Citizen science programs are a great way to help young people build their science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills. Students interested in citizen science can take part in archeological research with the US National Park Service’s Urban Archeology Corps, find and document animals and plants as part of the City Nature Challenge, and collect data about urban birds for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Celebrate Urban Birds program, just to name a few initiatives.
In one citizen science program, fourth graders in Tucson, Arizona, are using their STEM skills to help protect breeding birds for the National Audubon Society. Read on to learn more about this exciting program.
About the National Audubon Society
Founded in 1905, the National Audubon Society (Audubon) aims to protect birds and conserve their natural habitats. Audubon, a conservation, advocacy, and educational organization, operates as a nonprofit that has, to date, named over 2,700 Important Bird Areas covering 417 million acres across the United States. Part of Audubon’s work is to protect these areas for the benefit of birds.
Another important part of Audubon’s work is establishing and maintaining its local chapter network, which currently numbers close to 500. These chapters harness the power of individuals in local communities to participate in conservation actions. They also maintain Audubon centers and sanctuaries, work for the protection of ecosystems, and promote citizen science programs.
Tucson Audubon Initiatives
One local Audubon chapter, the Tucson Audubon Society (Tucson Audubon) in Tucson, Arizona, was established in 1949 and became part of the National Audubon Society in 1964. Like the national organization, Tucson Audubon is a nonprofit that focuses on conservation, advocacy, and educational programs.
Tucson Audubon offers birding field trips and overnight excursions, tracks rare bird alerts, and maintains the Paton Center for Hummingbirds as well as the Mason Center bird sanctuary.
Additionally, Tucson Audubon staffs two nature shops, puts on an annual birding festival, and distributes a monthly newsletter. The organization delivers monthly presentations, offers birding classes, and sustains a recognition program called Habitat at Home that rewards homeowners for creating bird-friendly yards.
Tucson Audubon and Citizen Science
Another important aspect of Tucson Audubon’s work is its citizen science programming. These programs include the Important Bird Areas program, the Tucson Bird Count, and the Christmas Bird Count. In these programs, citizen scientists collect bird and habitat data that is then used for local conservation efforts and to keep track of changes in bird populations over time.
Another citizen science program offered by Tucson Audubon is the Lucy’s Warbler Nestbox program, which involves designing, building, and distributing nestboxes for the Lucy’s Warbler, a bird that migrates through Arizona on its way to and from Mexico. These birds currently face challenges in finding suitable nesting sites because mature mesquite trees, which are the birds’ preferred nesting site, are in decline. To assist the birds, Tucson Audubon launched its citizen science program to provide boxes that offer an acceptable alternative to cavities in the trees.
The Manzo Elementary School Partnership
Partnering with Tucson Audubon in this project is Escuela Manzo Elementary School, also known as Manzo. Featuring English language development support for students in grades K-5, the school celebrates its community’s Latinx heritage by offering enrichment classes in folklórico, or Mexican folk dancing.
Manzo’s primary focus, however, is on ecology. The school offers math and science initiatives that feature hands-on, project-based learning to take advantage of the school’s garden, greenhouse, and animal habitat. In recognition of its efforts, the school was named Best Green School 2012 by the US Green Building Council’s Center for Green Schools and was highlighted as an Environmental Success Story as part of National Environmental Education Week 2013.
In addition to the National Audubon Society, Manzo Elementary partners with the University of Arizona, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and Southwest Conservation Corps to offer its ecology-focused curriculum. One benefit of this curriculum is that students at the school are able to offer produce and eggs for sale to the community on a regular basis.
As part of the Lucy’s Warbler Nestbox program, the fourth graders at Manzo learn facts about the birds as well as how to engineer the nestboxes. The efforts of these children helped Tucson Audubon produce enough boxes to study which shape was most effective for the birds as well as which height the boxes should be placed for maximum effectiveness. The next part of the scientific study will focus on the feeding habits of the birds to determine how they use mesquite trees not only as nesting sites but also as a food source.