Monday, December 26, 2011

eBird revisited: one year later

It was just a year ago when I wrote my first blog post about eBird (What is eBird?), the citizen science and personal listing program sponsored by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.

eBird may be most simply described as an online checklist program. It allows one to input their bird sightings and keep track of their lists. All sightings are pooled from around the world and the data is accessible both to the user and to any interested person, scientist or hobbyist. (Read About eBird from their own web site.)

About the same time as my post, Dave Irons, over on the BirdFellow blog wrote about eBird, too (The eBird Conundrum). I recommend reading all the comments, as you can see how the program has grown and improved over the years. Read especially Shawneen Finnegan's comments (Comment #9). Of those who weren't as excited about eBird, they were concerned with the possible time and effort of changing the way they birded and entering their sightings checklists.

Everyone is missing the point!

Forget entering data for a minute. (Anathema!)

Without you ever entering a single personal checklist...

eBird is an absolutely indispensable real time world-wide bird status and distribution tool.

How do I emphasize this sufficiently? eBird is tracking the location and abundance of every bird in the world. Right now. From Abdim's Stork to Zosterops (species). Ten-thousand species plus thousands of field identifiable forms (subspecies, species pairs, "spuh's" (Empidonax sp., gull sp., etc.), and even exotics).

The world-wide aspect is just over a year old now, so obviously the bulk of users (because of the 6 year head start) are in North America and New Zealand. But use is increasing throughout the world.

Birders in California lead the way with nearly 15,000 checklists submitted each month (based on November 2011 rate)! Ottawa, New York, Texas, and Florida led the pack in November 2011. The number of checklists submitted in California has nearly doubled in one year (8500 to 15,000 per month in November of both years). Brian Sullivan, one of eBird's founders, reports that about 80,000 birders have submitted at least one checklist to eBird; 6,000 birders are regular contributors right now. A recent article in PLoS Biology (eBird: Engaging Birders in Science and Conservation) estimates that the 2011 total will be 1.7 million checklists from 210 countries! Every new checklist submitted--whether historical lists from the past, or this morning's field outing--increases eBird's accuracy and usefulness.

The maps generated by eBird are often better than those appearing in field guides. Maps can be made at the resolution of individual months (or any requested block of months or years). Frequency is shown on the maps at large scales by latitude-longitude blocks until you zoom in to see the individual details of each and every sighting.

So, even if you have decided not to contribute your sightings to eBird, the useful information about where birds are being seen today is such that every birder would want to search eBird each day. What can you find out? Here are two items you may find useful. 1) eBird Alerts: Sightings of birds you haven't seen ever or just this year in a specified county or state emailed to you. 2) Rare birds (ABA Code 3 and above) nationally emailed to you. 3) Weekly frequency and abundance bar charts for every bird in a birding hotspot or county where you may plan to visit. 4) Maps and details of any species in the world showing actual sightings in the last 30 days. Oops! That's four useful items.

I suggest you go to and explore for yourself and see what you've been missing!

My next post will tell you why you should submit sightings to eBird. No, not because it contributes to citizen science, helps the birds, and makes the world a better place. Rather, I will show how eBird makes you a better birder!