to reach diverse urban audiences who do not already participate in science or scientific investigation. Another of our goals is to collect high-quality data from participants that will provide us with valuable knowledge of how different environments will influence the location of birds in urban areas." The project has sixteen focal species can be found in a wide range of environments throughout North America.

Project FeederWatch
"Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds... in North America. FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April... FeederWatch data help scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance...Participants watch their feeders as much or as little as they want over two consecutive days as often as every week (less often is fine). They count birds that appear in their count site because of something that they provided (plantings, food, or water)."
YardMap is a free, interactive, citizen science mapping project about habitat creation and low-impact land use. Use it to build bird habitat in your yard and contribute information to researchers.

For even more ideas, check out the book Citizen Science Guide for Families: Taking Part in Real Science

Related Posts

Would you like more ideas and tips about Going Green Gradually? Sign up for my free email subscription to get each of my posts delivered to your inbox (I usually post one or two times a week). You can also follow me on Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest, Twitter, or with your favorite RSS Reader. I hope to see you again soon!

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. Your purchase via these links helps support my blog. Thank you for your support. Read my full disclosure policy here.

photo credit: bos 010513 butterflies res (child and butterflies) via photopin (license) and Coccinella septapunctata (ladybug) 


  1. Such great resources! I want to spend more time digging into them - but I love the idea of counting birds for 15 minutes!

  2. This is a fantastic list. We do the GBBC and eBird. I also set us up on YardMap but, I'm technically challenged so it ended up being pretty lame. Studies repeatedly show that people who participate in citizen science projects are more connected and care more about our wild places. Pinning!

  3. Great list Betsy! I got B binoculars for Christmas so we could bird watch (he loves birds) and when we opened them they were defective. #sadtrombone

  4. Love this list. I especially like the budburst program!

    I have been meaning to check out Cornell's birds programs as well.

  5. Love this list. I especially like the budburst program!

    I have been meaning to check out Cornell's birds programs as well.

  6. Really love your list. Thank for great article post


Have something to say? Please leave a comment!
I read all comments and try to respond to questions in a timely manner.
Comments are now moderated due to spam overload and have to be approved (by me) - so don't worry if your comment does not appear immediately after you publish it.


© 2008-2020 Eco-novice: Going Green Gradually All Rights Reserved

Copyright © Eco-novice | Powered by Blogger

Design by Anders Noren | Blogger Theme by