Tracking the cultural niches of North American birds through time

Justin G. Schuetz, Alison Johnston*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


1. Conservation efforts are constrained by our poor grasp of changing relationships between humans and other species. We used internet query data describing relative public interest in different species of birds, and combined them with citizen science data describing relative encounter rates with those same taxa, to gain perspective on shifting relationships between people and birds in the United States.
2. National-level interest in birds increased an average of 12.6% across two sequential 5-year periods, while controlling for the volume of internet searches and changing encounter rates with species in the United States. Geographic alignment of state-level interest in birds and state-level encounters with birds increased by an average of 5.7% across species.
3. In multivariate multiple regression analysis, we found that species did not move uniformly through a 2D ‘cultural niche space’ between time periods. Shifts varied according to changes in federal protection afforded to species, by migratory strategy, whether species were native or introduced and by taxonomic Order.
4. Together, these results suggest that people in the United States became more inquisitive about birds over a relatively short period of time, that their growing curiosity was directed disproportionately towards local species, and that cultural labels and species characteristics continue to shape relationships between people and birds.
5. By tracking shifts in the cultural niches of birds over time, we provide quantitative perspective on general patterns of socio-ecological change. And by identifying factors associated with those shifts, our results also offer specific information that can be used to improve conservation efforts aimed at particular species or groups of birds.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-260
Number of pages10
JournalPeople and Nature
Issue number1
Early online date21 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • Birds
  • Citizen science
  • Conservation
  • Culture
  • eBird
  • Google
  • Internet
  • Niche
  • Public engagement
  • Species traits


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