Kids can hone their skills as mini scientists

If you watch birds or search for frogs, you are a scientist. Anyone can be a scientist and most people are probably already doing scientific work. They just don’t know it.

Citizen scientists are the people in backyards, local parks and beaches observing and recording information about plants and animals of the Northwest. The data they collect can be used by biologists, researchers and land managers to help make decisions about land use and development. It’s an excellent way to keep our common animals common.

Records of sightings around the state provide information to help biologists know if our common animal populations are declining. It’s also an important step in keeping animals off the endangered species list.

All good citizen scientists use a few basic skills, such as observation, identification and record keeping. You can practice your skills with these fun activities.

 • Think about all the different things animals do and why they do them. These are called behaviors. Make a list of as many different animal behaviors as you can. Take your animal behavior list to a zoo or a park, or spend time watching your pet. Practice your observation skills by writing down the animal and behaviors you see and the time. Watch one animal over time to see how many different behaviors that animal uses. Do you see certain behaviors at specific times during the day? Keep a record of your observations to compare over several days.

 • Animal identification also is an important scientific skill. Check out a few animal field guides from a library. The Audubon Society has guides to birds, mammals, reptiles, insects and more. Pick books about animals that interest you or that you might see in the wild. Use your guides to learn which animals live in your area.

 • You also can create your own field guide of common animals. Draw pictures of common animals you see and write a description about each one. Put your drawings in a binder or use a hole puncher and some string to make a book. Design a book cover using sturdy paper. Be sure to leave some blank pages in the back to add more drawings as you learn to identify more animals.

Many citizen scientists work in their own backyards. No matter what type of yard you have, you can attract wildlife by providing food, water, shelter and space. Providing even a few habitat elements will help attract wildlife.

 • To make a simple bird feeder, thoroughly clean and dry a half-gallon milk container. Remove the handle by cutting a large hole in the side of the container. This will be the opening where you’ll place the birdseed and where birds will perch. Remove the cap, poke a hole in it, and run string or fishing line through it. Then screw the cap back on, fill with bird seed, and hang.

This column was written by the staff at Northwest Trek.