15 Minutes of Community Science Can Make a World of Difference

Posted on February 2, 2023 at 7:00 am

By Erin Dodge & Molly Moore

When you hear someone say that that something is “for the birds,” they mean it is foolish and not to be taken too seriously. This month, the Great Backyard Bird Count on February 17–20 invites everyone to do something for the birds that isn’t foolish, is in fact helpful, and could be quite fascinating.

The Bird Count website shares how you can participate: “Spend time in your favorite places watching birds–then tell us about them! In as little as 15 minutes, notice the birds around you. Identify them, count them, and submit them to help scientists better understand and protect birds around the world.”

The website also provides several ways to identify, collect, and send your data about the birds you see, including the Merlin Bird ID app, the eBird mobile app, and sharing through a laptop or computer with the eBird website. They also have an Explore web page where you can find downloadable checklists of birds found in Washington state and Idaho.

One participant from Wyoming shared:

“We all need an incentive to get outside mid-winter and look for birds beyond what we can see from our windows. It’s fun to see the little flashes of light on the map when we submit our counts, among the thousands around the world, and we know our data matter.”

This global event falls within the realm of community science, also called citizen science, which is when the public voluntarily helps conduct scientific research (more on that below).

Upcoming Programs

Community Science: Bird Watching & Counting

Get ready for the Great Backyard Bird Count, happening February 17–20. Learn about the counting event and how to start bird watching. We’re introducing birding apps so you can start your own bird watching adventure. All ages

Saturday, Feb 11, 2–3pm

Community Science: Great Backyard Bird Count & Activity

Celebrate, learn about, and count birds as part of the Great Backyard Bird Count, happening February 17–20. Pick up a Take-and-Make Bird Feeder kit from the library, while supplies last, and find out more about the bird count at birdcount.org. All ages

Supply pickup: Feb 13–18, during open hours

Community Science: Pollinators Activity

Pollinators keep our world green and growing. Find out more about an excellent pollinator—the Mason Bee—and create a home for them in your yard with this library Take-and-Make kit, while supplies last. All ages

Supply pickup: May 17–23, during open hours

What Is Community Science?

Community science, also called citizen science, is a way to crowdsource the scientific process with the help of the public who voluntarily help conduct scientific research.

Most community science projects are organized, address real-world problems, and may include coming up with research questions, conducting scientific experiments, collecting and analyzing data, interpreting results, making new discoveries, developing technologies and applications, and solving complex problems.

When you participate in community science, you record your observations about the natural world and share them with others who appreciate your work and can use it to create solutions that benefit nature and our environment. When a large group of individuals help, the scientific tasks are spread among all of the people and make it easier to collect the data. This is called crowdsourcing.

Scientists do not always have the time or ability to collect all the data they need, but you can help crowdsource the data to make a difference. In other words, participating in community science is a way to share what you see as you’re living your life, walking in your neighborhood, or looking out your window with scientists and community members who can use the information to support their research.


Bird-watching and bird counting are important for conservation efforts. These activities can be used as a metric to help determine the health of our environments and ecosystems.

You may also notice some positive personal benefits, such as keeping eyesight sharp, finding a community around a common interest, and connecting to nature.

Check out Washington’s Audubon Society web page for more information about the strong community of birders in our state.

Mason Bees

Bees play a vital role in our ecosystems as pollinators, and Mason bees are one of the champions! Each Mason bee can pollinate about 1,500 flowers a day. There are quite a few varieties of Mason Bees, and they usually look like flies with darker colors than other bees.

Mason Bees are great for your yard because they don’t live in hives, don’t have a queen, and don’t produce honey. For these reasons, they typically don’t sting. They nest in holes and like paper tubes or can bore a hole into wood.

Mason Bees typically lay eggs for the following year in the spring. If you plan to participate in the Community Science project in May, it’s important to build the Mason bee house and hang in your yard as quickly as possible. The bees grow and hatch in their home and then hibernate through the winter. They emerge in the spring, ready to pollinate and revitalize your garden.

Other Projects

Some examples of other successful community science projects include amateur mushroom hunters cataloging new species, citizen scientists documenting the decline of ice during the winter (and subsequent changes in ecosystem) in some northern lakes and ponds, and people helping NASA document an eclipse.

Reasons & More Ways to Participate

Here are just some of the reasons to participate in community science projects. You can:

  • Make a difference in your local community as well as globally
  • Try something new or learn something new
  • Connect with nature and have fun while doing it
  • Grow your appreciation for smaller things, such as plants, birds, insects, and flowers
  • Learn more about the natural world
  • Help improve habitats and the environment

It’s easy to get started!

If you are looking for something besides birds, bees, and the other ideas mentioned in the previous section, think about the things in nature that are exciting to you.

If you’re having trouble thinking of an idea, start with an activity you enjoy, such as hiking, biking, swimming, snow sports, and gazing out the window at nature. What have you discovered about nature when doing your favorite activities?

Once you have some ideas to explore, you can connect with one of the many apps or community science projects to start on your own or group up with family and friends.

Here are some apps and websites you can explore to get started and find a project:

This list of websites and apps was inspired by the NPR Life Kit episode Sharing what you see outside could help research. Here’s how to do that in 3 steps.

Books on Community Science

For Adults

If you are looking to build a few bird feeders, including some that will outsmart squirrels, check out these books in our collection.

For bird houses and more information about citizen science, check out these titles:

For Kids

These fiction and nonfiction titles for kids can spark curiosity and generate new ideas for exploring the outdoors.

Age ranges for these books are a suggestion and may not reflect the reading level of your child.

Digital Resource Icon

Digital Resources

Our Digital Library has over a dozen different online resources in the category of Science and Technology. Here are three that could help you with your next community science project.

Gale in Context: Science: Explore articles, experiments, biographies, images, videos, and more on a variety of scientific topics

Gale in Context: Global Issues: Learn about important global issues and events through topic overviews, international viewpoints, news, and multimedia content

ProQuest: SIRS Discoverer: Peruse high quality history, language arts, math, science, social studies, and technology content for elementary and middle school students

Erin Dodge

Erin Dodge is the Communication Specialist for Spokane County Library District, writing and editing information, both online and in print, about the library and its programs and services. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with her family, going to yard sales and thrift stores, reading, and experiencing the seasons that the Inland Pacific Northwest has to offer.

Librarian Molly Moore

Molly Moore is a librarian and the host of the Science from Home video series on Spokane County Library District’s YouTube channel.

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