Spotlight: Dr. Neeti Bathala

(Photo © Courtesy of Neeti Bathala)
“Since all environments intersect, I can encourage ecosystems right in my backyard.”

Dr. Neeti Bathala is a professor at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. An ecologist by training, she has studied many aspects of the environment, including deforestation, biodiversity, and oceanography. We are especially grateful to her for integrating Citizen Science projects like Celebrate Urban Birds into her curriculum.

On a personal level, Dr. Bathala works to improve the environment around her every day. At home, she has planted gardens with native species that increase the potential for wildlife to flourish. “Birds are an integral part of the ecosystem,” she says, “and must be considered as we seek to protect the environment.” She is also involved in local organizations such as the Haddonfield Garden Club in South Jersey, Clean Air Council in Philadelphia, and other coastal preservation projects, all of which aim to make the general public more aware of science and conservation efforts.

For over a decade, Dr. Bathala has incorporated data collection for Celebrate Urban Birds into the coursework. In fact, graduated students fondly remember the project. Among Dr. Bathala’s memories of students participating in Citizen Science is running into a graduate who “always looks for the focal bird species as he remembers learning about them from the Celebrate Urban Birds project.” This aspect of the course remains popular; Dr. Bathala recounts that recently, a student told her “that he was upset that we had not done the Urban Bird Watch and he was anxious to get started. We were only in our second week of the semester!” Dr. Bathala maintains that it is especially important to make field-work accessible to all, so students of any academic background can participate.

“The focal species are ones that are familiar in the Philadelphia region. The students enjoy this opportunity immensely and look forward to getting outside and participating in actual data collection.”

Although Dr. Bathala has always found the natural world interesting, she was inspired by her high school biology teacher to look beyond the confines of the classroom or laboratory. “Getting out in nature” made science meaningful. Even as a child, she wanted to protect plants and animals, so when working on her graduate degrees, Dr. Bathala felt lucky to participate in a great deal of field-work. “The magic of bioluminescence and the ocean at night compelled me to continue to study ecosystems and to seek out field-based research opportunities,” she recalls of her time spent identifying marine species by night.

“I ended up wanting to become an academic so that I, too, could share the passion that I felt towards the environment with others.”

(Photo © Courtesy of Neeti Bathala)
This experience also moved her to write Moonlight Crab Count, a picture book that introduces readers to Citizen Science. The story of a young girl counting horseshoe crabs is meant to convey the message that participation in data acquisition is enjoyable and enchanting. Leena, the main character, assists her mother in collecting data and learns “about the horseshoe crab and its vital role in the medical field.” Young readers in particular are empowered by the message that “their contributions are important now, as well as into the future.” Getting youth involved is paramount to Dr. Bathala’s mission to present STEM-based fields to the general population.

“These projects allow members of the public to engage in the process of scientific investigation: asking questions, collecting data, and/or interpreting results. Citizen Science is important in allowing everyone to understand that their contributions are meaningful.”

Dr. Bathala continues to be motivated by the enthusiasm of her students, especially when they recognize their ability to make positive changes in the natural world through conservation. In fact, she will now also teach a new course specifically about Citizen Science. Students will spend the semester participating in multiple projects, including several from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

We’re inspired by Dr. Bathala’s mission to bring Citizen Science to her students and community.

Funky Nests in Funky Places 2018!

Get ready for the challenge you’ve known and loved since it began in 2009! Funky Nests in Funky Places started!

(Photo © Marina Dimitrov)
Birds nest in the craziest places–from tiny ledges on skyscrapers to the barbecue grill in your neighbor’s yard. Whether you find a robin’s nest on a statue or a hummingbird’s nest on wind chimes, your picture, video, poem, or artwork about a bird nest in a funky place can win big in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Funky Nests in Funky Places challenge. With nesting season underway, this contest is challenging everyone to get outside and observe nature even in the most unexpected places.

Entry deadline is June 30.

You don’t have to be a bird expert or an expert photographer. It’s a wonderful excuse to get outside!

Attention: Before participating take a few minutes to learn a little about how to observe nests without harming the birds, where to find nests, and common myths about nesting birds.

Important Guidelines to Observing Nests
How to Help Nesting Birds
Types of Nests and How to Find Them
Fun Facts about Nests
Myths and Frequently Asked Questions about Nests

All ages are welcome to participate as individuals or with a group, class, community center, or after-school program. We are accepting entries from anywhere in the world.

We have fantastic prizes: Celestron binoculars, bird feeders, bird guides, posters, Bird Academy online courses, and more.

Find more information the contest at In Spanish:

(Photo © Amy Plankenhorn)

Scholarships Available for August 2018 Youth Workshop

We are offering full scholarships for youth and chaperones living in low-income communities to attend a two-day Birds, Careers, and Conservation Workshop at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology August 7-8. Scholarships will cover travel, accommodations, meals, and cost of the workshop.

We are looking for outstanding youth, 15-21 years old, who are interested in learning more about careers in science and conservation and who would like to make an impact in their community. Scholarships will be awarded on the basis of financial need and academic potential.

The workshop will focus on careers in the sciences, community stewardship, and cutting-edge conservation science research at the Lab. In addition, participants will learn about Cornell, explore the value of participatory science and critical thinking, arts and conservation, and paths to higher education. Staff from seven departments at the Cornell Lab will share their expertise and time.

If you are 15-21 years old and interested in issues dealing with birds, citizen science, conservation, the arts, giving back to your community, or if you want to meet other youth with the same passions, then apply to the Birds, Careers, and Conservation Youth Workshop!

At the workshop, you will meet outstanding professionals and researchers from the Lab of Ornithology. You will participate in diverse activities including bird banding, recording sounds in the local woods, creating bird and conservation-themed art, learning about citizen science, and more!

All youth participants must attend with a chaperone!

If you would like to apply to the workshop click here.

If you know any youth who might benefit from this opportunity, please click here to nominate them!

We encourage applications from underserved communities.

“I loved the program, not just because of the great variety of information that I learned, but also because it was really fun. I had a great time and I met new people. My favorite part was everything, but especially when we listened to the sounds of nature.” – Past Participant

Read about previous workshops:

Birds, Careers and Conservation Workshop August 2016

Birds, Careers and Conservation Youth Workshop April 2016

Birds, Careers and Conservation Youth Workshop August 2015

Birds, Careers and Conservation Youth Workshop June 2015


Article by Juan Ramirez Correa and Debbie Nero

Youth Celebrate Birds in the region of Coquimbo, Chile

(Photo © CANELAeduca)
In the arid region of northern Chile, youth of Canela and Huentelauquén are enjoying a series of year-round activities supported by the Red de Observadores de Aves y Vida Silvestre de Chile (ROC), CanelaEduca, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and various other local organizations. Through contests, school projects, community events, and national conferences, children are exploring environmental science and conservation.

(Photo © CANELAeduca)
Community-based citizen science has been very important to each activity planned by theROC. Beginning in April, students collected and submitted observations of local birds to the Cornell Lab’s eBird, an online platform that helps participants and scientists from any country, track sightings of birds.

In July, the Celebrate Birds drawing contest yielded beautiful entries depicting environmental conservation efforts and birds native to the region. The entries were so fantástic that organizers and participating youth created a fun and educational book with the drawings. The book includes information about birds, their relationship with the environment, and conservation. To view, the group e-book made by the students click here!

(Photo © Emilia Martinic)
Throughout the year gardening activities brought the students together to make their community a more beautiful and bird-friendly environment. A group of students also presented at a regional Science and Technology meeting, and were chosen to advance to the National Science Conference in late November! They presented about the history and conservation of local species.

Visit the full article to read more about the series of extraordinary events planned and executed by Chilean youth and members of the ROC.

Blog by Brigid Lucey

Rules of the Flock

Living in a flock has many benefits for birds, especially during the winter. As a group, they can find food more easily, huddle together to keep warm, and more eyes can spot predators faster. The Black-capped Chickadee is one of the small birds in the northern part of the United States that may be found in flocks.

Each flock has its own rules, which are reinforced with pecks – a bird’s way of saying “back off.” The majority of flocks follow one of two systems: the peck-right and the peck-dominance. Imagine a staircase where a bird is on every step based on their rank. Each bird can peck any of the birds on the steps below it, but not the ones on the steps above it. This is the peck-right system.

The Black-capped Chickadees, though, prefer the peck-dominance system. This system allows everyone to peck each other. However, the frequency of the pecks depends on the bird’s rank. Dominant birds are pecked less and can peck more, while the lower ranking birds are pecked more and can peck less. But how do they know their ranks? Well, ranks are demonstrated through song and plumage. Researchers have found that Black-capped Chickadees are able to infer ranks of new or visiting males based on their songs, and properly integrate them into the flock.

Not all chickadees remain with the same flock. Some are “winter floaters,” meaning they do not belong to a single flock and join different ones when it is convenient for them. These floaters have different ranks within each of the flocks where they spend their time.

You can see this system at work when the flock is feeding. Dominant birds eat first. On the trees nearby, the less dominant ones will be waiting for their turn. So, next time, when you see a flock of chickadees hanging around your bird feeder, pay close attention to the interesting dynamics of the flock!

Article by Michelle Santillán