News & Features

The Pacific Northwest eBird and Avian Knowledge Network Partnership

Bird conservation partners in the Pacific Northwest are meeting North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) priorities for bird monitoring and citizen engagement by developing and synchronizing a regional eBird portal and a regional Avian Knowledge Network (AKN) node. Together, eBird Northwest and Avian Knowledge Northwest are being designed to meet the following objectives, presented in the U.S. NABCI Committee’s publication, Opportunities for Improving Avian Monitoring:

  • Integrate monitoring into bird management and conservation practices,
  • Coordinate monitoring programs among organizations, and
  • Maintain monitoring data in modern data management systems for more effective data delivery.

While meeting these objectives, this AKN-eBird collaborative will also engage citizen scientists as a broad and supportive constituency for bird conservation, which is also a priority for NABCI.

What are the Avian Knowledge Network and eBird and how do they relate?

The Avian Knowledge Network is a partnership of people, institutions, and government agencies supporting the conservation of birds and their habitats. The AKN’s model is based on data, the adaptive management paradigm, and best available science. AKN partners are working to improve access to and use and awareness of bird data, information, and tools at scales ranging from individual locations to administrative regions (e.g., management areas, states, countries) and species ranges.

eBird is a real-time, online checklist program that is revolutionizing the way the birding community reports and accesses information about birds. eBird is a fast growing contributor of bird observation data to the Avian Knowledge Network. Together, eBird and AKN offer modern solutions for data capture, management, and delivery in support of bird conservation.

eBird and the Avian Knowledge Network in the Pacific Northwest

The Avian Knowledge Network is organized into partnerships centered on nodes. The regional Avian Knowledge Northwest node (www.AvianKnowledgeNorthwest.net) provides information from current and comprehensive datasets on birds and the environment for scientists, natural resource managers, and other individuals interested in conservation science in the Pacific Northwest.

Like the Avian Knowledge Network, eBird also includes regional nodes or portals. A new eBird portal, eBird Northwest (www.ebird.org/nw), is being developed in synergy with Avian Knowledge Northwest. This new synchronous model is being developed to enlist birders into citizen science projects that are focused on filling specific regional information gaps identified by natural resource managers who are working to meet bird conservation priorities. By encouraging birders to contribute data, this unique AKN-eBird prototype is further engaging citizens as supporters of science-driven conservation and natural resource management.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Region (USFWS) recognize that wildlife conservation objectives cannot be achieved without considerable public support, including the assistance of citizen science volunteers. These agencies are using eBird Northwest to promote specific citizen science projects that are designed to generate credible scientific data that meet the agencies’ particular information needs.

For instance, WDFW is developing an ecological integrity monitoring program for its state wildlife areas, which is engaging birders through eBird Northwest to achieve a critical element of its State Wildlife Action Plan. This element includes using WDFW’s database to map and track priority species distribution changes over time. Data collected by citizen scientists is now being integrated through eBird Northwest, making these maps even more comprehensive. Using an Ecological Integrity Assessment method, the state agency is measuring the current ecological integrity on WDFW managed lands through a standardized and repeatable assessment of current ecological conditions. One such measure of integrity is bird species occurrence at specific sites relative to that species’ natural distribution. eBird Hotspots created on state wildlife areas allow eBirders to contribute records that will be summarized as part of the agency’s integrity indices. In this way, the eBird portal directs the birding community to these sites to report their observations, strengthening the agency’s ecological integrity monitoring program.

WDFW is also partnering with Audubon Washington on a project to assess the current distribution of sagebrush-obligate passerines in eastern Washington. Local Audubon chapters are engaging in the project through chapter volunteers, who are participating in training on bird identification, survey protocols, and data entry using eBird. The eBird Northwest Portal, which links to this project’s website and eBird data entry page, is providing a means for recruiting volunteers to participate in these surveys, as well as a forum to report project results to
participants and to the wider birding community. By engaging avid birders and conservationists in collecting data within their own local areas, the project is developing a framework for long -term monitoring sagebrush-obligate species of conservation concern into the future.

The USFWS is harnessing eBird data, such as those entered through eBird Northwest, to meet inventory and monitoring needs on national wildlife refuges. As part of National Wildlife Refuge Week, the Service has partnered with the American Birding Association and issued an eBird challenge, which encourages all birders to visit their local refuges, submit eBird checklists, and share photos on a special Facebook page. A new Avian Knowledge Network histogram tool now combines this influx of eBird data with other AKN datasets, providing information about the year-round occurrence of birds. The tool allows users to select one or more species and a national wildlife refuge to generate a visualization illustrating year-round occurrence for the species in the refuge’s county. Such information is strengthening refuge inventory efforts and informing refuge management.

Using Technology to Engage Citizens in Support of Science-based Conservation

WDFW, USFWS, and many other partners recognize eBird as a powerful way to connect the birding community with both the conservation of species of greatest need and concern and efforts to keep common birds common. By integrating eBird Northwest with Avian Knowledge Northwest, these partners foresee added benefits for the kind of science-driven conservation that is central to their roles within NABCI to promote all bird conservation.

By participating in eBird Northwest’s citizen science programs, which are designed to meet specific regional information needs, the public’s sense of investment in public lands conservation should grow, resulting in stronger expectations and accountability for government conservation programs. Such investments of personal time and resources by engaged citizens may then lead to growing public support for establishing substantial and reliable funding for science-driven conservation. These opportunities also connect NGOs with citizens, who then may become stronger supporters of these organizations’ science and conservation programs.

By integrating eBird Northwest and Avian Knowledge Northwest, conservation partners in the Pacific Northwest are harnessing state-of-the-art, 21st century data technologies to meet NABCI’s critical objectives for monitoring, data management and accessibility, and science-driven conservation and management. Federal and state agency partners are using these technologies to further engage the public in protecting and restoring native bird populations and their habitats, which ultimately may lead not only to healthier environmental conditions for birds but also greater public support for their conservation.

Article written by John D. Alexander, Executive Director, Klamath Bird Observatory and Eric Gardner, Wildlife Diversity Division Manager, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. For more information, contact John Alexander at jda AT klamathbird.org or Eric Gardner at eric.gardner AT dfw.wa.gov. This article first appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of the All-Bird Bulletin, produced by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative.