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Surprise!  You are a Citizen Scientist!
By Dr. Susan Perz

Most of us photograph nature because we love the natural world and being in nature. We’re great at observing patiently, setting up camera equipment and sometimes waiting for hours. Yet we don’t always think of ourselves as scientists—or as citizens participating in science.

Julia from Birdwatcher Supply runs the Hummingbird Banding event at Smith Gilbert Gardens. (photo credit: Chris Dahl, Sept. 2019)

Have you ever taken a photo of a banded bird or animal and wondered what the band means or why it’s there?  Have you wondered if pollinators or songbirds are decreasing in your yard?  Or if the creek in your yard is getting wider from erosion?  Have you ever wondered if your photographs can make a difference?

They can! And increasingly, ordinary people like you and I are contributing to science by sending photos to websites that help scientists learn more about our natural world!  Citizen Science sounds difficult, but we participate in science every day in ways that we don’t realize.

Every photo communicates an observation and educates in some way about a landscape or wildlife, but there are easy ways that we as nature photographers can uniquely help educate and even save the natural places and wildlife we love.

Banded Birds and Animals… Did you know that if you take a photo of a banded bird or animal, you can send it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—and they will send you a Certificate of Appreciation? The certificate also tells you what information about the animal or bird they were able to obtain from the band. That’s pretty cool, and fascinating!  If you have photos you would like to send, CLICK HERE for the link.


Paul Eisenbrown took these photos of a snail kite in Florida in May 2021. The bird has several bands on its legs. After he sent his photos and information in to, he found out that the bird is 13 years old and was banded in 2008. (photos used with permission)

Did you ever imagine that your photos could help save a species?  If you send in photos of monarchs, birds, dragonflies, seahorses, amphibians, earthworms, whales, robins, hummingbirds and more (or even trash and roadkill, or time lapse photos), your photos can be used by scientists to find out important information that can help save a species (or a river) for future generations. You can send photos to these projects on the NANPA, (the North American Nature Photography Association,) website below. NANPA is big on conservation photography and citizen science! For more information, CLICK HERE.

Bothered by invasive plants or animals? You can help, by noting the location and date and sending your photos to these websites:

Have you ever wondered if an animal, bird, or insect that you have photographed is endangered? CLICK HERE to find out more.

Here is the certificate that Paul received after sending in his photos.

I hope it’s exciting to realize that we all participate in science. Every time we observe an animal, bird, or other creature, we are learning about science (and when we share our photos, we are educating others about the mystery, beauty, and drama of the natural world) one photo at a time. As they say, a picture (or video) is worth a thousand words.

For most of my life, I took for granted the nature photography I saw in magazines and films, until I got to know a real life nature photographer in person. And gradually, I realized that if it wasn’t for nature photographers I would know very little about the natural world. Our photos educate the public about science.

Citizen Science… There are many ways that the public can help provide data to scientists for use in scientific studies. Citizen Science grew out of Participatory Action Research. Some of the related terms are service learning, collaborative research, community science, crowd-sourced science, civic science, volunteer monitoring, and community science—and of course, indigenous communities have collaborated to gather their own scientific knowledge used in farming, medicines, etc., for centuries. Citizen Science greatly expands the data that scientists can collect through public participation, while also increasing public understanding of science.

If you’d like to learn more about Citizen Science and ways to expand your scientific journeys, here are some links where you can learn more:

Stay tuned for upcoming webinars about Citizen Science. Have fun! And please feel free to share some of your exciting projects and discoveries with your local GNPA chapter, GNPA YouTube, Instagram, or our Facebook page.  (If you share on FB, please tag me: Susan Perz.)  Who knows? Maybe next time it will be you, sharing a short presentation or article on what you have discovered during your next Citizen Science adventure.

Dr. Susan Perz is a former school counselor who loves videography and photography.  She is a member of the GNPA Conservation Committee and has her own YouTube channel and blog.  She writes children’s picture books about social emotional learning and illustrates them with nature photography and watercolors.  Thanks to Tammy Cash and Lisa Westbury for sharing a couple websites included in this article.