Announcing the Young Birders Network 2016 Challenges!

By Sarah Toner 21 Mar 2016

Le Conte's Sparrow photo by Nathan Martineau

From now until the end of the year, the Young Birders Network will be hosting two eBird challenges, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics. Each challenge winner will get a pair of Zeiss Terra binoculars! All you have to do is submit eBird checklists through the Young Birders Network portal, and you could have a new pair of binoculars! Read on to learn more.

Overall Requirements

Each challenge is based upon submitting qualifying eBird checklists through the Young Birders Network portal (the “submit observations” button above). You must be a young birder to take part. Qualifying checklists will fulfill two criteria:

  • They will be complete and not have any bird numbers reported as “x.” This provides the best data quality for researchers to use. 
  • They will also fulfill a contest-specific criteria by either containing rich media (photos, sounds, or videos) in the checklist, or by having appropriate breeding codes assigned to species.

Each checklist that meets the challenge requirements will be worth one entry into the drawing. Checklists with both rich media and breeding codes will be worth one entry into each drawing (two chances in one checklist).

Note: If you normally submit sightings to another eBird portal, such as an eBird Breeding Bird Atlas (Wisconsin or Virginia), you only have to submit one checklist to the Young Birders Network portal to qualify for this contest: the rest of your submissions outside the YBN portal will still count towards your chances to win. 

Challenge 1: Rich Media Upload

Cactus Wren singing by Nathan Martineau.

Cactus Wren singing by Nathan Martineau.

Already, eBird users have uploaded 500,000 samples of rich media–audio, video, and photos–through the new partnership between Macaulay Library and eBird. eBird’s database of bird sightings and records was already one of the largest of its kind, and the new Rich Media tools have given researchers an ever more detailed view of birds’ lives across the world. The famous ornithologists of the 19th century were able to make their discoveries because they collected physical specimens to compare plumage and structural details between individuals from different parts of the world and therefore show which birds were newly discovered species. In modern times, there are less invasive ways to get much of that data, such as bird banding and audiovisual samples documenting behavior and plumage. However, most research projects always struggle to get a large enough sample size. eBird’s crowdsourcing offers a revolutionary way to gather large amounts of valuable data on birds’ appearance and plumages. Even iPhones can capture high-quality images documenting molt and other physiological and behavioral traits. Audio recordings on a phone can still show characteristic sonograms to help researchers understand geographic differences in bird vocalizations. The potential research opportunities are vast.

To encourage more of these valuable types of data, the first challenge requires checklists containing rich media. Throughout the challenge period, we’ll be sharing tips on improving your data quality–from using digiscoping and digibinning to get high-quality images of birds with a small camera or smartphone to simple techniques for handling audio files. Each complete checklist submitted through the YBN portal that contains rich media will be worth another entry into the rich media drawing and another chance at winning a new pair of binoculars!

Challenge 2: Breeding Codes

Canyon Towhee carrying food back to nest by Nathan Martineau

Canyon Towhee carrying food back to nest by Nathan Martineau

Historically, one of the primary methods of obtaining large-scale data about bird distribution has been the Breeding Bird Survey and the regional Breeding Bird Atlases. This is still true today, while eBird plays an increasingly large role in collecting breeding information about birds in North America and beyond. Multiple Breeding Bird Atlases have now been run through eBird; the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas, for example, has gathered some excellent results from its first year. eBird allows birders to enter in the codes that atlases use to determine whether birds are possibly, probably, or confirmed breeding based on behavioral cues. These data are invaluable to scientists studying how bird breeding distribution has changed over time, particularly at such a critical time in birds’ life cycles. The Flyover code, meant to distinguish birds in airspace from birds actually using the habitat on the ground, is especially useful for eBird scientists as well as atlases, because eBird can be paired with terrain and habitat data to create extremely detailed maps of bird distribution. Flyover codes help remove misleading records, such as a Common Loon (which cannot take off from solid ground) that happened to fly over a forest with no nearby water. Most birders will see several flyover birds on any given outing, so noting those flyovers in the eBird checklist is an excellent way to improve your data quality and help scientists.

To qualify for the challenge, all you have to do is include at least one breeding code on the checklist–even if it’s just a flyover. Each of your eligible checklists with breeding codes will get an entry into the breeding code challenge!

The 2016 YBN challenges run from March 21st, 2016 until December 31st, 2016. At that time, the entries into the two drawings will be compiled and randomly chosen to select the winners of the binoculars. 

We’d like to thank Carl Zeiss Sports Optics for their sponsorship. Carl Zeiss Sports Optics is a proven leader in sports optics and is the official optics sponsor for eBird. “Carl Zeiss feels strongly that by partnering with the Cornell Lab we can provide meaningful support for their ability to carry out their research, conservation, and education work around the world,” says Mike Jensen,  President of Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, North America. “The Cornell Lab is making a difference for birds, and from the highest levels of our company we’re committed to promoting birding and the Lab’s work, so there’s a great collaboration. eBird is a truly unique and synergistic portal between the Lab and birders, and we welcome the opportunity to support them both.”

Good luck, and happy eBirding!

Sarah Toner