Latest News

Sensitive Species in eBird

In Argentina, Yellow Cardinals are heavily impacted by targeted human exploitation. Photo by Chris Wood/Macaulay Library.

Bird populations are at risk all around the world. As of 2015, BirdLife International assessed that 13% of bird species are threatened with extinction. eBird collects site-specific data on these birds—as well as the other 9500 bird species in the world—and this is a great benefit to birders, researchers, and conservationists around the world. We cannot protect the species we care about without knowing where and when they occur. However, these site-level data can also put certain species at incredible risk. Fine-scale site information can be used by hunters and trappers to target certain species. eBird has a responsibility to protect the specific locations of these species so that the data are not used to exploit these birds. Our new Sensitive Species initiative provides this protection.

For example, the Critically Endangered Helmeted Hornbill is hunted and killed so that its bill can be carved like ivory. Parrots have long been exploited for the pet trade, with a couple species (e.g., Glaucous Macaw) already extinct, or nearly so, as a result of overexploitation. Some falcons are similarly trapped in the wild for the falconry trade, contributing to population declines.

Bird trapping for the cage bird market happens in many areas, and is especially pronounced in parts of Southeast Asia (e.g., Indonesia). Many people in these areas keep pet birds in their houses or compete in singing competitions, leading to devastating declines in many species. Once common species like Straw-headed Bulbul and Great Green Leafbird have declined drastically in recent years, while others like Bali Myna and Black-winged Starling teeter on the edge of extinction.

For more on this massive problem, please see this short (12 minute) documentary and the Silent Forest website. While songbirds are the primary target, a number of other bird families are also included, with groups like owls growing in popularity for the pet trade.

Many eBirders already routinely obscure, hide, or do not report certain species of owls, grouse, and other birds. These eBirders are concerned about disturbance or harassment and have the best interest of the birds in mind, and we applaud their conscientiousness. Unfortunately this also meant the data were not available for science. We know of thousands of individual birds that have been left off of checklists or hidden from research outputs due to sensitivity. By treating these species as Sensitive Species, birders now can report these birds at accurate locations without fear that the birds will be harassed or disturbed in ways that place them at risk.

eBIRD SENSITIVE SPECIES LIST AND CRITERIA

Our Sensitive Species criteria are explained in detail in our Sensitive Species page on eBird. In general, species with very small populations or showing significant population declines are treated as Sensitive Species if there is clear evidence that targeted hunting, trapping, or disturbance places those species at risk. Species declining due to other non-targeted human activities—including threats from habitat destruction, introduced species, or even subsistence hunting—are not included as Sensitive Species since site-specific eBird data does not place these species at risk.

Sensitive Species may be set in eBird at a global level, regional level (e.g., Indonesia only), or at a seasonal level (e.g., only in breeding season). For example, Java Sparrow is treated as Sensitive in its native range but not in areas where it has been Introduced and naturalized, such as Puerto Rico.

eBird’s Sensitive Species list will evolve over time and species may be added or removed as new threats are highlighted or as populations recover. Please see our Sensitive Species List to understand the species that are included and the threats that these birds face.

Protecting these species in eBird does not prevent the locations from being discussed elsewhere on the Internet. We do hope that users who see the “Sensitive” flag will be cautious about their reporting elsewhere, including listservs, Facebook, photo sharing websites, and other public forums. We know for a fact that wildlife poachers use these tools to target species of interest, so please keep this in mind and be very careful about sharing Sensitive Species information.

eBIRD OUTPUT

Below we explain how species on eBird’s Sensitive Species list are treated in eBird output. Broad scale information on Sensitive Species is generally available (e.g., reports at the county level or above), but hotspot or other site-specific output is not.

Checklist view – When viewing a checklist in eBird (e.g., http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S32176172), Sensitive Species are not shown in the public view of the checklist and the species total is recalculated to remove Sensitive Species from the total. If you are the observer (this includes anyone with whom the checklist is shared) then you will see the species, with a clearly marked “Sensitive” icon.

 

Sensitive species are marked on your checklist when you’re viewing it, and hidden from public views. Click the “Sensitive” icon for more information.

My eBird lists – All species you report always appear on all your personal lists in My eBird, including Sensitive Species.

Range maps – Range maps summarize Sensitive Species at the 100×100 km and 20×20 km grid cell level. As you zoom in, points for Sensitive Species are not shown. A note at the bottom of the page clarifies whether all sightings are obscured or certain sightings only.

Alerts – Sensitive Species are not included in eBird Alerts.

Region Explorer, Illustrated Checklist, Bar Charts, and Line Graphs – Sensitive Species appear in all outputs at the county, state, region, or country level, but are not included in output for a hotspot or other specific location. Checklist links for Sensitive Species do not appear on Region Explorer and Illustrated Checklist pages and the sightings are clearly marked as Sensitive and may be listed in a special grouping at the bottom of the page.

When exploring counties or larger regions, Sensitive Species recorded in the area appear in the list but precise locations, dates, and observer name are not shown.

Hotspot Explorer and other hotspot output (bar charts, line graphs etc.) – Sensitive Species reported from hotspots will not be shown in public output and will be removed from species totals for the hotspot.

Firsts/Lasts/High Counts– Sensitive Species are not shown in these tools.

Media Search and Media Specimen Pages – Images and audio recordings of Sensitive Species will appear in searches at the county level or above. Specific location information and checklist links are removed. Camera metadata cannot be accessed for these images.

Profile Page, Top 100, and Yard/Patch – Your totals accurately reflect your species total for the region (including Sensitive Species). However, if your “most recent addition” is a Sensitive Species eBird instead shows the most recent non-Sensitive addition to your lists.

Targets – Sensitive Species appear on Targets lists (which are restricted to county-level or above).

eBird review – eBird reviewers may still follow up to verify reports of Sensitive Species. Reviewers are required to be discrete about these reports, while the review process ensures that the data can still be useful for science.

Science and Conservation – Data on Sensitive Species are still provided to the scientific and conservation communities working to understand and protect these species. We vet each request to ensure the data are used responsibly.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Thanks to all eBirders for understanding that the safety of the birds is paramount. Please do try to be discrete with reports of species that are marked “Sensitive” in eBird—even posts to Facebook, Twitter, or photo-sharing websites can place these birds at risk.

While these developments are automatically applied to certain species (sometimes just in certain areas or seasons), there may be other scenarios where an eBirder wishes not to report a sighting publicly. Please see our article on Not publicizing observations for more on these options.