For the past three months, citizens have been inundated with news of the oil spill in the Gulf and its damaging aftermath.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is offering citizens the chance to turn their anger and frustration into positive action. The lab is calling on concerned citizens to take part in its NestWatch project, in which observers monitor nesting birds and report their findings to the lab.
This partnering of biologists and amateur bird watchers can help provide scientists the hard data they need to determine what, if any, effects the Gulf oil spill is having on backyard birds throughout the nation.
“Biologists are monitoring species such as pelicans in the immediate path of the oil,” said project leader Laura Burkholder. “But we need bird watchers across the country to help us find out if birds that pass through or winter in the Gulf region carry contamination with them, possibly creating an ‘oil shadow’ of declines in bird reproduction hundreds of miles from the coast.”
Participants in the NestWatch project visit nests briefly two times a week, recording essential information such as how many eggs are present, how many hatch, and how many fledge. This information is then submitted electronically via the project’s website.
“It’s really valuable data,” Burkholder said. “You just wouldn’t be able to collect this much data without the help of the participants because obviously biologists can’t go out and collect this data all across North America. It’s really great to have the citizen participation that we have.”
The NestWatch project has taken on even greater importance in the wake of the oil spill. Although many chicks may have already hatched this year, the nesting information must be gathered for many seasons to come to determine potential side effects from the spill.
“It’s really important to get the data this year and in the coming years because researchers can use that data to look at potential effects over time and look at nesting success and trends over time in relation to environmental change. Certainly the oil spill would fall into that category,” Burkholder said.
“A lot of these species may nest in the northern states where they may not have been in contact with the oil yet, but they may go down and winter in the Gulf or pass through during migration.”
For more information or to sign up, visit www.nestwatch.org.
The Evening Tribune