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Wildlife webcams can harness the power of citizen scientists

9 September 2018

Dr. Sarah Schulwitz, Director of The Peregrine Fund’s American Kestrel Partnership, had a burning question. The Peregrine Fund had been hosting a web camera for the past six years to enable the public to have a bird’s eye view inside of a nest box as a pair of American Kestrels raised a family. As part of the project, the public could also make observations about what was happening inside of the nest box and log them on the website for the researchers to use later.

The Bosch KestrelCam followers who participated in making and recording observations were acting as citizen scientists on behalf of The Peregrine Fund. But Schulwitz wondered just how accurate the observations were and could the data collected be exact enough to be useful?

In true scientific fashion, Schulwitz developed a study to answer her question. Schulwitz and her team combed through six years of observations and recorded video. They wanted to understand just how accurate these citizen scientists’ data were and if crowd-sourcing could truly be an effective way to collect information.

Schulwitz was pleased with the results stating, “Our citizen scientists made observations on approximately 5.25% of the total footage collected, but the exciting part is that they did this with an accuracy of 88%.” Additionally the team discovered that the number of people watching the camera declined each year, but the participants who stuck with the Bosch KestrelCam became more engaged, logging more observations. Schulwitz adds, “In general, the dataset that was generated by the public corroborated the literature regarding American Kestrel biology.”

This initial look at the value of web cameras for citizen science data collection leaves Schulwitz and her team cautiously optimistic. Although Schulwitz notes, “Given the number of wildlife webcams in use today and their potential competition for conservation funding, more research on their impact is sorely needed. This could, however, be an interesting way to enable the study of species we know little about.”

Read the full article here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2351989418301938?via%3Dihub

The Bosch KestrelCam is made possible through donations from Bosch Security Systems, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Boise State University Intermountain Bird Observatory, Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau, Don and Carol McCartney, and Lynn Fraze.

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The Peregrine Fund was founded in 1970 to restore the then critically endangered Peregrine Falcon, which was subsequently removed from the U.S. Endangered Species List in 1999. That success encouraged the organization to expand its focus and apply its experience and understanding to raptor conservation efforts on behalf of 140 species in 66 countries worldwide, including the Bald Eagle, California Condor, and Aplomado Falcon in the United States. Our mission is to conserve birds of prey worldwide. We conserve raptors by addressing critical situations facing species on the brink, protecting areas of high conservation value, and tackling landscape-level threats impacting multiple species. Because we know that conservation requires humans working together with one vision we work hard to enrich and engage communities in the places where we work. We know it is critical to inspire people to value raptors and take action, serve as a catalyst for change, and invest in tomorrow’s conservation leaders.

The American Kestrel Partnership (AKP) is a project of The Peregrine Fund. The project was launched in 2012 in response to kestrel population declines of nearly 50% across much of North America over the past 40 years. The AKP is a network of citizen and professional scientists working to collaboratively understand kestrel demographics and advance kestrel conservation. Together we hope to solve the mystery of kestrel decline and ensure the future of North America’s smallest and most colorful falcon. Learn more about the American Kestrel Partnership at: https://kestrel.peregrinefund.org

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For more information, contact:

Erin Katzner

Director of Global Engagement
Main Phone: 208-362-3716
Direct Phone: 208-362-8277

The Peregrine Fund