2022 Year in Review: eBird, Merlin, Macaulay Library, and Birds of the World

By Team eBird 4 Jan 2023
White-faced Storm-Petrel Pelagodroma marina

2022 was a year to remember. From the 20th anniversary of eBird, to the expansion of Merlin Sound ID, to innovative new tools powering scientific and conservation applications, there’s a lot to celebrate from the past twelve months.

More people united in a shared appreciation for birds this year than ever before—and you helped to make it possible. Your bird observations inspire the more than 10 million people who visited Cornell Lab of Ornithology resources this year to learn, study, and conserve bird populations. To the more than 110,000 new eBirders and 2.9 million new Merlin users who joined us for the first time in 2022, welcome! We also appreciate and thank our eBird Supporters who help support eBird and the Cornell Lab by making a monthly contribution.

We’d like to take this time to recognize achievements from the past year that you helped to build. Thank you.

Resources for Science and Conservation

Through a transformative collaboration with BirdLife International, BirdLife Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) and Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) are now integrated into eBird Explore tools and data downloads. This new functionality is designed to support the work of BirdLife International and the BirdLife Partnership to monitor these critically important sites for global plant and animal diversity, while allowing eBirders to view their personal contributions to these efforts.

The eBird Status and Trends project now provides modeled abundance and range maps for 2068 species—including 868 species added this month. For the first time, these groundbreaking visualizations are now interactive. Zoom in and pan for detailed local population information across a species’ full, global range.

2022 also saw the launch of new, detailed eBird Trends maps for 586 species around the world. These maps, built from eBird data, show precisely where bird populations are increasing and decreasing. Localized insights into population changes are a game-changer for those working to restore declining bird populations and habitats.

Cumulative change in estimated relative abundance of American Robin during the non-breeding season from 2007 through 2021. Red indicates decline and blue indicates increase. The darker the color, the stronger the trend. Circle sizes are scaled by the estimated relative abundance at the middle of the time period.

Thanks to an improved and streamlined data download process, more than 750 groups accessed eBird Status and Trends Data Products in 2022. eBird Status and Trends products support the work of federal agencies (including the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service), international organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund, and several hundred regional conservation organizations and universities.

Best of all, your eBird observations help to make this unparalleled scientific resource a reality, with checklists from 464,542 eBirders being used to create this year’s suite of eBird Status and Trends Data Products. Thank you.

A new GIS mapping tool from the Northeast Habitat Conservation Initiative (NBHCI) integrates eBird Status & Trends breeding season data for 43 bird species of conservation priority in the eastern United States with other land and climate data layers across five habitat types. Land trusts and conservation organizations are now using this tool to support their conservation and land management efforts.

Map of the northeastern US depicting the number of forest-associated bird species of conservation importance estimated to have high-quality habitat within a 2.7 km (1.6 mi) square pixel. Colors range from blue (indicating no forest species of conservation priority have high-quality habitat in that pixel) to red (all 7 forest bird species of conservation importance have high-quality habitat within that pixel).

Visit Land Trusts Using eBird to see how members of the Cornell Lab’s Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative have integrated eBird into their work to engage new audiences, inform stewardship planning and land prioritization, and build organizational capacity through birds.

Nearly 3,000 people downloaded the eBird Basic Dataset for analysis this year, including 1,775 academics and students and 577 employees of nonprofits and government agencies. This free data resource is accessed via the Data Download page.

eBird powered multiple scientific advances from studying the impacts of nighttime lights on nocturnal migrating birds and the effects of climate change on the range of bee-eaters, to unraveling the mystery of why tropical mountain birds have narrow ranges. Scientists also turned to eBird to identify important areas for vulture conservation.

Researchers published 160 peer-reviewed publications in 2022 incorporating eBird data bringing the total number of scientific publications using eBird data to more than 780.

Scientists published 56 scientific papers this year using media assets from the Macaulay Library. Audio recordings uploaded to the Macaulay Library powered new and innovative research into how birds respond to alarm calls. Meanwhile, photographs uploaded to the Macaulay Library were used this year to identify a hybrid fairywren and to better understand when and how hummingbirds replace their feathers.

Birds of the World, the Cornell Lab’s premiere ornithological reference tool, expanded to 10,906 species and 249 families this year. Thousands tuned in to the new “BOW Discovery Series”—free live webinars on scientific topics including the 2022 Avian Taxonomy update and Adventures in Bird Molt with Peter Pyle.

Birds of the World updated the in-depth scientific content of 568 published species accounts this year, including 407 fully revised accounts in 2022— while growing subscribers by 25% over the past twelve months. Birders, researchers, and conservationists from 130 countries rely on Birds of the World’s comprehensive scholarly content, turning scientific knowledge into action.

Visit the free species accounts on the Birds of the World homepage to see what this definitive science resource has to offer.

New tools and features

Significant revisions to the display of exotic species on eBird maps, checklists, explore pages provide greater flexibility and transparency in how our database handles exotic species. These highly anticipated improvements make it easier to monitor the establishment and spread of human-introduced birds with eBird. Watch for additional integration of Exotic categories into Life Lists, Top100, eBird Mobile, and more in early 2023.

The updated distribution map for European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) shows it is native range in purple and its introduced (Exotic) range in orange.

Merlin Bird ID now covers more than 10,000 species (nearly every bird species on Earth!) with new pack releases for Africa and Asia. The latest release of Sound ID includes 277 bird species found in Europe and 507 common and widespread species of Central and South America, plus an improved, more accurate model for 510 species found in the US and Canada.

Adding Merlin sound identifications to your birding lists? Check out our tips and guidelines for reporting the birds you identify with Merlin Sound ID.

A revamped My Sound Recordings screen in Merlin lets you search and explore your recordings by species and location, so you can find your favorite recordings faster.

eBird Mobile was used to collect 11.5 million eBird checklists in 2022. eBird Mobile users will be excited to hear that ‘updating’ checks have been moved to the background—no more waiting to start a checklist. Those who contribute to eBird Atlases may also notice improved atlasing functions in eBird Mobile, including automatic notifications when approaching or crossing an atlas block boundary. Discover the New Zealand Bird Atlas, one of several bird atlases integrated with eBird, in the most recent eBird Portal Spotlight.

The BirdCast Migration Dashboard reveals bird migration for the contiguous United States at a level of detail previously unavailable to the general public. The Dashboard provides near-real time migration stats for counties the lower 48 states such as how many birds are currently aloft, how high they’re flying, and what direction they are headed.

New learning resources from Bird Academy:

  • Fundamentos de eBird—a free Spanish-language version of the eBird Essentials course for eBirders of all experience levels. eBird Essentials/Fundamentos de eBird is the first Cornell Lab Bird Academy course to be offered in both Spanish and English.
  • How to Record Bird Sounds—built by veteran sound recordists at the Macaulay Library, this online Bird Academy course offers expert advice to help you create, edit, and curate high-quality recordings of bird sounds.

Updates to Core Technical Infrastructure

Some of our most exciting developments this year happened behind the scenes, including a long-awaited migration of Macaulay Library media processing to the cloud, making photo and audio uploads and downloads faster and more reliable world-wide. Macaulay Library’s Media Search was rebuilt to be easier to update and maintain, and the tools that Macaulay Library staff use to incorporate and curate large collections of media were also significantly improved.

Behind the scenes at Merlin, a major rewrite of the entire Sound ID feature in Merlin Bird ID improved the accuracy and greatly reduced the energy usage of this incredibly popular bird identification resource. MerlinVision, the platform used by volunteer sound annotators to build and improve Merlin’s Sound ID functionality, was expanded to include photo annotations in anticipation of future improvements to Merlin Photo ID.

On the MerlinVision platform, volunteers draw boxes around birds and bird sounds in order to improve the machine learning models Merlin uses to identify birds.

Maintaining an up-to-date taxonomy is essential to keep the Lab’s content relevant and accessible.The 2022 Taxonomy Update to the Clements Taxonomy resulted in a net gain of 82 species, bringing the global total number of species in the eBird taxonomy to 10,906.

Even more exciting than all the splits, lumps, and name changes in this year’s taxonomy update is a brand new set of administrative tools that streamline taxonomic changes across eBird records, Birds of the World species accounts, Macaulay Library media assets, and Merlin Bird ID packs.

These tools also make it easier to add and manage the 55 languages and 39 regional versions of bird common names in eBird. Huge thanks to the volunteer translators who provide these common names and help us to support 17 languages on eBird.org and 37 languages in eBird Mobile.

Exciting milestones and new growth

In May 2022, eBird celebrated its 20th anniversary. 820,000 eBirders from every country in the world have together contributed more than 1.3 billion bird observations to eBird, including more than 225 million observations submitted this year alone. eBird’s contributions now make up more than half of the biodiversity data in the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).

Will 2023 be the year we pass 2 million eBird checklists in a single month?

On Global Big Day 51,000 birders across 201 countries reported a world-record-setting 7,673 species—an astounding 433 more species than the previous Global Big Day record. October Big Day also set a new October birding record, with 34,600 birders reporting 7,453 species on 80,000 checklists. Mark your calendar for the next Global Big Day: 13 May 2023.

The Macaulay Library reached multiple significant milestones in 2022 including the 40 millionth photo and the 1.5 millionth sound recording. More recordists and photographers archived their media in the Macaulay Library in the past year than ever before. In 2022 alone:

  • 15,645 recordists contributed more than 370,000 recordings.
  • 69,800 photographers added more than 9.9 million photos.

Thank you for helping the Macaulay Library continue to be a leading resource of media for education and ornithological research! Take a look at the top photos and top recordings of 2022, or take a trip down memory lane with the Macaulay Library’s Best Bird Photos.

Nearly 10 million people have now discovered the magic of Merlin Bird ID. In the past year, 808,000 people added 7 million identifications to their life lists and 1.6 million people identified 177 million birds from their songs or calls with Merlin Sound ID. Merlin experienced a 50% increase in the number of active users over 2021 (and over 80% growth in Europe and Africa) and the number of people using Sound ID in 2022 was also up 544% over the previous year.

eBird, Merlin, Macaulay Library, and Birds of the World were excited to welcome 7 new team members this year to support project management, web development, data visualization, and more. Several positions remain open or are coming soon, visit the eBird Jobs page for details!

Vital Partnerships and Collaborations

The exciting advances made by eBird, Merlin Bird ID, the Macaulay Library, and Birds of the World over the past year are only possible thanks to the heroic efforts of thousands of contributors, volunteers, partners, and collaborators around the world. Below we celebrate some of these many partnerships.

The eBird Young Birders Event returned after a 2-year hiatus with not one but TWO events for teenagers interested in pursuing careers that involve birds. At each event, fifteen aspiring ornithologists learned valuable field skills and made lasting connections with their peers.

Participants of the two 2022 eBird Young Birders Events received a guided tour of the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates extensive bird specimen collection .

Staff members from eBird and Birds of the World joined the Working Group Avian Checklists (WGAC) in its multi-year mission to align global bird checklists, with the goal of someday having a single consensus taxonomy for all the world’s birds.

Birds of the World continues to empower a global collective of ornithologists working together to organize the world’s information on birds. Six new regional content partners from South Africa, Taiwan, and South America joined the global collective of ornithology experts committed to making Birds of the World the singular, most complete resource for scholarly bird information. The international editorial team for Birds of the World now consists of 28 associates, 8 undergraduate assistants, and more than 2000 scientific authors. This strengthens Birds of the World’s regional scientific content while providing free access to millions of people.

Members of the eBird outreach team, BirdLife Zimbabwe, and BirdWatch Zambia co-led training workshops for local bird clubs, universities, and guiding groups, exploring how eBird and Merlin tools can support communities in the region.

Making up for two years of travel restrictions, eBird, Merlin, BOW, and Macaulay Library staff members hosted meetings, workshops, presentations, and field trips in collaboration with local partners at five international events including Global Birdfair in England, Feria de Aves in Peru, and the Pan-African Ornithological Congress in Zimbabwe. Look for our teams at more conferences and gatherings in 2023!

The eBird Zimbabwe portal was launched this year in collaboration with BirdLife Zimbabwe. This brings the total number of eBird Portals to 52, and the number of eBird Atlases to 8!

More than 2,222 volunteer reviewers and Hotspot editors oversee eBird data quality in 253 countries, territories, or dependencies, including the High Seas. These indispensable volunteers reviewed 4.6 million eBird observations in 2022 to ensure that eBird observations are accurate—a critical piece that makes eBird run smoothly. Thank you for your hard work!

Thanks to the generosity of Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, we were able to award more than 16 eBirders free Zeiss binoculars in 2022 including two pairs of ZEISS SFL 8×40, the newest member of the ZEISS SF line of binoculars. We are excited to continue working with Zeiss on eBirder of the Month awards in 2023 to thank the eBird community for your bird observations.

eBird partners with the Cornell Lab’s Bird Academy to offer you exciting educational resources in thanks for your eBirding. More than 115 eBirders won access to free Bird Academy courses this year, including two new courses—How to Record Bird Sounds and Let’s Go Outside! How to Connect Kids with Birds and Nature.

Thank you for making this possible

We can’t wait to see what we can do together in 2023. Please stay in touch! Subscribe to our eNews or follow us on social media: