Thanks to our reviewers and our eBird Reviewer of the Year

By Team eBird 23 Dec 2014
Amy McDonald photo_Romania

Amy McDonald birding in Romania and posing with a bust of 'Vlad the Impaler'. As an eBird reviewer, she couldn't be more different from Vlad!

Anyone who regularly submits to eBird has surely come to understand our data quality process. Typos happen, misidentifications happen, and well-intentioned eBirders sometimes just make mistakes. All of us at Team eBird have done it and will do it again. Mistakes are part of birding. We have a two-tiered approach to help prevent erroneous data. First, automated filters check your submission to highlight any observations or counts that are unusual for the time and place. Our confirm message (online) or checkbox (BirdLog) give a chance to stop and think about your unusual report. If you confirm the record, the second tier is our team of volunteer reviewers, who work tirelessly to help eBird information be as accurate and authoritative as possible. As part of our eBirder of the Month awards, we reserved the August award to give to an exceptional eBird reviewer. Please join us in thanking all of our reviewers, and especially Amy McDonald, our 2014 eBird Reviewer of the Year.

As of 19 December 2014, we have 837 different bird experts around the world who help review records in some region of the world. Some of these people work within single counties in the U.S. or Canada, while others help tackle whole countries or groups of countries. Every one of them is a part of the team because of their demonstrated expertise with bird identification, their deep knowledge of bird occurrence in the local area, and their ability to communicate well. Many of them devote lots of extra time to help educate people about birds, either through their role in eBird or through other roles in the community. Every one of them is a critical piece of the eBird project and we are enormously thankful to every one. Please join us in thanking them, drop them a note of thanks if you know them personally, and continue to do your best to help them with their job.

Their job is a difficult one. Almost always these editors are reviewing records from friends, colleagues, and contacts in the birding community. They try to base their decisions on objective views of the evidence whenever possible. But when brief or incomplete notes are provided, then judgment calls need to be made. The best thing you can do as an eBird user to help them is to consistently provide notes (photos when possible) for rare birds. We have an excellent article on how to write these descriptions, thanks to Lauren Harter.

When you receive an email from these editors, often they have some wisdom to impart on your record or your observation, and they will surely help you with any ID you are unsure of. Sometimes these queries come long after the fact, and that is usually because the record had been treated as not unusual in our system for a long time, and was recently reassessed; or sometimes because the record had been accidentally treated as confirmed but deserved a second look. Your additional notes on your sighting are best entered into your eBird comments: you can just write back and say “I added some additional notes in my eBird checklist”, which means that those notes will be available for others as well. The reviewer may be following up with dozens of other people at the same time, so please be patient and please know that your responses are always appreciated, even if only to say that you did not realize it was unusual and you did not get photos or take additional notes that the time.

Please be aware also that these people are volunteers, enjoy birds and birding as much as you do, and that delays of several days to even a week or more are to be expected at times.

It is also true that our reviewers make mistakes. Just as data entry typos are possible, data vetting typos are possible too. Although far less than 0.01% of cases, it is possible to select “not confirmed” for a record that the reviewer intended to mark “confirmed” (or vice versa). These mistakes happen and whenever we find them we make sure it is corrected. We do hope to improve the system in the future to make these easier to find and correct and to make sure that people can get a second opinion when warranted. Maintaining a good system of review and a good experience for eBirders who have their records reviewed is of paramount importance to us. No review is ever final, and all records can be reassessed at any time.

With that introduction, please join us in thanking Amy McDonald for her hard work as an eBird editor in the San Francisco Bay area of California since 2007. August was the one month that we did not grant an eBirder of the Month award, and this was because we wanted to reserve this to thank someone from our review team at the end of the year. Amy will receive new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binoculars and a selection of books from Princeton University Press.

Amy was an easy choice for us for several reasons. First, she has been a diligent, careful, and extremely polite reviewer for her entire time with the project. In addition to eBird review, she has also taken on eBird Hotspot review and editing for the entire state. Anytime someone suggests an eBird hotspot (see more on hotspots here), these need to be reviewed for accuracy and to make sure it is not a duplicate. This can be a detail-oriented and thankless job, and Amy has not only helped with California but also dozens of additional areas around the world. Beyond that, she has consistently provided feedback on all aspects of eBird that have been really helpful to us and our team. And as a professional technical writer, she has reviewed a number of our technical documents (including our Reviewer Instructions and guide for Hotspot Editor Instructions) providing detailed edits and recommendations to make these documents clearer. She has truly gone above and beyond in all respects, and we are incredibly thankful to her for all her help.