High in Interest, High-quality, Local Emphasis.
Wildlife, in all its aspects, is a thoroughly engaging topic for many students, but many students and teachers often think a wildlife-related project would be too difficult. How, after all, can you do a laboratory experiment—collect data—using wild animals?
Data can be collected in other ways, and by indirect means:
- By selecting local, easily observable wildlife species students can gather and record data themselves
- By using data available on the Internet
- By using local biologists and wildlife professionals
Which species a student might choose depends upon whether he or she lives in a city, the suburbs, or a rural area. Some commonly occurring species include Canada geese, prairie dogs, songbirds (tanagers and many more), tree squirrels (e.g. Abert's, fox), golden-mantled ground squirrel, deer, elk, red foxes, cottontail rabbits ducks (several species), pheasants, raptors (many!), crows, ravens, and coyotes.
Wildlife Observation Can Help Answer:
- Is species occurrence, abundance, distribution, or density related to specific habitat features?
|geese or ducks||Open water in winter; vegetation around lakes/ponds; water quality; human use. Example: Is the number of geese on a lake related to the amount of open water in winter?|
|prairie dogs||Plant species; size of the open area; proximity to houses or roads.|
|raptors||Perch sites in and around prairie dog towns; distance from a prairie dog town; active vs. inactive prairie dog town. Example: Are there more raptors near prairie dog towns than in a similar area where there are no prairie dogs?|
|bats or birds||Presence of nesting or roost boxes; large cottonwood trees; specific tree species; proximity to water.|
|pheasants||Shelterbelts of different widths; topography; stubble left in fields after harvest.|
|deer, elk, pronghorn||Distance from different kinds of development; presence of dogs.|
Does use of a habitat feature vary with habitat changes, seasonal changes, human disturbance, weather, or other factors?
Habitat changes: development, habitat enhancements (like providing water at a bird feeder, providing nesting boxes), reclamation of disturbed areas, weed eradication, planting trees. Other variables: Snow depth, temperature, hunting seasons, annual or monthly rainfall, use of an area by people (with or without dogs), others?
Example: Does providing water with a bird feeder increase the number, species and frequency of visits by migratory birds?
What are the effects of habitat types, land use, and natural processes on biodiversity?
Compare two habitat types
Compare two areas of the same habitat type (What’s different? What accounts for the difference, if any?)
Presence, abundance and density of exotic species and noxious weeds
Natural vs. human-impacted areas.
Students Can Use Existing Data
Students can look for trends, data that seems incongruous, or patterns that provoke questions. For example: Species inventory data could show a decline in some species over time. What might cause the decline? Investigation could be into possible introduction of non-native species, habitat conversion, and climate or weather changes.
Suitable, pertinent data are available on the Web, such as weather and climate data,
Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count statistics, CPW big game harvest statistics, River Watch Program water quality reports, county and municipal land use maps,
Natural Diversity Information Source vegetation species distribution maps, the National Institutes of Health, and the Center for Disease Control records on plague, hanta virus, and West Nile virus.
Other data accessible to students might include CPW big game counts, bat mist-netting studies, fish sampling data, and human-bear conflict reports, and
Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory bird-banding station data. (Note that some information may be available only by request from the source.)
Mary McCormac, 303/291-7369, for further assistance, advice, or more ideas!
Colorado Parks and Wildlife supports wildlife-related science fair projects, and encourages students' science explorations through sponsorship of annual Special Awards given at the
Colorado State Science and Engineering Fair. These awards are given for the best wildlife-related projects in the junior and senior divisions.