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Citizen Science

Migrate to Mobile with eBird

The Science Teacher—November/December 2019 (Volume 87, Issue 4)

By Jill Nugent

Migrate to Mobile with eBird

Today’s learners can use mobile devices as scientific data collection tools in a variety of ways. Citizen science (also known as public participation in scientific research) projects often integrate technology and mobile applications, enabling participants to submit their observations directly from the field. Collective observations from citizen scientists around the world help to crowdsource data, catalyzing the rate of scientific advancement and discovery. When students engage in citizen science, they are actively participating in the process of science and scientific discovery. 

The eBird program is a global citizen science project launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. The project invites participants from around the world to share bird observation data. The data submitted to eBird are used to help inform conservation management from local to global scales. The eBird project serves as an authentic real-world science experience where students play an active role in advancing science and conservation. 

eBird displayed on cell phones

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides free mobile apps to help eBird participants submit bird observations anywhere, anytime. The free Merlin ID app is also available to help students with bird identification.

Project goal: To gather and share global bird observations in order to advance data-driven approaches to science, conservation, and education 

Your task: Observe and report bird sightings via an online checklist 

Science discipline: Life Science 

The eBird project utilizes real-time checklists to collect data. Data submitted to eBird are shared electronically through the project’s online database. After setting up your free account, you’ll be ready to enter data and submit observations. (See “Project Home” and the “Help Center” for getting started and setting up your account). The information that you will submit to eBird includes the following:

  • Date, time, and location of the observation
  • List of bird species observed (i.e. cardinal, blue jay, etc.)
  • Number of individuals of each bird species observed (i.e. 2 cardinals, 3 blue jays, etc.) 

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology created an additional tool—the free Merlin bird ID app—which helps students easily identify the birds that they observe (See Figure 1 and “All About Birds, Merlin Bird ID”). In fact, the Merlin ID app was built from eBird citizen science data. The app accounts for geographic location and time of the year to suggest bird identifications through artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Other technology connections to the eBird citizen science project include NASA satellite data, used to complement citizen science ground observation data and to provide a comprehensive global snapshot of bird habitat data. 

Remotely-sensed habitat data gathered by NASA satellites combine with citizen science data to drive research across diverse spatial scales. Students have the opportunity to review comprehensive project data online for further exploration and data analysis (See “Explore Birds,” “Science,” and “Publications”). By sharing your observation data with eBird, you are contributing to the comprehensive understanding of bird biodiversity, and students gain experience in twenty-first century conservation biology research. 

Materials you will need:

  • Computer with internet access (or the eBird mobile app) 
  • Field guide to local birds (or the Merlin ID mobile app) 
  • Binoculars
  • Pencils, clipboards, and paper (optional for field data collection) 

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides abundant online resources for educators to access and implement in the classroom (See “Project Home” and “Additional Resources”). The classroom extensions associated with eBird are limitless. Students may be interested in analyzing historical data, maps, graphs, and trends, or in creating a local field guide of bird species observed across the seasons. Project based learning (PBL)connections are possible as well; for example, students may share their eBird observations with the community, and work to engage in collaborative habitat restoration projects for birds and other wildlife. Students’ questions about birds and conservation may also blossom into science fair projects and more. Conservation news from the headlines can also serve as a classroom discussion driver and springboard into further research and projects (See “News,” “Publications,” and “Three Billion Birds Gone”). 

Additional bird citizen science projects over the winter months are available for extensions as well, including: Project FeederWatch (November 9, 2019–April 3, 2020), the Audubon Christmas Bird Count (begins December 2019), and the Great Backyard Bird Count (February 2020). All of the above projects and information are available on the SciStarter Project Finder (See Helpful Project Links, “SciStarter”). 

When your students contribute observations to eBird, they will be participating in locally engaged, globally connected citizen science, engaged in the Practices of the Next Generation Science Standards and experienced in twenty-first century skills. 

eBird at a glance

When: Anytime 

How: To get started you will visit the eBird Project Homepage and set up a free account. Once your account is set up, you will be able to enter observation data. Note: if you have a login for other Cornell Lab of Ornithology programs (such as Celebrate Urban Birds, Great Backyard Bird Count, NestWatch, or Project FeederWatch), you can use that account information to log in to eBird. Also see the eBird “Getting Started Guide.”

Where: Global 

Time needed: Variable. Field observations: 30–45 minutes; uploading observation data: 10–15 minutes

Special equipment needed: Binoculars

Cost: Free 

Contact for more information: Contact form available:

Safety: As with any science lab, classroom, or field activity, always ensure that you are following recommended safety practices; for more information on safety in the science classroom visit

Helpful Project Links: 

Project home:

Explore birds:

Help Center:


Resources for young birders:




Project link on SciStarter:

Additional Resources:

All About Birds:

Merlin Bird ID:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology High School Resources:

Three Billion Birds Gone:

NSTA Press Citizen Science eBook Chapter on eBird:

Video Introduction to eBird:

Video Merlin Bird ID app:

Trautmann, N., J. Manker, K. Mitchell, and P. Kahler. 2019. It’s more than fluff. The Science Teacher 86 (5): 40–47.

About Citizen Science

This column is the result of a partnership between SciStarter and the National Science Teaching Association. For more information about SciStarter and other citizen science projects, please visit


About the Author

Jill Nugent ( teaches science online, engages educators in citizen science experiences for the classroom, schoolyard, and beyond, and serves on the SciStarter Team. Follow SciStarter on Twitter: @SciStarter.

Citizen Science Life Science Technology High School

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