Project Squirrel: A fun citizen science project for everyone

Gretchen Steele Illinois Fox Squirrel 7651

Citizen Science and citizen scientists are all the age these days. The electronic devices that we’ve become so dependent upon are making contributing data to various projects more effortless than ever.

What is a Citizen Scientist?

Wikipedia defines Citizen Science as “Citizen science ( also known as community science, crowd science, crowd-sourced science, civic science, or volunteer monitoring) is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur (or nonprofessional) scientists. Citizen science is sometimes described as “public participation in scientific research,” participatory monitoring, and participatory action research, whose outcomes are often advancements in scientific research by improving the scientific community’s capacity and increasing the public’s understanding of science. ”

Wow, that’s a mouthful! Essentially, citizen science is when community members, via various means, collect and report data. Projects range from simple and easy, like Project Squirrel, to others that require more time and skill. The oldest citizen science project is the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, initiated in 1900.

Project Squirrel is a  great way to dip your toes in the ocean of citizen science. It’s easy, fun, and can be done as a team, family, or solo project.

The project was designed and implemented over ten years ago to assist scientists in better understanding tree squirrel ecology. All you have to do is learn the difference between gray, red,  and fox squirrels, then count the squirrels you see at the location of your choice. You can count every day, every week, whenever, and how often it suits you.

Project Squirrel is looking for citizen scientists of all ages to count the number of squirrels in their neighborhoods and report their findings. Some areas may have grey (and “black” squirrels, which are almost always grey squirrels!), fox, and red squirrels, while a nearby town only has one species. It seems one species or another is becoming more common in many places. Your observations may lead you to discover this phenomenon is true in your neighborhood. Learn how to identify these three tree squirrels, then report your observations about their presence or absence and some of the ecological conditions of your area.

Anyone can participate in Project Squirrel. No matter where you live, city, country, rural or urban, you can participate right from the comfort of your backyard or neighborhood. If tree squirrels live in your community, you can be a squirrel monitor! This project isn’t limited to Illinois – no matter where you are in the US, you can participate.

The scientists at Project Squirrel also use this project to understand the effect that participation in citizen science has on participants and data quality. When you contribute to Project Squirrel and document your experience, you also provide valuable information that will eventually be used to learn the importance of citizen scientists in advancing scientific knowledge as a whole.

The end goal of all this squirrel observing is to understand tree squirrel ecology better. Sorry ground squirrel species, this one is not for you.

Using the form and directions provided on the Project Squirrel website or the SciStarter website, you will learn how to identify these three tree squirrel species. After that, it’s easy peasy to report your observations of any squirrels and some additional information about the ecological conditions of your neighborhood.

Both websites, Project Squirrel and SciStarter provide all the information you need to get started and an avenue to share your squirrel photos and stories as well.

It took about 15 minutes from start to finish for me to learn the basics and enter the information from my first “squirrel watch.” It really is that simple! So, gather up your kids, grandkids, and stray kids in the neighborhood and get on the road to become citizen scientists today!

Categories: — — Illinois – Gretchen Steele

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