With the passing of Steve Jobs earlier this month, we have all been thinking about the way that computers and the internet have transformed our lives. The information highway has had profound effects on the ease and speed with which birders can communicate.
Nowadays, a birder can find a rare bird, send a post to a birding listserv on her smartphone and within minutes hundreds of people know about that rare shorebird in Scarborough Marsh. Amazing!
One of the potential problems of so much information on the web is that it is often diffuse. It may take quite a bit of browsing to find the information one seeks.
The National Audubon Society has a great site where one can get access to all the 100+ years of Christmas Bird Count data (http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count). Similarly, the Breeding Bird Survey, jointly administered by the U. S. Geological Survey and Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service, makes their data available as maps or raw data (http://220.127.116.11/BBS/index.html).
These two sites are limited to particular census programs. Is there a site where any bird observation can be posted and shared? Yes, there is a site called eBird, administered by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. eBird was begun in 2002. It is essentially an on-line checklist project. Over 200,000 birders and ornithologist are currently submitting their trip lists to eBird. All of the data go into a common database that can be searched by anyone. The sharing of data makes eBird a tremendous resource for birders planning a trip or for scientists looking to determine how various phenomena affect birds.
eBird version 3 has recently been introduced. This version is a great improvement over the previous versions. eBird 3 is intuitive, clean and simply a joy to use.
Here’s how one goes about contributing bird data to eBird. I do a lot of birding in the Perkins Arboretum on the Colby College campus. For the first checklist I added, eBird asked me for the date, the hours of observation and the location of the site. To identifiy the location, you can add the latitude and longitude or you can find it on a map. Clicking on the “find on a map” took me to Google Maps in an embedded window. I quickly found the arboretum and named my location “Perkins Arboretum – Colby College”. That location now shows up in “my locations” on eBird. When I add new checklists for the arboretum, all I have to do is indicate the location by name and eBird fills in the details.
Next eBird presents you with a checklist of birds for the area. So, you will see a different list for a Maine location compared to an Arizona or Galápagos location. You can just scroll down through the checklist and either check-off or give the actual number of birds seen on a trip. Punch submit and the checklist is part of the eBird database.
Every eBird registrant has a “My eBird” page. eBird goes through all of your sightings and prepares lists of your birds. You can see your life list, year list, month list as well as lists by region of the world, country, state and even county. You can sign up for an email alert (daily or hourly) that will send you reports of, for instance, birds in Maine that you have not seen.
Even if don’t submit your checklists, you can use eBird to learn of recent sightings. Just set up a page at igoogle.com. Click on the Add Gadgets link and search for eBird. At least three different gadgets are available for download, each customizable to a particular state. Everytime you visit your iGoogle page, you will see a listing of unusual birds with a link to a map of the sighting.
[First published on October 20, 2011]