2020 Year in Review: eBird, Macaulay Library, BirdCast, Merlin, and Birds of the World

By Team eBird December 22, 2020
Northern Shoveler Spatula clypeata

2020 was a record-setting year for eBird, Merlin, the Macaulay Library, Birds of the World, and BirdCast, delivering a new era of scientific and conservation applications, innovative new birding tools, and much more. This year more than any other our community grew in exciting new ways. Millions of bird enthusiasts visited our websites and nearly 800,000 have contributed sightings—be it close to home, on the way to work, or at parks, ponds, and fields.

There’s no doubt this was a challenging year. More people turned to birds than ever before to find comfort, hope, and a sense of connection with others. To all who joined us for the first time in 2020, welcome. You make a difference, from inspiring the millions who come to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to learn, to sharing your bird observations with the tens of thousands of people who use them for research, conservation, and education each year. We appreciate and thank our eBird Supporters who help support eBird and the Cornell Lab by making a monthly contribution.

Whether you’re new to birds or have been with us since the beginning, you’re part of a global birding community that makes all of this possible. Thank you. Here’s what we will remember in 2020, from:

Science and conservation

Predicted relative abundance of Pied Cuckoos animated to show movements between India and Africa. Relative abundance is depicted as a color gradient from yellow (low abundance) to dark purple (high abundance) for each week of the year. Areas of light gray indicate species absence (or very rare occurrence). Areas of dark gray indicate areas in which predictions could not be made due to lack of data.


  • 2020 featured two exciting updates to eBird Status and Trends, which now provides state-of-the-art visualizations of movement, distribution, and abundance for 807 species worldwide, including 82 species modeled outside of the Americas for the first time—all thanks to your eBird checklists. Explore eBird Status and Trends.

  • This year also brought the launch of Birds of the World, the world’s largest, most comprehensive encyclopedia of birds featuring 10,721 species accounts and 249 family accounts. In addition to providing a limitless exploration of avian diversity, Birds of the World aggregates 800 million eBird observations and features hundreds of thousands of Macaulay Library assets in a way that provides remarkable insights into the lives of birds.
  • BirdCast researchers released 4 new peer-reviewed publications this year. BirdCast research and advocacy also informed a new Lights Out Texas conservation effort to reduce light pollution during critical migration periods, garnering an endorsement of the endeavour from former First Lady Laura Bush, and the proclamation of Lights Out Nights in Dallas from Sept. 29-Oct 10 by Mayor Eric Johnson: 13 major buildings in Dallas turned off their lights for some part of the Fall 2020 migration period.
  • Audio recordings uploaded to the Macaulay Library powered new and innovative research, from tracking White-throated Sparrows as they change their tune to detecting interesting regional differences in the songs of Chipping Sparrows. Here’s a roundup of featured research from the 2020 North American Ornithological Conference powered by audio recordings from the community.
  • Researchers published 54 scientific papers this year using media assets from the Macaulay Library, bringing the total number of peer-reviewed publications using Macaulay Library assets to more than 1,400.
  • Researchers published 93 peer-reviewed publications this year incorporating eBird data. eBird powered multiple scientific discoveries including: large urban green spaces support more species; protected areas preserve global biodiversity; and species differ in their resilience to extreme weather events.
  • eBird data were used by collaborators to develop national and regional reports, including India’s first-ever comprehensive assessment of India’s birds, the State of the Birds, which used 10 million eBird sightings.
  • eBird data downloads are updated monthly and continue to be a free resource that is accessible via the Data Download page. More than 2,500 people downloaded raw eBird data for analysis and more than 7,500,000 people visited the eBird website in 2020.

New tools, features, and resources

  • Redesigned, mobile-friendly versions of eBird pages including My eBird, Sightings Lists, and Explore Regions and Hotspots allow you to easily browse eBird activity on the go. The redesigned My Checklists lets you filter your checklists by region, date, and even shared status. Stay tuned for more updates to long-standing eBird pages in 2021!
  • eBird Mobile was used to collect more than 8.1 million eBird checklists in 2020. Exciting mobile developments this year included new eBird Mobile Explore tools (Explore Hotspots and Explore Species), and redesigned “eBird Mobile 2.0” data entry to make it even easier to use the app offline.
  • The Macaulay Library published the brand new Cornell Guide to Bird Sounds: United States and Canada featuring recordings from the eBird community for 900 species. In 2021 Merlin Bird ID will incorporate this new resource, a major upgrade in the songs and calls included in US and Canada packs.

  • Merlin Bird ID now covers more than 7,500 species, with new packs for South America, Southern Africa, Central Asia, New Zealand and Taiwan, for a total of 2,920 new species available in packs. You can now save the birds you’ve identified with Merlin, or add them to a running eBird checklist, with the tap of a button. Watch for expanding coverage with new bird packs for Africa and Southeast Asia, and exciting new features to help you identify the birds you hear.
  • Merlin Bird ID also collaborated with Swarovski Optik to release the Swarovski Optik dG, a monocular/camera that is powered by Merlin Photo ID to help users identify the birds they are seeing.
  • New BirdCast features include updated migration forecast maps and migration live maps, as well as pioneering migration alerts, a new tool which allows anyone in the lower 48 US states to quickly determine whether birds are passing overhead near their city during migration—whether you’re a birder or a part of the Lights Out Texas conservation effort.
  • One of Birds of the World’s latest features is the Taxonomy Explorer, which allows users to filter species by major region, location, and conservation status and provides a slick way to explore the taxonomy of all 10,721 species.

The new Taxonomy Explorer provides regional filtering and visual navigation for all 10,721 Birds of the World species accounts.


  • Behind the scenes: we released Quick Review—a more efficient, mobile-friendly way for volunteer eBird reviewers to address records and improve email communication with the eBird community. The Macaulay Library started going to the cloud to improve media viewing experience for our worldwide audience.
  • Our development team also completed a more-than year long migration of our entire database to a new platform. With this work complete, we can now focus on building new Trip Reports to summarize your bird observations.
  • A one-stop-shop for all your eBird, Merlin, and Macaulay Library questions came to life this year in our new joint Help Center, featuring 54 support pages in 4 languages (English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish). Team members from 8 projects collaborate to answer more than 4,250 help requests a month!

Partnerships and collaborations

  • Three new Breeding Bird Atlas eBird portals were launched this year: the Israel Breeding Bird Atlas (in collaboration with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel), the Maryland-DC Breeding Bird Atlas 3 (in collaboration with the Maryland Ornithological Society), and the New York Breeding Bird Atlas III (in collaboration in with 7 conservation, birding, and research groups working in NY), bringing the total number of eBird Atlases to 7!
  • Exciting new partnerships were developed with the Rwanda Development Board (eBird Rwanda), Aves Uruguay (eBird Uruguay), and collaboration continued with eBird’s 45 regional portals and the hundreds of groups that bring eBird to you around the world.
  • Thanks to the efforts of our volunteer translators, we support 13 languages throughout eBird.org and 34 languages in eBird Mobile. We also support bird common names in 78 languages and regional dialects. See a full list of our Bird Common Names here. In 2020, Merlin Packs were added in French, German, Russian, and 2 versions of Chinese bringing the total number of languages available in Merlin to 9.
  • The Internet Bird Collection (IBC)— joined forces with the Macaulay Library. The IBC community shared 241,123 new photos of 10,014 species and 16,191 audio recordings of 6,197 species including photos of 150 species and audio recordings for more than 450 species that were previously missing from the Macaulay Library.

A partnership with the Internet Bird Collection added more than 240,000 new photos to the Macaulay Library, including images of rarely seen species like this Tuamotu Sandpiper © Josep del Hoyo / Macaulay Library.

  • Thanks to the generosity of Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, we were able to award more than 15 eBirders free binoculars in 2020. We are excited to continue our eBirder of the Month awards in 2021 to thank the eBird community for your bird observations.
  • As a collaborative event between Global Birding, Birdlife International, Swarovski Optik, and eBird, October’s first ever Global Bird Weekend set a new record for the most bird species seen in a single day and weekend—thanks to your checklists.
  • eBird partners with the Cornell Lab’s Bird Academy to offer you exciting educational resources in thanks for your eBirding. More than 100 eBirders won access to free Bird Academy courses this year, including two new courses: The Joy of Birdwatching and Bird Photography with Melissa Groo. The brand new Wonderful World of Owls will be included in our 2021 lineup— so keep eBirding!
  • Birds of the World engaged hundreds of ornithologists around the world to contribute data, facts, and findings to our species accounts. We also developed a broad array of partnerships with worldwide ornithological societies – from Argentina to the Caribbean, and from India to the Middle East, and beyond. These partners work alongside our editorial team, providing regional expertise that maintains a high level of accuracy and relevancy in Birds of the World species accounts.
  • BirdCast continued to partner with Houston Audubon, the Dallas Zoo, and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in working on the Lights Out Texas conservation initiative; exciting new partnerships established this year include relationships with the Texas Conservation Alliance and Texan by Nature. In collaboration with the Perot Museum and Texas Conservation Alliance, BirdCast helped establish the first large-scale bird collision monitoring project in Texas.

Image courtesy Mei Ling Liu.

Growth in participation

  • More than 915 million bird sightings have now been entered into eBird. This includes more than 169 million observations submitted this year; with 26,929,000 sightings from May 2020 alone. This is more than 36,100 bird observations every hour in May, 24 hours a day—all month. eBird’s contributions make up more than 43% of the biodiversity data in the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).
  • The sixth Global Big Day and third October Big Day set new world records for birding. On 9 May 2020, 50,000 birders submitted 120,000 checklists from 175 countries— more checklists and birders on a single day than ever before! On 17 October 2020 the global birding community did it again: 32,000 birders reported 7,100 species and set a new world record for most species collectively reported in one day. Mark your calendar for the next Global Big Day: 8 May 2021.
  • There are now 1,970 volunteer reviewers overseeing eBird data quality in 253 countries, territories, or dependencies. These volunteers reviewed more than 4.2 million records in 2020. Thank you for your hard work!

eBird growth in 2020

  • More than 2 million people used Merlin Bird ID in 2020, and it was installed on 1.4 million new devices. Merlin added the ability to save identifications made to the app directly to a users life list, and since August 843,000 identifications have been saved by 96,000 users.
  • BirdCast registered 1.5 million views in 2020, more than doubling last year’s total, and more than 3 times as many users.
  • The number of Birds of the World subscribers from all corners of the world skyrocketed, demonstrating a need for this type of deep, comprehensive content on birds. Through our new International Contributor Scholarship program, we are also committed to those who cannot pay but need access. At the time of this writing, the program provides free access to more than 100 students and researchers.
  • The community of recordists and photographers who archive their media in the Macaulay Library continues to grow by leaps and bounds.
    • In 2020, 11,148 recordists contributed more than 275,000 recordings of 7,897 species
    • 61,222 photographers added more than 8 million photos of 10,164 species. The 20 Millionth photo was submitted by Jerry Liguori on August 1, 2020.
    • The Macaulay Library now holds more than 869,000 recordings of 9,582 bird species and more than 23 million photos of 10,346 bird species. Thank you for helping build the Macaulay Library! Take a look at the top photos and top recordings of 2020.

Thank you for making this possible

We can’t wait to see what we can do together in 2021. Please stay in touch! Subscribe to our eNews or follow us on social media: