Connecting regional Citizen Science projects with eBird

By Graham Sorenson November 27, 2018
Counting Iceland Gulls in Little Qualicum IBA by David Bradley

Contributing your birding data to eBird is a great way to support research and conservation efforts for birds. Checklists submitted to eBird provide valuable information about species ranges, timing of migration, and general estimates on population size/trends. Citizen Science projects such as eBird rely on people reporting data whenever they are out birding. However, general birding data are not always enough to answer scientific questions in a rigorous manner. 

In order to determine the population of waterbirds in an entire region, or to estimate trends in a species’ population, for example, specialized protocols are important. Protocols ensure that observers are using standardized counting techniques, counting at the same time to avoid double counting, and reporting their data in a consistent way. These types of standardized Citizen Science protocols, like those used for the Christmas Bird Count, allow accurate estimates over a larger region than a single checklist or observer can cover.

Many birders (myself included) are interested in reporting all the birds they see to eBird. Specialized Citizen Science protocols that allow easy data submission to both the survey organizer and to eBird are thus a great way to interest eBirders in joining specific bird monitoring projects. The integration of eBird and specific survey protocols also automatically connects local or regional Citizen Science programs with the national and international database of eBird. 

Harlequin Duck by Tom Middleton

A great example of a long-term volunteer-based survey protocol that is now integrated with eBird is the British Columbia Coastal Waterbird Survey (BCCWS). The BCCWS is a long-term monitoring program along BC’s coast that was established in 1999 by Bird Studies Canada. The count involves monthly counts of waterbirds recorded by local volunteers at specific locations along the coast.  Anyone who can identify coastal waterbird species in their area can participate in the BCCWS. There are currently about 170 sites surveyed by 200-300 volunteers. One great feature of this survey for regular eBird users is your ability to automatically upload your BCCWS data onto eBird after you submit it to Bird Studies Canada’s data portal, NatureCounts.

The goal of this Citizen Science program is to monitor coastal waterbird populations in British Columbia and support their conservation. The coastlines of British Columbia are of international importance for waterbirds, especially during winter when vast numbers of loons, grebes, cormorants, herons, swans, geese, ducks, shorebirds, and gulls can be found feeding and roosting in bays, estuaries, and along the beaches of the BC coast. With the coastlines of BC under increasing pressure from development and human population expansion, long-term data on the abundance and distribution of waterbird species enable us to track changes in waterbird populations, distribution, and habitat use. The long-term data advance our understanding of the ecology and effects of human activity on coastal waterbirds. Data collected through the BC Coastal Waterbird Survey also provide baseline information that is valuable for understanding the impacts of disasters such as oil spills. The protocol guidelines are designed to be scientifically defensible and are meant to assist volunteers and encourage consistency among volunteers and survey sites. 

You can visit the BC Coastal Waterbird Survey webpage to learn more, and contact Bird Studies Canada in BC at if you are interested in joining. Bird Studies Canada’s Citizen Science projects offer a great way to contribute your regular birding efforts to long-term monitoring projects. Bird Studies Canada has programs across much of the country – explore them with this Volunteer Programs Map.