eBird media upload is here!

By eBird India November 2, 2015

Ibisbill, photographed by Prashant Kumar on 31 Oct, near Ramnagar, Uttarakhand, and added to his checklist using the new media upload facility.

All of us spend a lot of time searching for birds by sight and sound. And increasingly birders are carrying cameras into the field and recording bird sounds using smartphones. Now we all can create more enjoyable and meaningful lists than before by using a simple drag-and-drop process to upload your photos and sounds directly into our eBird checklists! This not only provides documentation for our bird records, but also creates a visual and audio tapestry of what we have encountered in the field, that can then be easily shared with others.

This new feature in eBird builds on the long-term curation and archival capabilities of the Macaulay Library. The result is a scientific foundation and a streamlined process for collecting rich media that provides a long-term, open data resource searchable by birders and scientists alike—a real-time, digital natural history collection.

The Big Picture
While the ability to drag and drop rich media into your eBird checklists is fun, it is also significant in other ways:

  • It creates a permanent home for documentation associated with eBird records at the Macaulay Library. Photos, audio recordings, and video are an integral part of eBird’s data quality process, streamlining review by allowing for quicker validation of records when you can quickly check media. However, this process works only if the media are safely and securely linked to a checklist. eBird has historically relied upon external sites that allowed users to “embed” images in eBird checklists. While these other sites provide great services, their goals differ from those of a permanent archive. The aim is to ensure that eBird services are long-term, reliable resources for documenting avian diversity, focused on the needs of the birding, research, and conservation communities.
  • It enables eBirders to become a richer source of real-time information and knowledge about birds in our world. Beyond the distribution and abundance information that eBird already provides, this global, digital natural history collection will provide a resource that can be used to address current challenges in natural history research and science. Built with an eye toward the future, the idea is to answer questions and address research challenges that lie just beyond the horizon.
  • So we now have the opportunity to expand the definition of collection and archival of bird specimens. In most contexts, “collecting” and “specimen” call to mind physical specimens, which do play a critical role in modern research. As new technologies and insights have made physical specimens more useful than ever, there are likely to be similar discoveries with digital specimens using techniques that have not yet been developed. With this new tool, anyone in the world will be able to go out with a camera, microphone, or even just a mobile phone, and contribute to the global knowledge of birds in a way never before possible.

Exciting tools for eBirders
This influx of thousands of new images each day provides the opportunity to develop some great new media tools for eBirders. The first of these is a “Rarity Feed” (coming soon)—this new feed provides an automatically updated string of worldwide rare bird images.

This rarity feed is the first in a long series of tools to explore media across eBird in fun and engaging ways. To make sure that all of these tools work as well as they can, it is important to understand some guidelines when choosing which photos and sounds to upload to eBird and the Macaulay Library. Please visit these pages for best practices and guidelines for uploading photos and sounds.

Jungle Prinia song, recorded by Dilip KG. See the checklist here.

Jungle Prinia song, recorded by Dilip KG. See the checklist here. Audio files uploaded with this new tool scroll as you play.

What’s Next?
Innovation. Having access to millions of geo-referenced, science-based, bird images offers limitless capabilities for future tools and research. On the tools side of things, two new features are in the pipeline: building a comprehensive “Search” tool that allows you to quickly find the kinds of photos and sounds you’re interested in; and developing eBird/Macaulay profile pages, which will allow you to control the way you are represented in the community, and provide a platform to more easily share your bird observations, photos, and sounds with others.

On the near horizon for research there is an exciting collaboration developing in computer vision. Soon you’ll be able to annotate your images for inclusion in Merlin—an incredibly popular mobile app aimed at teaching birdwatchers how to identify birds. The vision for Merlin is to expand it globally, putting access to bird identification information into the hands of anyone with a mobile device—creating new connections between communities and nature. Over time, these same computer vision modelling techniques that drive Merlin will also aid in automatically detecting incorrectly identified images during upload, and provide instructional feedback to eBirders, thereby improving eBird data quality, and building general knowledge.

European Roller from Mysuru, uploaded by Abhijith APC

European Roller from Mysuru, uploaded by Abhijith APC (see checklist)

Go birding and have fun!
eBirders have shown the world what is possible when we come together around our common interest in birds. Data from eBirders have helped prioritize land acquisitions for conservation, served as the backbone for more than 100 peer-reviewed publications, and redefined birding in the 21st century. It’s exciting to take this next step together: eBird, Macaulay, and a network of global partners, working to redefine the processes of data collection, archiving, and access in a natural history collection. The future is in your hands, and your camera!