In a nutshellWhere: Near Tromsø
When: All year round
Duration: 1 day minimum, up to 4 days
Goal: Learn about the effect of light pollution on songbirds in the Arctic
Missions: 1/ Building nest boxes, 2/ Putting them up in trees, 3/ Visiting and maintaining the nests, 4/ Ringing adults and chicks, 5/ Fill up feeding stations, 6/ Setup camera traps and swap the memory cards.
Research partners: University in Tromsø/UiT, ASTI
Why is this project important?
Urbanization is one of the most expressive human impacts and causes dramatic changes in the natural environment. An obvious difference between urban and natural environments is the amount of artificial light at night (ALAN). While the increased use of ALAN is related to an improvement in comfort for humans, it disrupts the biological clocks of plants and animals. This is because the daily light-dark cycle is important in synchronizing those clocks. Studies show that animals modify their activity patterns in the presence of ALAN and also modify the timing of seasonal activities such as breeding.
One relevant question is how urbanization will impact wildlife in the Arctic. Because of the natural long days and nights in the Arctic along the year, the presence of ALAN in cities may affect animals and plants in different ways than what is observed in southern locations where the majority of studies take place. For example, ALAN might have a stronger effect during winter. Thus, this project will study how animals manage the time of their activities during the day and over the seasons and how this is connected to their survival and reproductive success. It will focus on small birds (great tit, blue tit, willow tit and pied flycatcher). These birds are interesting because we can monitor their nests and measure the survival and breeding success of each individual bird. A second reason is that tits are very successful in occupying both urban and natural environments.
There are a number of results that we expect from this study:
1) It will allow us to assess if and how ALAN impacts northern songbird populations and what its long-term consequences are.
2) It will allow us to understand if birds that choose to forage, roost or breed in an artificially illuminated areas also have a different survival or reproductive success from those who choose darker sites.
3) We will be able to better understand local bird movements, for example, if birds choose to breed in darker areas while foraging for food in artificially illuminated sites.
4) Finally, via genetics and behavioural tests, we will be able to determine if animals with certain traits choose to occupy illuminated sites, which is important to understand long-term population changes.
What are the goals of the project?
- Build and deploy artificial nests to songbirds in areas with artificial light at night (ALAN) and no ALAN
- Make observations that will improve our understanding of the effect of light pollution on songbirds
- Use the project to encourage private people and businesses to turn off artificial lights at night
UiT/The Arctic University of Norway
Wild Lab Projects is partnering with Barbara Tomotani, biochronologist and researcher at the Arctic Seasonal Timekeeping Initiative (ASTI). Barbara’s field of research is the evolution of wildlife’s biological clocks and calendars. Every participant who joins this activity supports her research project as a citizen scientist, under the guidance of Wild Lab Projects. Both visitors and locals are welcome to participate in this project, since artificial nests are deployed both in private backyards and in the mountains away from light pollution.
Wild Lab Projects and Birdlife Troms work together to facilitate the realization of this citizen science project. Birdlife helped Wild Lab Projects acquire tools for the construction of nest boxes. Birdlife also helped organize workshops to build nest boxes, and events to communicate about citizen science and this project to its members and to the public.
How you can contribute
1- Build your own nest box
Join us for a woodwork session and build your own nest box. We will provide you with all you need (wood, screws, tools, paint, etc.) plus some guidance to build a nest box for songbirds. It’s ok if you don’t have experience, we’ll be here and happy to help if needed. Once completed, the box will be yours. Then, you can either leave it to us, or you can join us the next day (the paint needs time to dry) and put it up in a tree on one of our study sites near Tromsø. In both cases, you will receive updates every time we visit the nest box the following years, and we’ll send you photos or videos of the eggs, chicks and adults when your nest box is used.
Don’t worry about the logistics, you will be our guest for the duration of the activity (read below "Details about the activity").
2- Join us for a day in the field
What we do there depends on the time of year.
We will place nest boxes in areas with varying amounts of artificial light at night. We will monitor these nests during winter for roosting occupancy, and during spring to measure breeding behavior and breeding success. We will also use feeding stations to record the foraging activity patterns of the birds throughout the day and the seasons. We will ring the birds with colored ringed so they can be individually recognized when visiting nests and feeders. We will set up automatic cameras around the feeders, and swap the memory cards that will show which birds (if they are ringed) visit the feeders and at when/what time.
3- You live in Tromsø?
If you live in Tromsø, have a backyard and want to participate in this citizen science project, you are very welcome to do so. Just give us a call or drop an email, and we will tell you how to contribute. We will train you so that you can monitor your own nest boxes and share your observations with our research partner.
What you will get from this experience
- Contribute to a scientific endeavor
- Support nature conservation
- Learn new things and new skills
- Spend time in and experience nature
- Engage in a meaningful project
- Feel useful and make a difference
- Meet and spend time with people who have similar interests
- Build social connections- Have fun
Details about the activity
This project takes place one half-day at a time.
Day 1: Build your own nest box
At 9:00, we will meet in our headquarters, close to the city center. A facilitator will welcome you there with coffee and tea, we will introduce ourselves, and she/he will give a short presentation of the project. After a quick reminder about safety concerning the use of tools, we will go through the building instructions. This kick-off session is a perfect time to get to know each other, ask and answer questions.
We will then go together to our workshop, roll up our sleeves and build nest boxes. Around lunch time, we will take a break, and we’ll enjoy a homemade vegetarian soup, cookies and hot drinks. Full of energy, we’ll finish our constructions, paint them, clean up the workshop and wrap up the day with a debrief. We will be back in the city center before 16:00.
Day 2: Join us for a day in the field
Whether or not you built a nest box with us the day before, we will meet at 9:00 in our headquarters. We will welcome you with tea and coffee, and if someone wasn’t here the day before, we will introduce each other. Our facilitator will then present the project, with a focus on the nest monitoring, and the day’s plan. Together, we will then go to one of our study sites and do what needs to be done: depending on the time of year, it can be putting up nest boxes in trees, fixing or replacing worn out boxes, controlling the occupancy or/and capturing and ringing songbirds. In the middle of the day, we will take a lunch break and have homemade soup with bread, coffee, tea. We will visit the feeding stations that we will refill with seeds, and we will set up automatic cameras traps (or swap the memory cards) to record the foraging activity patterns of the birds. If you own binoculars, bring them with you as we don’t have a pair for everyone. Binos will help you identify the bird species and read the color code of the plastic rings (if you are considering acquiring a pair of binoculars and need advice, get in contact with us and we’ll recommend you a few models depending on your budget). Before we go back to Tromsø, we will take some time to debrief about the day. We will be back in town before 16:00.
What happens next?
The success of this project depends greatly on the contribution of volunteers. There would simply be no citizen science project without the contribution of citizen scientists. And this leaves Wild Lab with a big responsibility: to keep the volunteers informed. Soon after your participation, your observations will be shared with our research partner, who will eventually publish the result of their work in scientific journals and other media. The role of Wild Lab is to make sure that these results reach you. Surely, you will appreciate seeing that your contribution has been useful and productive. As for us, reporting is a way to maintain a connection with our volunteers, to keep raising awareness and growing a sense of caring, and to maintain a community of nature advocates. Tromsø needs them, and there are many places in the world where light pollution is an issue. Besides, the nest box that you have built is yours forever: you will be notified every time we visit it, whether it is empty or used. As a rule, if you have joined one of our projects, you will hear from us.