Chilean birders use eBird for their Breeding Bird Atlas

By Team eBird September 27, 2012

Green-backed Firecrown. Photo: Pablo Cáceres C.

With more than 3300 bird species, South America is definitely a birder’s heaven. We probably have all dreamt of experiencing the unparalleled biodiversity of the Amazonian lowlands, the incredible endemism of the Andean Highlands, the scenic Patagonian steppes or any of a number of other wonderful corners of this continent. Travelers have a taste of it during their trips to “The Bird Continent”, but birding is increasing in popularity among the continent’s residents as well. Our team is in touch with many local birding groups or organizations, working together to grow eBird use across the continent. In Chile, the Red de Observadores de Aves y Vida Silvestre de Chile (ROC) has worked with us since 2009. The ROC is now administrating the eBird Chile portal, including record review, checklist management, local promotion, and some other special projects. Here, we highlight some of their most impressive accomplishments including the continent’s first Breeding Bird Atlas.

In just a few years, more than 250,000 records have been submitted to eBird from Chile, a huge boon to the local ornithological community and now one of the largest national bird databases in all of South America! There are now probably more bird observations in eBird than all previous data published in the history of Chilean Ornithology!

Encouraging results

The sightings entered in eBird by local and visiting birders have greatly improved our knowledge about the actual range and status of Chilean birds. For example, eBird is the only place where you can find an up-to-date map for species that have recently expanded their range, like the West Peruvian Dove (Zenaida meloda) which continues to expand farther and farther south along the coast, now reaching the Valparaiso area in Central Chile; or the Chilean Mockingbird (Mimus tenca) a former Chilean endemic that is now found into Argentina. Check out the map for Green-backed Firecrown (Sephanoides sephanoides) also, the species featured in the photo with this article. A couple of years ago, information from eBird was integral to the designation of Chilean Important Bird Areas (IBAs), the global initiative spearheaded BirdLife International. Many of these IBAs were designed primarily from the sightings available from eBird. Impressed by the achievements of eBird in Chile, the Chilean Ministry of Environment even decided to use eBird data for updating the national Red List. These examples highlight how birders can help bird conservation, all over the world, just by going in the field and participating in eBird.

The knowledge on some rare birds also increased dramatically the last years thanks to eBird and the ROC work. One striking example among many is the Ticking Doradito (Pseudocolopteryx citreola)–a recent split from Warbling Doradito P. flaviventris) and a rare and highly local species that had been known from fewer than 5 localities just a few years ago. The eBird line graphs now show its emerging pattern of migration, as well as dozens of new sites for the species, visible on the Ticking Doradito range map. Be sure to plan your trip at the right time if you want to see that one!!

Breeding Bird Atlas in Chile

In 2011, as soon as the new eBird version allowed the entry of breeding codes on checklists, the ROC immediately decided to begin a Breeding Bird Atlas. This is the first Breeding Bird Atlas effort for a South American country and is a very ambitious project considering the size of the country, the inaccessibility of some areas, and the paucity of active birders. But the ROC’s enthusiasm is spreading all over the country, and more than 30,000 breeding records have already been collected in just a year! Fabrice Schmitt, one of the leaders of the project, hopes to reach 250,000 data points before the end of the field period, in August 2015. The final book will present breeding maps for all 322 species breeding in Chile, and text explaining what is known of the breeding biology of these species and other aspects as population size, population trends, and threats. The text will be written by known experts, and almost 100 scientists and experienced field ornithologists have already shown their interest in participating in the project.

Last August, the ROC organized a workshop about how to use eBird data with Geographic Information Systems to perform species range modeling. More than 35 students and consultants learned how to process eBird data with software like DivaGis or Maxent, and produced interesting models. As in the U.S. and elsewhere, there will never be enough birders in Chile to cover completely the entire country, so analyzing the data collected with software like Maxent helps to better define the climatic niche for a particular species. For some species like the Chilean Mockingbird, the model obtained fit perfectly with the observations in the field, and even show the area where the species recently has been found in Argentina. With the collection of even more data in the forthcoming year, it may be possible to better realize models and further improve our understanding of the true range of the birds breeding in Chile.


Fig. 1. Chilean Mockingbird in Chile. Left: sightings with breeding codes sent into eBird since August 2011 (small dots: possible breeding; medium-sized dots: probable breeding; largest dots: confirmed breeding). Right: climatic model using Maxent and eBird sightings since 2008 (purple dots: location of the sightings).

Travel to Chile to help local birders!

Need a vacation? Any help for the Chilean Breeding Bird Atlas project would be greatly appreciated! Any birders traveling to Chile can make a major contribution to bird study and conservation, simply by adding breeding codes to their bird lists, and precisely plotting their sightings. This second point is important, since many traveling birders are less specific with their locations when traveling abroad. Chilean editors have carefully reviewed the site-specificity of the Chilean submissions, and when plotted imprecisely they have no other option than to remove imprecise location plots invalid from public output. This is a shame since these bird sightings can be extremely valuable, especially in areas with relatively little data like Chile.

Maybe you could even decide to plan your forthcoming holidays in Chile, birding and exploring some poorly known areas. Chile is a very safe and wonderful country to bird and the ROC will be happy to help you organizing your trip to areas where surveys are needed.

See you there!