Sequester at home…with CREA! #6 Citizen Science for ALL Ages

CREA friend and fellow teacher Justin Proctor pointed us toward a very cool – and timely – citizen science project that can get all of us outdoors squinting at the (hopefully, soon) burgeoning buds on our trees, shrubs, and plants. Check out Budburst! Budburst collects data about phenology (keep reading for definition!) from people of ALL ages. And, it’s used by many teachers to get students at all levels outside, practicing science. 

Using Budburst, we can collect information that contributes to phenology – the study of the timing of biological events in plants and animals, such as when plants leaf out, and when birds migrate. Perfect timing! Spring is here and things are happening. Pussy willows are flowering, and red maple buds are swelling. Budburst gives us a reason to get outside and track changes as they happen.

The Budburst website includes short, informational videos sprinkled around the website, like this one explaining the science of phenology and how your citizen science can help.  They have a special section for teachers along with information about how teachers can link Budburst observations to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), the science standards Maine recently adopted for our public schools.

Red maple buds

If you don’t want to geek out on NGSS science standards, check out this section that lists how some people/organizations have used Budburst. Observations can be one-time or recurring. We suggest you choose a couple of trees or plants to visit regularly. Take photos to upload and record your observations. Hint: Early tree bloomers include red maples, sugar maples, and serviceberry, so they’re a fun place to start.

Here’s how to become a Budburst citizen scientist:

  • Read about how to Get Started
  • Create an account (children under 13 need to register with an adult)
  • Choose one or more plants to track
  • Take a picture of the plant’s buds.
  • Enter an “observation” by uploading your photo and answering questions about where the plant is, when you took the picture, etc.

You can make one-time observations, or visit the same plant regularly and make recurring observations. Budburst is tracking information for 300 plants species, but you can also submit info on species they’re not tracking. Or, you can join one of their special ‘projects,’ such as their Nativars project. 

Baptisia australis nativar “Lunar Eclipse”

Most native insects and pollinators prefer native plants. The Nativars project seeks to learn whether native cultivars (cultivated varieties of native plants that can change flower color, scent, leaf color, etc) are more or less attractive to insects than wild species.

The information you submit will go to research scientists who are studying how plants and animals are changing in response to changes in their environment. And, our observations can help us understand how regional changes in the climate are affecting plants and animals in our backyards.  

Have fun, and check out our earlier suggestions for citizen science projects you can get involved with here.