Student using citizen science to track duck’s expansion

John O'Connell and Hannah Judge
You’ve probably heard of crowd-source funding. Well, how about crowd-sourced science? An undergraduate student at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is hoping to leverage the large number of avian enthusiasts to study the expansion of a certain species of duck into North America.

Hannah Judge, a senior in university studies from Burbank, is working with doctoral student John O’Connell, of the SIU Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory, on tracking the black-bellied whistling duck as it expands its range from Central America.

Found in several southern states, this duck is a bird of another feather, with its noisy ways, bright pink bill and unusually long legs. It is expanding northward, but it’s difficult for researchers to keep tabs on how fast. So the best way to get a true idea of its numbers and locations is by casting a wide net with the thousands of bird-watchers and hunters who keep their eyes on the skies.

Judge will tap into this potential treasure trove of information using citizen science databases, such as hunting logs, bird-watcher sites such as eBird and the recorded observations of members of organizations such as Ducks Unlimited. She’ll be trying to confirm where and when the elusive ducks are seen in an effort to describe the species’ expansion over time.

“It’s important to show how citizen science can be used in scientific research as well as getting a better understanding of the black-bellied whistling duck,” she said.

At SIU, undergrads can get involved with real research as soon as they arrive on campus. It can be a defining opportunity, Judge said.

“I am so thankful to have this chance,” she said. “It has been a great learning process for me, and I’m excited to see how this project will benefit me in the future.”


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