How To Be A Citizen Scientist

Check out these citizen scientist opportunities to help scientists around the world protect our natural world.

By Courtney Johnson
Explore Ambassador

Scientists have long relied on citizens to help them collect data to track animal, insect and plant populations, weather, climate and environmental change. This data has been used to save endangered populations, to develop programs and products to help the natural world and more. There are many ways to contribute to helping the environment and preserving our planet for years to come.


Participate In The Great Backyard Bird Count

Held annually in February, the Great Backyard Bird Count brings bird enthusiasts and organizations together, including the Cornell Lab and Audubon Society. This year’s count is being held from February 18-22 worldwide. In its 25th year, you can help track bird populations for data to help scientists keep bird populations healthy and thriving. Take the first step by downloading the and registering.

If you missed this year’s count, there is always the opportunity to participate in the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count in December. You can also join eBird or NestWatch to track bird populations year-round.


Measure Light Pollution

Light pollution is a true problem around the globe. Organizations like the International Dark-Sky Association are helping to preserve views of the night sky and have designated national parks, communities and reserves where light pollution does not exist. You can help track light pollution data through Globe at Night with a computer or smartphone. They also have several campaigns throughout the year to track constellations in both the northern and southern hemisphere. The organization’s goal is to collect 25,000 data points or more this year to help others understand the effects of light pollution.


Count Plant And Animal Species

Did you know that every time you use the app iNaturalist (Seek), you are engaging in citizen science? That is why it is one of my favorite hiking apps that I mentioned here. The app helps scientists track animal and plant life in designated areas. Seek has fun challenges for earning badges that can bring more fun and even more opportunities to help track populations.

Alongside using the app, you can participate in a BioBlitz. This event is focused on tracking species in a specific area over a period of time. You can even create your own BioBlitz event. Data collected from a BioBlitz and from iNaturalist is uploaded to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility for more tracking.


Head To Zooniverse

Zooniverse is home to a long list of citizen scientist opportunities, from tracking threatened frogs in national parks throughout New South Wales to the vocalization of dolphins. Some projects are specific to certain areas and some can be conducted throughout the world. NASA teams up with Zooniverse for many citizen scientist projects year-round, including tracking active asteroids by viewing photographs.

Whether you want to focus more on the arts, history, medicine or climate change, there is a project for you. Have your own cause you want to support? Try building your own project.



Join A Butterfly Census

The North American Butterfly Association allows citizen scientists throughout the United States, Canada and parts of Mexico to count butterfly populations for census purposes. Since 1993, its Butterfly Count Program has monitored populations and how weather and habitat have affected populations. Butterfly lovers can participate in already established one-day counts by looking at the map for a count near you. If you don’t see a count in your area, you can create your own for a small $3 fee.


Study This Valuable Resource

Water is one of the most important natural resources to life on Earth. Mountain Rain or Snow helps track forms of precipitation in the winter in the mountains in states including Colorado, Nevada and California. It helps track data for predicting floods, water levels throughout the summer, drought conditions and snow bases for ski conditions. Check out the National Ocean Service for more opportunities involving tides, ocean life and more.


Engage In Citizen Science Month

Celebrated throughout the month of April, with some events even in May, Citizen Science Month brings scientists and citizens together for the greater good. Look for events through The map and search feature can help you find local events, including story times and projects through local organizations and libraries or projects based on personal interests. Seek out local nature at Coppell Nature Park in Texas or find projects through your local library. SciStarter is also a great place to find opportunities year-round, both on-site and virtually, from tracking pollution to sunflower habitats.

Other Projects

The EPA hosts several citizen scientist programs throughout the year. Check out this page for everything from air quality during wildfires to water levels. is also a great resource for projects affiliated with the United States government. Join the research mission through the Smithsonian finding fossils, tracking birds’ nests and more.

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