Thursday, April 1, 2010

eBird and Me @ 18 Months

Please bear with me if you are a reader or first time visitor who came across this post looking for photos. This post is a bit of a recap of a birding tool that I rely on constantly, and some of the cool things that can be done with personal data as it begins to accumulate.

That birding tool, one that more and more birders are using, is eBird. eBird is a sightings database developed and maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I was a bit surprised a few days back to realize just how few birders are aware of eBird, or are perhaps intimidated by it. I cannot emphasize just how critical this tool is to my birding activity, and to my development as a birder. Hopefully what follows will encourage you to check it out if you have not already done so... or more likely if you are a blog reading birder, have already checked it out and have fallen out of the habit of entering count results.

First a bit of background about my birding, how eBird became so critical to me, and why this topic came up for me on this first day of April. I can write with certainty that my 'official' birding birthday is October 20th. Specifically it was October 20th, 2008. While I remember that first solo bird walk clearly, that is a story for a different post. What is more germane to this topic was that I happened to document those first species I identified on my walk in my brand new eBird account.

I had been exposed to wildlife and bird watching as a kid. I had even used a field guide and made a few attempts at keeping a list. However, I have a big problem with keeping paper records. Until the arrival of online banking my checkbook register was a constant mess, and I had a reason to keep that straight for most of my life. Imagine how well I fared trying to keep a bird checklist on paper over the years. My few attempts were years apart, and all were restarted when 'the' list had gone missing in the interim.

As I was spending a bit of time online attempting to identify my trigger bird, I came across and quickly created my account. It was the answer to my paper management crisis - a site that I could always return to where my sightings would be preserved and available for updates or reference without having to manage and keep a physical list. Just like online banking it made all the difference for me.

So now, 18 months later, I have amassed my own growing data set. While I am not a professional researcher I am always finding new ways to manipulate this data and get new looks at my lists. For this post I am going to explore a couple of the results from "My Summary Tables" under the "view and explore data" section of eBrid.

To start I pulled my results from the past month:

The screenshot shows the top of the report. Below the summary is a list of species, showing which of the five day periods each was seen in. The report details give me my total number of species and checklists submitted, all the locations I reported from (these are selected when configuring the report by selecting the first location, then scrolling to the bottom and selecting the last while holding 'shift' in windows). The summary breaks the month into five day periods and helps to give me a feel for how the month broke down.

To compare those results I pulled up my list from last March:

With a full year under my belt my numbers have increased as expected. I can quickly see that my most productive period in March '09 was from the 11th to the 15th. With that information I select March '09 from my blog archives, and find that on the 14th I had participated in my first Denver Field Ornithologists field trip. That accounted for a good spike in my species total for that period. Even if I didn't have a handy blog with color photographs to flip back to I could still have pulled up my checklists for that period. That would have let me review my sightings and notes all from within eBird.
That is not all the "My_Summary_Tables" has to offer though. Here is a capture of the first query configuration screen:

Very straightforward. Just select the range of report and a start date, it does the rest. One nit that I have is that there is no option to create a date range report. I would like to be able to compare my year to date species totals with the total I had for the same range in previous years, but have not been able to do so in an easy manner yet. Who knows, perhaps that functionality will come along at some time in the future.
Here is the year view for my first calendar year, 2008. I had 44 checklists and 79 species in three calendar months of counting. It was a good start, and as the summary shows things really heated up in December when I participated in my first two Christmas Bird Counts.

With last year's results I have my first opportunity to look at a year in total. At a glance I can tell that things are about to heat up big time. Last year I had a big month in April that was boosted by a road trip across Nebraska and into Iowa. This year the family is coming out to Colorado, so I already know that I will have to work for similar totals this month.

Even without a long trip planned during migration I am happy with the first quarter of 2010. I have had the chance to see a Snowy Owl, several Barrow's Goldeneyes, a Harris's Sparrow and a Golden-crowned Sparrow already this year, and can't wait to see what surprises await in the next three quarters.

If you haven't already done so, or if it has been a while, be sure to check out eBird soon. There are a variety of new features that will make the birding you do, and the birding you've done all the more enjoyable. All the while contributing to the larger pool of knowledge that is available to the public about birds in the United States and Canada.


  1. I like many things about eBird, but I HATE one thing: that you can't mass-enter past observations to "catch up" ones lifelist on eBird. So, for example, I have many birds that show up daily in my needs list that aren't truly needs. I've written to them about it, and received a polite reply that they're thinking about it.

  2. That seems understandable, for me eBird was there just as I started birding, so a non-issue. I guess we all hope that the development cycles will continue, as they seem to be. For a free-to-use acadmeic tool I have seen a pretty consistent update cycle, so keep checking for an option to do as you indicated, it may be ccoming. From my experience in IT I would imagine that with the recent release of the myAlerts that they are just learning about some of the new implications.