Atlasing Resolutions

By NZ Bird Atlas Team January 1, 2021
Red-breasted Dotterel Charadrius obscurus

To date the New Zealand Bird Atlas has received over 97,000 complete eBird checklists, which were part of the more than 9.7 million complete checklists submitted globally to eBird this year. Whether you’re seeing common birds or endangered species, the Atlas and eBird thrives on the enthusiasm and engagement of dedicated participants who make Atlasing part of their regular birding activities. We cannot thank you enough for your involvement this year. There is still a lot to be done, and plenty of undersurveyed areas, but that excites us and we hope it does you too!

In 2021, the eBird team and the NZ Bird Atlas team challenge you to bird more: submit at least one checklist a day for the entire year! At the end of the year, the eBird team will select three winners from across the globe who submitted at least 365 eligible checklists in 2021. Each winner will receive a pair of Zeiss Terra ED 8 x 42 binoculars! So by continuing to contribute to the Atlas you could be in to win a swanky new pair of binoculars! Find out more here.

So what about making 2021 the year you start Atlasing everyday of the year, rain or shine?!

This may seem like a really hard challenge, but with eBird Mobile in your pocket, submitting checklists from anywhere is easier than ever. Don’t have a smartphone? That’s OK! Trusty notebooks still work and can be transcribed once you get home. Going forward, eBird Mobile will really speed up your data entry because you record your new sightings right there in the field—no transcribing needed leaving you more time to bird or relax!

Atlasing doesn’t have to be day-long endeavours into the far reaches of the bush (although this is encouraged!). Many Atlasers submit checklists from short counts in their garden, over lunchtime walks, or when visiting friends/family. The Atlas, and eBird welcomes short counts from anywhere, so even a count in a car park, or quick survey from your doorstep will help you qualify (and contribute valuable data). In fact, urban and suburban habitats tend to be underrepresented in eBird data, so these checklists can be particularly valuable.

What about setting yourself a personal challenge, or targeting new areas? Below are a few ideas for how to meet the challenge and have fun doing it.



Whether you are a new or a longtime Atlaser/eBirder, you may be thinking about what new challenge to take on in 2021 to keep yourself engaged. Setting personal goals and competing against yourself or others is one of the best ways to improve your birding skills and to stay engaged with the Atlas and birding. Here are some of our favorite challenge ideas for 2021:

Find Undersurveyed Areas

Wanting to find areas that need more Atlasing effort quickly? Or even finding new areas you’ve never birded before? There are a range of ways you can tease out areas to increase Atlas effort and find new spots for some Atlasing adventures. Many of these tools can be found within the Explore tab on the Atlas portal, and can be simply checking the Effort Map for grid squares that have no effort in. You can go further and look for areas with low number of species detected, or a low number of checklists submitted, or even better a low number of Nocturnal Effort hours. Below shows how simply scrolling through the four available options in the dropdown menu allow you to see an array of areas that need extra ‘Summer’ effort in one spot in Canterbury.

You can explore Atlas regions to see how many grid squares have data so far, recent visits or even look at districts within that region. For example, below in the Auckland region we can look at the city districts and see where effort hours are lowest. We could then tailor our Atlasing to go into these areas, such as the Papakura District, more frequently to help bump up those effort hours and contribute valuable time there.

Ultimately we want to start exploring these back blocks that are undersurveyed far more over the coming years to really fill in those gaps. Intentionally searching for these areas is easy using the plethora of tools available as well as through setting Atlas goals.

Atlas Target Species

One area where eBird really excels is showing you where to find birds, particularly those you need for the Atlas or even your Life List. In the Explore tab select Atlas Target Species and you’ll be able to then tailor your search to New Zealand, or a specific region. Whats more is you can tailor the time range, to look at seasonal ranges using the ‘Custom’ data function. Below shows Atlas Target Species in Wellington Year Round.

You can then click on the ‘Map’ symbol to the right of a species, and eBird will generate a species map that shows you exactly where other Atlasers have observed that species you need. So you can then go and explore to hopefully detect that species yourself too, and add it to not only your personal observations but also the Atlas dataset (as part of a complete checklist with accurate abundances!).

Some of the eBird Explore Data tools are now available on eBird Mobile to help you find new bird species—whether they’re new for your home, your region, or your entire life. The free Merlin Bird ID app can help you identify unfamiliar birds, as well as show you what likely birds you could encounter near you, so you can add even more new species to your lists! As you can see there are heaps of options available at your fingertips just waiting to help your Atlasing experience!

Year listing

Keeping a year list is one of the great pleasures of birding. Year lists are a fantastic New Year’s Resolution commitment to keep Atlasing. You could try a year list for your region or the whole of Aotearoa, but you might find that keeping a year list for your home or patch is an even more fun personal challenge. The smaller the area, the better you’ll get to know it— which makes adding new species all the more exciting!

As the year progresses, year lists become about strategy: how to find species that have eluded you thus far and beat your previous years’ species totals.

eBirding over time charts, available on the My eBird and eBird Mobile, help you track your end-of-year totals and see whether your current progress is ahead of last year’s total on the same date. Below shows the fact that the 31 December total is 8 species ahead of 2019’s total, but can you find more in 2021? Only one way to find out; time to go Atlasing!

Invariably, year lists are full of fun surprises and unexpected successes. Your year list for Aotearoa, your region, patch, or your yard can be easily tracked with your Sightings Lists, the Yard/Patch tools, or eBird Mobile.

Climb the Top 100

Fancy competing against others as well as yourself? The Top 100’s reflect the accomplishments of individual birders in eBird, and they can be a great tool to inspire or motivate yourself to get out and find more birds, explore new grid squares or submit more complete checklists. The Atlas Top 100 is constantly updating as Atlasers go out and submit their observations. You can look at your region or indeed the whole of the country, and see how your efforts compare with the rest of the Atlas community!

Adopt a Patch

Anyone can create a patch; think of it as any park, walking loop, or birding area that you like to visit on a regular basis. Start tracking the number of complete checklists you submit and see if you can beat your previous year’s checklist or species totals. Select your patch in eBird to quickly access your stats. Best of all, check out the bar chart for your patch. Does your existing patch have gaps in the bar chart? Fill in those blanks!

Help create an Illustrated Checklist

Check out the Illustrated Checklist for your region, city, town, favorite local hotspot or even the whole of NZ! Can you fill in any missing photos or add audio? Can you improve upon existing ones? Audio recordings tend to be underrepresented in many places, so a good audio cut, even with your phone can help fill a gap.

With a single click, you can check for gaps and plan your goals for 2021. For example, Wellington has 200 species listed, however if you click the two rightmost numbers at the top of the page you can see that 72 species need photos and 160 need audio in that region. By spreading out our photo and audio coverage, the Macaulay Library will become even more powerful to assess how bird plumages, songs, moult, etc. vary across Aotearoa and the planet. Below shows Dunedin, which has 52 species in need of photos, and 141 in need of audio – could you help out and fill in these gaps? Remember to submit your photos/audio as part of complete checklists with accurate abundances!

Take the “Checklist a Day” challenge

Try stepping up to the ultimate challenge for an eBirder! This year’s global eBird “Checklist a Day” challenge will draw a winner from among those global eBirders who submit an average of at least one complete checklist per day in 2021 (i.e., 365 lists total for 2021). The eBird homepage helps track your “Checklist Streak” – we challenge you to go even futher and try for 365 consecutive days (not required for the challenge, but fun to try!). Try to get in the habit of doing at least one short count in your yard every day— even a five-minute count helps keep a pulse on the birds coming and going throughout the year from a location that only you can survey.

Find a new Grid Square

Tired of submitting checklists from your home grid square? Use the Effort Map to select a handful of new Grid Squares to go and explore over the season or year! You can quickly find one that is either neighbouring your home grid square, along the local river, or even at a campsite you know you’re going to be visiting this season/year. We’re always encouraging Atlasers to find new grid squares to explore and submit checklists in, especially those that are undersurveyed. You can quickly gauge which squares have no, or very little effort in from the Effort Map, and can then plan an exciting Atlasing trip knowing that you may well be the first to colour in that square for the season or even the Atlas project!

Count birds at home

Bird observations from home can be some of the most valuable eBird checklists you create, because the only person to count those birds may be YOU!  Consider doing one checklist each morning (or afternoon) in your yard or garden, balcony, or sat on the front step. Or make a daily checklist part of your morning routine: these could be “sipping my coffee” counts or “walking the dog” counts. These counts will become more rewarding as you watch your home birding list grow over the course of the year. How many species can you find at home in 2021?

A fun way to explore your home birding is with bar charts: just go to Explore, click “Bar Charts”, and then use the “My Locations” list to select your home location. If you have multiple locations at your residence, add them to an ‘official’ eBird Yard to create a single bar chart for all your home birding data.

If you submit a checklist a day, after 365 days the bar chart will show the comings and goings of birds throughout the year. Change the bar chart date range to include even more past sightings. You’ll be amazed to see what pops up over the year!

Take Atlasing Breaks

Whether you take a lunch break, coffee break, or a “stretch your legs” break— turn it into a dedicated ‘Atlasing Break’! Atlasing Breaks could be a quick survey of a nearby park, a roadside stop, or checking for waterfowl on a local lake. Even a short, 5-10 minute count of birds outside your office, or sat at a cafe can benefit you, the Atlas dataset and the birds we all care about. Find your breaktime patch and commit to it during your workdays to help meet the challenge and build great datasets.

Impromptu counts

Are you usually “out and about” during the day? Shake things up and pick a different eBird spot every day! Maybe there are a few places—parks, ponds, open areas, or forests—that you can cycle through in your weekly routine. Stop wherever you please for your quick daily count: the Atlas, and eBird welcomes the variety and it may help keep it fun for you. Submitting a checklist a day can become a great daily habit that rapidly improves your birding as well as contributing to the Atlas dataset.

Birding after dark

If the sun has set and you still haven’t submitted your daily list, don’t worry it isn’t too late! We’d encourage Atlasers to submit a nocturnal count. Nocturnal counts are valuable (and often underrepresented as we bird during the day), as they help us understand where and when Atlasers are finding Morepork, Little Owl, Kiwi, and other species active at night. However, it is easy to get ‘skunked’ (i.e., find no birds at all) on nocturnal counts. This is absolutely OK— lists with zero species are still welcomed as they help show what isn’t being detected. We recommend that you add some checklist notes indicating that you tried for birds and found none.

Every bird counts!

Your consecutive eBirding streak is prominently displayed on your home dashboard. If you want the ultimate challenge (not required for this contest) see if you can really maintain a checklist-a-day for an entire year— or even longer! Your daily efforts may not always tally a lot of birds, but remember that as long as you are searching your hardest, complete checklists with accurate abundances for all species, whether from busy streets, on bad weather days, or at night all qualify and all contribute valuable insights.

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 effort tends to be concentrated around birding hotspots, rare birds, and certain types of habitats. If Atlasers commit to following our guidelines and participate in the “Checklist-a-day” challenge, it’ll go a long way towards filling in the gaps in the Atlas Effort Map.

Simply submit eligible checklists to be entered, that’s it! Eligible checklists need to be complete checklists (reporting all species) with counts of birds (i.e., no Xs). We recommend counts of at least five to ten minutes to make sure you have time to actually look for birds around you. Read our guidelines for other ways to increase the scientific value of your Atlasing and birding in general.

Happy New Years from the Atlas Team

The Atlas team all have their own New Year’s Resolutions for 2021, including venturing into more of the undersurveyed areas that have yet to receive data. In addition to our personal Atlasing goals, we continue to remain commited to support all of the Atlas community, to help engage and inspire more Atlasers and try to highlight the best and most fun aspects of Atlasing through challenges, workshops and online webinars. We want you to feel supported throughout.

As part of a national team of Atlasers, your birding through eBird grows into much more; a chance to share your sightings with others, a way to bolster a worldwide appreciation for birds, and to contribute to new science and important conservation work here in Aotearoa. The Atlas project would not work without your time and efforts, so we wish to say a huge thank you for all that you do – it doesn’t go unnoticed!

If you need any help or have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to get in touch via the ‘Contact the Atlas Team‘ tab on the main Atlas eBird Portal page. We’re off to get our first bit of Atlasing in for 2021 – see you out there and all the best for the new year!

Kea | Nestor notabilis  © Dan Burgin / Macaulay Library

This article has been adapted from the original Team eBird article here.