Alabama Extension at Alabama A&M University
Older Americans are one of the fastest-growing demographics in the country. According to the United States Census Bureau, there will be 78 million people 65 years and older in 2035. In comparison, there will be 76.4 million under the age of 18. In less than two decades, older adults are expected to outnumber children for the first time in United States history. This large and growing population in society is often left out of science-related outreach. Many science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) educational outreach initiatives are usually aimed at students in grades K through 12. The belief is that resources are best spent on reaching future STEM students and workers than older adults. Older adults, however, are ideal participants for citizen science projects as well.
In 2021, Alabama Extension at Alabama A&M University’s Urban Environmental Science Education Program and the Virginia Caples Lifelong Learning Institute partnered to establish a citizen science project highlighting native songbird population recovery. Citizen science describes a community-based approach to scientific inquiry by people who are not officially scientists. These citizens, however, are willing to contribute to scientific knowledge by engaging in local projects.
This statewide senior-led citizen science project encouraged participants to be curious and engaged, thus stimulating thought processes. In addition, it provided much-needed nesting sites for our native secondary cavity-nesting birds. The population of these birds has declined by as much as 70 percent or more over the last couple of decades.
To achieve these goals, older adults attended four sessions in songbird population recovery. The sessions involved assembling and installing a manmade nest box at their respective residences. The senior scientists were tasked with managing, monitoring, recording, and reporting data collected at their nest box. This data included the number of eggs laid, species inhabiting nest boxes, the estimated hatch dates, and flight activity.
Prior to the workshop series, only 43 percent of the participants researched strategies to begin active bird watching. All participants, however, agreed the program motivated them to become a landlord for common backyard cavity-nesting birds after the program. Furthermore, they were excited to manage, monitor, and maintain a nest box. Overall, all participants believed the program provided valuable information. All participants also planned to implement a learned wildlife best management practice within three months.
This citizen science project is a small step in population recovery. It serves as the link between improved cognition in participating senior citizens and supplying suitable nesting sites for native secondary cavity-nesting birds. Clearly, two birds (improved cognition and suitable nesting sites), and one stone (citizen science), are making great strides with older adults.
Look for more activities and information for older adults at www.aces.edu or visit Alabama Extension at AAMU’s Facebook page for upcoming events.