News & Features

2017 Checklist-a-day Challenge

Rock Pigeon, by Richard Taylor, Macaulay Library, Cornell Lab or Ornithology

In 2016, eBird received more than 3.75 million complete checklists from your birding efforts. eBird thrives on the enthusiasm and engagement of tens of thousands of loyal participants worldwide who reliably enter their birding forays in eBird. Our most loyal eBirders go a step beyond, putting in checklists from short yard counts, lunchtime walks, or a quick stop to scan their favorite local patch. Our challenge to you in 2017 is to see if you can submit at least one checklist a day—for the entire year. At the end of the year we will draw three winners from among those who submitted at least 365 eligible checklists in 2017. Pennsylvania has truly been a leader in eBird records. Our state’s birders contribute more trips than some countries do. In 2016, eBird gathered 2,079,729 observations in Pennsylvania, on 158,460 checklists submitted by 6,229 eBirders. With a little more activity at places where few checklists are submitted, this contribution could be even greater. Even relatively rare species like Short-eared Owl and Northern Harrier can be picked up with a well-timed visit to good habitat.
Read more below.

This challenge may be, well, challenging, but with eBird Mobile in your hand, submitting checklists from anywhere is easier than ever. Don’t have a smartphone? That’s OK. Old-fashioned trusty notebooks still work, and can be transcribed once you get home. Just make sure to get in the habit of bringing a notebook with you every day. And making the habit of contributing reports for good habitat.

Remember, eBird welcomes short counts from anywhere, so even a parking lot count or quick backyard survey will help you qualify (and contribute welcome data).

Northern Flicker on Staghorn Sumac by Jake Dingel, PGC

Below are a few ideas for how to meet the challenge and have fun doing it.

Yard counts
Consider doing one checklist each morning (or afternoon) in your yard, balcony, or front step. Include your daily checklist in your morning routine: these could be “sipping my coffee”counts or “walking the dog” counts. If you’re better at multitasking than we are then you can even do a “sipping-my-coffee-while-walking-the-dog count.” I am working on a “sitting in the outside hot-tub” and a “checking the mailbox” count including nocturnal hours.

How many species can you find in your yard in 2017?

These counts will become more rewarding as you watch your yard bar chart grow over the course of the year. Anyone can check out their yard bar chart: just go to Explore Data, click “Bar Charts”, and then use the “My Locations” list at the foot of the page to select the location for your yard. You can change the date range and view your bar chart for a single year or for all time. Either way, if you meet the challenge, after 365 days, the bar chart will show migrants coming and going in your yard, changes in detection ratios as singing behavior changes, and will be a wonderful walk down memory lane of your most memorable sightings of the year.

eBird Project leader Marshall Iliff’s yard in Westwood, Massachusetts, was pretty well-surveyed in 2016, but there is a lot of room for improvement in 2017!

Lunch break birding
Do you get a lunch break each day? If so, do eBird counts while you grab a bite to eat and stretch your legs! Lunch break counts could be a quick survey of a local city park, a check of the ducks and gulls on a local lake, or just scanning the sky from your office for raptors and other overhead migrants. Post Office Square is a tiny patch of greenery that is mostly surveyed by eBirders with day jobs in downtown Boston. For such a small urban area, it has had some amazing birds and is the best place in Massachusetts to find Ovenbirds after November 1st (check out the bar chart!). Find your lunchtime patch and commit to it during your workdays to help meet the challenge and help build great datasets like this.

Impromptu Counts
Are you usually “out and about” during the day, either on the go for your job or running errands for the family? Vary it up and pick a different eBird spot each day! Maybe there are a few spots—parks, ponds, open areas, or forests—that you can cycle through in your weekly routine. Stop wherever you please for your quick daily count: eBird welcomes the variety and it may help keep it fun for you. For example, check out this note from Pittsburgh native Ted Floyd about his commitment (since 1 Jan 2007!) to submit a checklist a day and the kinds of habitats he sometimes ends up covering.

Night birding
If it gets to be too dark and you still haven’t submitted your list, consider submitting a nocturnal count. Nocturnal counts are valuable too, as they help us understand where and when eBirders are finding owls, nightjars, and other nocturnal species. However, it is easy to get skunked (i.e., find no birds at all) on nocturnal counts. These are OK, and zero species lists are still welcomed in eBird. We do recommend that you add some checklist notes that confirm for us that you tried for birds and found none.

While long lists and rare species are often the targets for a day of birding, the scientific value of an eBird list is not measured by the quantity or quality of the bird list. In fact, it is often the short counts from undersampled areas that are most valuable. One of the main scientific challenges with understanding eBird data is that it tends to be concentrated around birding hotspots, rare birds, and certain types of habitats. If eBirders commit to the “Checklist a Day” challenge, we’ll help fill in the eBird maps for the blank spaces between eBird hotspots.

Gray phase Eastern Screech-Owl in box by Jacob Dingel

Sometimes all it takes is a short walk down a trail or stopping the car and checking out a good birding spot. It doesn’t take much sometimes but making a point of checking out birds.

Eligible checklists need to be complete checklists (reporting all species) and effort-based (i.e., not the Incidental or Historical protocols), but otherwise there are zero rules. We recommend counts of at least three minutes to make sure you have time to actually look for birds around you.

We are thrilled that Carl Zeiss Sports Optics will be a sponsor for this year-long competition. The exact prizes for winners are yet to be determined, but at minimum the winner will receive a ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binocular or an equivalent model.

Carl Zeiss Sports Optics is a proven leader in sports optics and is the official optics sponsor for eBird. “Carl Zeiss feels strongly that by partnering with the Cornell Lab we can provide meaningful support for their ability to carry out their research, conservation, and education work around the world,” says Mike Jensen, President of Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, North America. “The Cornell Lab is making a difference for birds, and from the highest levels of our company we’re committed to promoting birding and the Lab’s work, so there’s a great collaboration. eBird is a truly unique and synergistic portal between the Lab and birders, and we welcome the opportunity to support them both.”

Fox Sparrow by Jake Dingel