Ten May Citizen Science Projects to Help You Spring Forward

Spring has sprung! Citizen scientists like you can now shed your winter layers and say hello again to the great outdoors. Here are ten projects that can help your appetites for citizen science blossom along with the flowers this season.

1. Hummingbirds @ Home

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Track, report, and follow the spring hummingbird migration to understand how hummingbirds are impacted by climate change. The Audubon Society needs citizen scientists to follow the spring hummingbird migration in real time. A free mobile app makes it easy to report sightings, share photos and learn more about these remarkable birds. You can participate at any level – from reporting a single sighting to documenting hummingbird activity in your community throughout the life of the project!

2. Dragonfly Migration

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Although it spans three countries and has been documented since the 1880s, North American dragonfly migration is still poorly understood, and much remains to be learned about migratory cues, flight pathways, and the southern limits of overwintering grounds. Become part of an international network of citizen scientists and help monitor the spring and fall movements of the 5 main migratory species in North America, or report on these species throughout the year at a pond or wetland of your choice.

3. Project MERCCURI

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Collect microbes from stadiums, cell phones and shoes! Project MERCCURI is an investigation of how microbes found in buildings on Earth (in public buildings, stadiums, etc) compare to those on board the biggest building ever built in space – the International Space Station (ISS). Your samples will be mailed to the University of California Davis where they will be sequenced and analyzed. Results will be shared on SciStarter so you can compare your samples to those from other locations, including the International Space Station! In addition, up to 40 samples will be selected to fly on the International Space Station where their growth rates will be compared to their counterparts in the UCDavis lab! Wouldn’t it be cool if your sample is sent to the International Space Station!?

4. Cicada Tracker

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WNYC Radio invites families, armchair scientists and lovers of nature to join in a bit of mass science: track the cicadas that emerge once every 17 years across New Jersey, New York and the whole Northeast by building homemade sensors and reporting your observations. Magicicada Brood II will make its 17-year appearance when the ground 8″ down is a steady 64° F. Help predict the arrival by planting a homemade temperature sensor in the ground and reporting your findings back to to WNYC. Your observations will be put on a map and shared with the entire community.

5. Play With Your Dog

Screen shot 2013-05-06 at 12.50.47 PMHelp researchers better understand relationship between dogs and owners! The Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab in NYC is investigating the different ways people and dogs play together, and we need your help (well, you and your dog’s help). We are cataloguing all the ways people play with their dogs and asking dog owners to submit short videos of their own dog-human play. By participating in Project: Play with Your Dog, citizen scientists are providing valuable information into the nuances and intricacies of our relationships with dogs.

6. Project Budburst

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Help scientists understand changing climates in your area by making regular observations of your plants! Project BudBurst, a NEON citizen science program, is a network of people across the United States monitoring plants as the seasons change. We are a national field campaign designed to engage the public in the collection of important ecological data based on the timing of leafing, flowering, and fruiting of plants (plantphenophases). Project BudBurst participants make careful observations of these phenophases. We are interested in observations from five plant groups – deciduous trees and shrubs; wildflowers and herbs; evergreens; conifers; and grasses. To participate, you simply need access to a plant.

7. Where is my Spider?

Screen shot 2013-05-06 at 12.50.18 PMBy just taking photos and observing spiders, you can help the Explorit Science Center learn about which climates certain spiders live in and track the distribution of spiders over time. Join the Explorit’s Community Science Project by finding and recording spiders in your home or neighborhood (as many as you can!). Use your camera or smart phone to take a photo of the spider and submit it online to add to our geographical database.

8. SciSpy

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Spy on nature, and contribute to science. Share photos and observations through SciSpy and you’re contributing to research initiatives that rely on amateur participation. Created by Science Channel (Discovery), SciSpy enlists paticipants to document the natural world of their backyards, parks, cities, and towns. Photos and observation data are tagged and stamped with date, time and location information and will hopefully provide helpful information to track migrations, changes in the natural environment, seasonal trends and more.

9. LeafSnap

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Help scientists study tree species distribution by identifying and locating tree species on your iPhone or iPad! Leafsnap is an exciting new mobile app that is designed to help citizen scientists identify and locate tree species from photographs and ultimately help the scientific world develop a better understanding of biodiversity. Developed by Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution, Leafsnap contains a unique visual recognition software that helps users identify species from the photographs taken straight from your iphone or ipad.

10. Precipitation ID Near the Ground (PING)

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The National Severe Storms Laboratory needs YOUR help with a research project! If you live in the area shown on the map, the Precipitation Identification Near the Ground project (PING) wants YOU to watch and report on precipitation type. Why? Because the radars cannot see close to the ground, we need YOU to tell us what is happening. Scientists will compare your report with what the radar has detected, and develop new radar technologies and techniques to determine what kind of precipitation—such as snow, soft hail, hard hail, or rain—is falling where.

Whether you’re cicada tracking outside or swabbing microbes indoors, we wish you all the best with your experiments this season. Be sure to come back and tell us about it in the comments!

Still got some spring in your step? Check out even more citizen science projects in our Project Finder!

Categories: Citizen Science

About the Author


Lily Bui

Although she holds dual non-science bachelors’ degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine, Lily has long harbored a proclivity for the sciences. A daughter of an engineer and an accountant who also happen to be a photographer and musician, respectively, Lily grew up on the nexus between science and art. Lily has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served a year in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter in California; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. She currently works with WGBH-TV Boston and Public Radio Exchange (PRX) in Cambridge. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns (mostly to entertain herself). // Tweets @dangerbui