Participant Survey

Neighborhood Nestwatch increases scientific literacy and sense of place

Child touching a Carolina wren Although citizen-science programs exist throughout the United States, few attempts have been made to understand who exactly participates and what the educational value is for participants.

In a collaborative effort with Dr. Celia Evans of Paul Smith's College in New York and Dr. Eleanor Abrams of the University of New Hampshire, the Migratory Bird Center sought to quantify the impact of Neighborhood Nestwatch on its participants through a variety of survey techniques.

Surveys, interviews, and participant-initiated emails were used to address three questions:

  1. Who are the Nestwatch participants?
  2. Does Nestwatch improve participants' science literacy?
  3. Does Nestwatch influence the participants' sense of place?

The results of this effort demonstrated that the Neighborhood Nestwatch experience is a highly effective tool for educating the public. Findings are published in the peer-reviewed journal Conservation Biology.

Nestwatchers, Who Are They?

Nestwatch participants were evenly distributed demographically among three groups comprised of senior citizens, couples or singles in their late 30s to 50s, and families with young children. Birding experience varied across the participant base, as did the level of education.

Science Literacy

Analysis of survey and interview data revealed that participants were communicating observations, asking questions, and drawing scientifically-based conclusions.

Interview data suggested that participants gained knowledge about population biology, behavioral ecology, and the scientific process. In addition, participants appeared to learn the most through conversations with field scientists.

Sense of Place

Most participants (83 percent) reported an increased awareness of their local environment and many (56 percent) made habitat-enhancing changes to their backyards, indicating growth of participants' sense of place in the environment, at least at a local scale.

This research effort emphasized the fact that Nestwatch is a model of a successful community conservation partnership that facilitates discussion between scientists and citizens.

Through research activities in the context of a shared project, Nestwatch increases citizens' understanding of and appreciation for local ecosystems and their role in providing habitat for birds and other organisms. Taken together, these results stress that in general the Neighborhood Nestwatch program presents rich opportunities for learning and connecting to the natural environment in your own backyard.