Monday, November 21, 2011

eBird tutorial: finding Pinyon Jays

Pinyon JayPinyon Jay, Best Western Ponderosa Lodge, Sisters, Oregon, 27 May 2009 by Greg Gillson.


Throughout most of its range, the Pinyon Jay is found in pinyon pine and juniper woodlands. Thus, this species reaches its northern limit in southern Idaho where a few pinyon pine exist. However, there is an isolated pocket of Pinyon Jays in central Oregon, found in juniper and ponderosa pine. Why it is found only here, when this habitat is widespread in the Great Basin, is unknown. These jays occur in large noisy flocks throughout the year, and are highly nomadic.

This post will serve as a tutorial of how to use eBird to create sightings maps.

First, point your web browser to

The eBird Welcome page appears as follows (click on the image below to bring up a larger view):

Next, choose the "View and Explore Data" tab to bring up the following screen (click on the image below to bring up a larger view):

To create species maps and abundance bar charts limited to a certain area, choose "Bar Charts." Then you are asked to choose your location. We want the Pacific Northwest, so we choose Idaho, and then, holding down the CTRL key, select Oregon and Washington too! Then select "continue" at the bottom of the page (click on the image below to bring up a larger view):

What this has done is create a monthly bar chart of annual bird abundance for the combined three states (click on the image below to bring up a larger view):

Scroll down to Pinyon Jay and click it to bring up that species' information. Here you can change the date range and location, down to a specific county within a state. Looking at the bar chart, you can see that Pinyon Jay is present all year in the chosen range (Idaho, Oregon, and Washington), but harder to find early in the year (click on the image below to bring up a larger view).

Now click on the map button or tab to bring up the map below (click on the image below to bring up a larger view):

The map shows Pinyon Jay abundance in latitude-longitude blocks in two areas of southern Idaho, and central Oregon, with a smattering of sightings in the Klamath Basin of south-central Oregon. As you zoom in closer, these blocks are resolved into the individual sightings markers.

If you zoom in on the Central Oregon sightings, you'll notice a bunch of sightings near Sisters, Oregon. If you click on the sightings marker, the specific information comes up: date, number of individuals seen, location name and observer. Sightings within the last 30 days are shown with orange markers, older sightings are blue. Let's look at what I've selected (click on the image below to bring up a larger view):

I switched the Google map from Terrain view to the Satellite view, and zoomed in to an area of town. Then I clicked on one of the markers, whereupon the information about that sighting location is revealed. Here it is, then. This marker is located at a place called "Best Western Ponderosa Lodge" in Deschutes County, Oregon. The date was 4/4/10 and 21 Pinyon Jays were reported here. The observer? Why, Best Western Ponderosa Lodge! What?!!! Why not? Yes, someone at the Lodge signed up to eBird perhaps simply to "advertise" the birds you can find at their motel!

Is this "legal"? Of course! While eBird would like each observer to contribute more than just one checklist, one is better than nothing. Remember, eBird includes sightings not just from scientists and fanatical birders, but also elementary school science classes, backyard birders and, yes, even motels! Now that's what I call Citizen Science!

Can you really find Pinyon Jays at this motel? Well, I did! See the caption for the Pinyon Jay photo above. Also note that another visitor to the motel recorded Pinyon Jays there in June 2011.

A recent new addition to eBird is the ability to click on the word "checklist" next to the sighting report to see all the other birds seen at that location that day! So, for instance, also found were ponderosa pine specialists like White-headed Woodpecker and Pygmy Nuthatch. And, yes, Eurasian Collared-Dove has invaded there, too.