Citizen Scientists in Action in the Hilltowns

Hilltown Families Participates in Smithsonian’s Neighborhood Nestwatch Citizen Scientists Program

Cick to hear their song.

Red-eyed Vireo’s were caught in our mist nests on Sunday morning in West Chesterfield, MA. (Photo credit: Sara Berk)

Every Autumn since 2010, Hilltown Families has participated in a yearly Citizen Scientist project with Biocitizen where families come together to conduct a Rapid Biotic Assessment of the Westfield River. This collection of data involves capturing and cataloging the bugs—benthic invertebrates —that live on the riverbed.  Certain bugs like stonefly-nymphs need lots of oxygen to survive, and when you find a bunch of them, it’s a sign that the river water is fresh and clean and that aquatic habitat is unimpaired.  If you find less, the data collected over a period of years will tell a different story.  In the end, contributions by citizen scientists help scientists in the collection of important data and in the preservation of our local watershed.

New this summer, Hilltown Families committed to another yearly Citizen Scientist project, Smithsonian’s Neighborhood Nestwatch.  Recently expanding from the Washington, D.C. area to the Pioneer Valley, participating youth and families learn about bird populations while helping scientists from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center answer critical questions regarding the survival of backyard bird populations.

Early this past Sunday morning, Sara Berk from Neighborhood Nestwatch, a recent graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, joined us near the banks of the Westfield River in West Chesterfield to erect three mist nests to catch and record eight Nestwatch focal species.  Out of the eight Nestwatch focal species we were able to catch and band three different species, including a female Song Sparrow, a juvenile Carolina Chickadee and a beautiful (albeit, angry) male Northern Cardinal:

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[Photo credits: Sienna Wildfield]

With birds banned with a unique color combination of plastic leg bands, we are now able to identify each individual bird and will be able to report our findings back to the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center over the course of the next year, along with and nest activities we witness.  This data will held the Neighborhood Nestwatch understand backyard bird population by learning how successful are backyard bird nests and how long backyard birds live.  Next year, Neighborhood Nestwatch will return to the same spot and again we will catch and band focal species to continue the documentation of data and findings to the Smithsonian.

If your family interested in participating in Neighborhood Nestwatch?  Find out how you can sign up for next year by emailing springfield.nestwatch@gmail.com.

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