Sampling – Observing Animal Behavior

When scientists study animals, they observe their behavior through sampling, a special research technique that helps them notate what the animals are doing. They may be looking for information about the amount of time an animal spends doing something, how much space in the habitat an animal uses, what animals like to hang out together, or finding new behaviors. This technique can be used in the wild to learn about natural animal behaviors or in zoos to learn about the animals’ welfare.



Some different types of behavior sampling include:


  • Ad libitum sampling: writing down anything that seems interesting or important about one animal or a group of animals over a period of time.
  • Focal sampling: watching one animal for a set length of time and writing down everything the animal does with the time noted.
  • Scan sampling: watching one animal or a group of animals and writing down what they are doing at a certain interval of time (every 30 seconds, every 5 minutes, etc.)



Try observing your pet for a day! Here’s how:


You will need:

  1. Something to write on.
  2. Something to write with.
  3. An animal (or a few animals) – if you don’t have a pet, try observing an animal live camera feed on!



What to do:

  • Decide on what type of sampling you are going to try. Think about how much time you want to spend observing. To learn the most about your pet, you could try scan sampling – observe them once an hour all day and note their behavior.
  • Create a behavior key. You won’t have time to write everything down as it is happening! Create your own shorthand for the most common behaviors your pet or pets might do.
  • Start observing! Be sure to watch the clock to notate the time of behaviors.
  • Finished? Analyze the behavior you recorded! Does your dog spend most of their time looking out the window? Maybe you can set up their bed next to a window so they can enjoy it! Does your cat like to hide under tables? Maybe you can set up a sitting area with a canopy to make them feel safe!



What Next?

You can help animal researchers around the world by sampling behavior or even simply counting or sorting animals! Scientists ask for help by doing community (or citizen) science projects where anyone can help by following simple instructions and entering data.


Check out this search engine to find a citizen science project that’s interesting to you:


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