Youth Citizen Scientists Help Birds and Cats

Children and youth are sometimes assumed to have very limited power when it comes to having a direct conservation impact. They can't vote and usually don't lobby their local politicians.

NatureKids BC Victoria Nature Club. Credit: E. Wind
Citizen science – which is crowdsourcing of conservation data by the general public - is becoming increasingly popular, and has been shown to be an effective way to help youth learn about the environment, have a conservation impact and connect them to their community – all while being outdoors. 

Birds are one of the most popular subjects for citizen science projects, and no wonder really. Birds are all around us, they are active during the day when we are and they are powerful indicators of overall ecosystem health.

Credit: NatureKids BC
Last year NatureKids BC launched the two-year long initiative: Bird Aware Cat Care: Youth Citizen Scientists Protect Birds and Keep Cats Safe in BC

It's part of a national effort led by Nature Canada called “Keep Cats Safe & Save Bird Lives” and involves a number of other organizations. We work closely with the project’s BC partner, Stewardship Centre BC.

Canada’s bird populations are in trouble; some species have declined by more than 90%. These declines are mainly due to habitat destruction and climate change, and it's estimated that cats cause approximately 200 million bird deaths each year. As part of our initiative, we work with our youth members to keep birds - and cats - safe. In fact, free-roaming cats also face numerous risks (including disease, vehicle collisions and fights with other cats and wildlife) by being outdoors and they often have shorter life spans compared to indoor cats.

With the help of our members, we're trying to understand what some of the barriers are for keeping cats indoors and how feasible it is to use alternative strategies to reduce the risk of bird predation of free-roaming cats.

Our youth scientists receive training on how to carry out this conservation project before they start. They collect data on their own cat’s behaviour as well as on the birds in their garden, and they record their observations when one of three treatments are used on their cat (either a brightly coloured collar, a collar bib, or attempting to train their cat to walk on a leash). Watch out for more information about  how you and your family can get involved in this citizen science project later this year!

This project was undertaken with the support of the Government of Canada and the Vancouver Foundation.