Citizen Science and the collection of bird data in Singapore

posted in: Reports | 8

Citizen Science and the Gathering of Ornithological Data in Singapore has just been published in the 2009 volume of the on-line journal of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, National University of Singapore. You can get a PDF copy from the journal, Nature in Singapore, by clicking HERE.

The paper traces how citizen science was started by expatriate birdwatchers of the Bird Group affiliated to the Nature Society (Singapore) in the 1980s. Birdwatchers responded enthusiastically by sending in their field observations to an in-house monthly newsletter, the Singapore Avifauna. The 1987-90 issues provided useful data when ornithologist David Wells wrote his two-volumes, The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula.

However, when locals took over the leadership of the Bird Group, citizen science broke down somewhat. Limited in experience and knowledge but full of enthusiasm, the leadership slowly became elitist and exclusive when expatriate as well as the more experienced local birdwatchers left the group. The unwillingness to recruit birdwatchers more knowledgeable than themselves into the leadership led the group into a decade-long decline. The group slowly became more recreational and less scientific. The Avifauna issues dwindled as morale among the general membership plummeted and quality contributions dried up. The leadership felt besieged and restricted access of the Avifauna to Dr Wells, working from his base in the UK. In this sense citizen science failed as data collected by volunteers were not freely available.

Citizen science got a reprieve in the early 2000s when two new players came onto the scene – bird photographers and the Bird Ecology Study Group. The former was spurned when a group seek to revitilise the NSS’s Photo Group while the latter’s acceptance by the society was vigorously resisted for months. In the end, competition proved to be an excellent remedy to the complacency of the organised local birdwatchers who had monopolised birdwatching for at least a decade.

Currently, citizen science has been revitilised, with the three players slowly but surely coming together for the good of the birding fraternity, especially when there are chances of leadership changes in the near future.

YC Wee
January 2009


8 Responses

  1. […] is another excellent example of how BESG gets citizen scientists to work together and make field observations that are of value to ornithologists and nature […]

  2. At long last, there is a change in leadership! A breath of fresh air indeed…

  3. […] be maintained. Documenting bird behaviour and studying bird calls and songs are major aspects that citizen scientists can contribute to the ornithological knowledge of the local species. The camera has become a basic […]

  4. […] Ornithological Science 2:119-125. I was fascinated … Mail (will not be published) (required) …Bird Ecology Study Group Citizen Science and the collection …The former was spurned when a group seek to revitilise the NSS’s Photo Group while the latter’s […]

  5. […] then working on Vol I of “The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsular” – LINK. Related posts:Citizen Science and the collection of bird data in Singapore Citizen Science and the Gathering of Ornithological Data in […]

  6. […] on this sparrow. The book depended heavily on contributions from our local citizen scientists LINK, but there was only a single citation, on seasonality, noted in the 1987 issue of Singapore […]

  7. […] encourage our citizen scientists to submit any observations on bird behavior, however modest they may be. As our knowledge of local […]

  8. […] behavior that remain unknown, even with the more common species. We thus need to keep encouraging citizen scientists to be observant in the field and not just look at birds but also to note their […]


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