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Photo by Ahmed Badawy on Unsplash

These Birds Need Your Help Now!

Birds Canada has 2 citizen science projects coming up that could really use your participation.

Have you ever done any citizen science? I have and I found it quite rewarding knowing that I participated in projects that helped researchers gather data to better explore the questions they were seeking to answer.

So I thought that now and then, it would be a good idea to let you know about citizen science projects that you might like to volunteer your time and energy for.

These two citizen science projects are being organized by Birds Canada and they would love to have you join them! And you don’t really need to know anything about birds to participate!

They are the Nocturnal Owl Survey and The Canadian Nightjar Survey.

The field of citizen science has grown substantially in recent years. Especially now that connections between distant people are so easily made on the internet.

And big data sets are getting easier to analyze. In the past, if there was too much data, a lot of it might never actually get used for any serious analysis. But now, not only is more data sought and welcomed, it requires an army of citizen scientists to help analyze it.

And you could be on one of those teams as data collectors or data analyzers.

Here’s what you need to know to see if you’d like to participate in either of these projects.

The Nocturnal Owl Survey

Early spring is when Canadian owls begin their spring courtships and hundreds of volunteers are needed to head out on rural roads at night to help collect important information to help in owl conservation.

The Nocturnal Owl Survey has been collecting data for more than 25 years in Ontario and 20 years in other participating provinces. Some volunteers have participated every year since the survey began!

There are 16 different species of owls that breed in Canada and 10 of them were detected in the 2019 survey. Last year they covered 688 routes and the owls most commonly recorded were Northern Saw-whet, Great Horned, and Barred owls across all Canada.

In northern BC and the territories, Boreal Owls were also commonly reported.

During my first Nocturnal Owl Survey in 2015, I had the luck of hearing the unique whistling call of a Western Screech-Owl,” recounts Blaire Smith. “It sounded like a bouncing ball accelerating as it bounced closer and closer to the ground.

The six species not detected during the survey in 2019 were “the Snowy Owl, Northern Hawk-Owl and Short-eared Owl... These three species are often silent and regularly seen during the day. The other three undetected species were the Burrowing Owl, Barn Owl, and Spotted Owl, all species of conservation concern.

How will the 2020 data collected be used? The plan is to compile and present population trends for all species represented. That will give Birds Canada and the ornithologists (scientists who study birds) a better understanding of how the owls are faring in all the different regions.

Here’s a chart from the Birds Canada article about the survey showing the email addresses of the regional coordinators and the areas of the highest priority. If you’re interested and would like to help out, contact the coordinator in your region.

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Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren / CC BY (

The Canadian Nightjar Survey

Ok, the first question you have if you’re not an avid birder is “What the heck are Nightjars?”

In Canada, we have three different nightjar species, the Common Nighthawk, the Common Poorwill and the Eastern Whip-poor-will.

Nightjars are very similar to owls in their daily activity patterns. They are also crepuscular, which in plain language means that they are active at dawn and dusk.

They are about the size of a robin and have dark mottled plumage, as you can see in the picture above of the Common Nighthawk. This makes it easy for them to camouflage and hide away during the day.

Unlike owls, Nightjars feed mostly on flying insects. So it shouldn’t surprise you that they are called aerial insectivores (birds that hunt flying insects).

So why are we surveying them? There must be a reason!

Glad you asked.

While there are other bird surveys, such as the Breeding Bird Survey, that might collect data on these birds, it turns out that they have not been well monitored.

Also, the conservation status of these three birds puts them in categories where they need to be evaluated yearly, at the very least.

The Common Nighthawk was recently assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Species of Canada as a bird of Special Concern.

The Eastern Whip-poor-will is listed as Threatened and the Common Poorwill is listed as Data Deficient.

For this reason, Bids Canada has taken over the monitoring and surveying of these three birds. They will be doing it in collaboration with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

The volunteer sign-up page for the Nightjar Survey is not up and running yet but will be soon. Birds Canada is just putting the final touches on it so if you’re interested, you can check for announcements here and here.

And that’s all I have for you this week.

Until next time,


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Rich writes about fascinating creatures and biological issues that affect our everyday lives. Subscribe and get your free ebook at

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