eBird Mobile for Android took a big step forward this week: the ability to keep ‘tracks’ of where you eBird. Every time you start a checklist on eBird Android, you now have the option to keep a GPS track of where you walk for your traveling counts. The ‘tracks’ automatically calculate the distance traveled and time spent eBirding—all you have to do is watch birds! This is an important new chapter in eBird, opening the door for many exciting new future tools: improved research that can use the actual path you birded, eBird data outputs that can show the precise path of any given checklist, and much more. Plus, it makes your birding even easier. Try eBird Android today.
One of the most important benefits of tracks is the ability to truly understand where you were birding on a given checklist. With each tracks checklist, eBird will record the location and distance (as for all eBird lists), but also the precise GPS track. This will make a real difference for habitat associations when generating STEM models, as well as other future eBird tools. Future hotspots could be polygon-based, aggregating all of the checklists that fall within that polygon. Or when visiting a hotspot for the first time, you could pull up recent checklists and see exactly where eBirders have been on the trails. All this and more is possible in the coming years.
Here are a couple questions that we’ve gotten from the beta testers that we wanted to make sure are clear to everyone.
Distance within eBird should be the distance you covered along a trail, road or water body, whether on foot, bike, car, kayak, elephant or some more novel means of moving across the landscape. If you cover the same section of trail out-and-back we encourage you to submit a checklist for the trip in, and another for the trip out. This will provide us with extremely valuable information how detectable different species are under different conditions. Shorter distance checklists are strongly preferred, ideally 1 kilometer or less, but do your best to keep it under 8 kilometers (5 miles).
If you want to submit a single checklist for out and back, only report the one-way distance. You should only record the distance traveling in one direction, but you should record the total time you spent traveling both out and back on the trail as long as it’s on one checklist. Only record birds on the return trip if you suspect that they are new. Be conservative!
The most accurate way to report your location is using eBird Android, which automatically records a track of your travel and the distance you covered. Please check the track before submitting. If you notice that the track made errors in terms of jumping around off of the route you walked, do your best to reduce the total distance to what you actually covered. If you do submit a single checklist for a trail that is out-and-back, we encourage you to reduce the checklist distance to only the one-way distance. This is a recommended best practice to remain consistent with how out-and-back distances are gathered on non-track lists.
Depending on your device, you might notice that the tracks that you collect are zigzagging more than you actually traveled. We went through a several-month testing period for this release, and every case where we found the GPS-generated tracks were highly inaccurate, it was due to the device rather than the app. To test this, try another tracking app on your Android device (like Strava), and see if the tracks are still ‘messy’ there. If so, then it’s inherent to the device rather than the app. With more than 12,000 Android devices, the quality of GPS hardware between and within device types means that GPS tracking doesn’t work on every Android device.
You can view the track on your device before submission by tapping on the distance and elapsed time on the checklist page, or on the map icon on the Review & Submit page. For this first release, it is not possible to view tracks on your submitted checklists on ebird.org, but rest assured that they’re being stored in the database.
We’ll be developing the parallel functionality for eBird iOS in the coming weeks and months. If you’re interested in testing tracks on iOS before it’s publicly available, consider becoming an eBird Beta Tester through the eBird Partner program. We may be testing iOS tracks as soon as the next couple weeks.