eBird Stories—Ragupathy Kannan: Ornithology Professor

By Team eBird August 15, 2019

Thank you to everyone who has shared their eBird stories. If you have an eBird story to share, please let us know! We love hearing your bird stories. The eBird community is incredibly diverse, encompassing people with different backgrounds from around the world—all sharing a passion for birds and a desire to learn more. In this eBird Story, Ragupathy Kannan reflects on the different ways eBird has become part of his activities as a professor.

My eBird story by Ragupathy Kannan:

I have been teaching ornithology and ecology in a small college in Arkansas for 25 years and have been eBirding since 2014. In higher education, we are judged based on our teaching, scholarship, and service. eBird has revolutionized my activities in all three areas.

In my ornithology class, my students get their own eBird accounts. After every field trip, they upload their photos and record their field observations. I urge them to go beyond mere listing and make ecological and behavioral notes. In an attempt to make them well-rounded naturalists, I even take the liberty to add notes on herps and other wildlife in the comments section. See my students’ photographs and notes on Roseate Spoonbills and other birds in checklists from Alma wastewater treatment plant and Devil’s Den State Park.

eBird has been an invaluable teaching tool in my annual study abroad course in Belize. Students are exposed to making and uploading audio recordings. See a sample of audios and photos in checklists from Caye Caulker or Crystal Paradise Resort. This June, I had a perfect teaching moment in Belize by having my students document nest parasitism by the Bronzed Cowbird on a Black-cowled Oriole nest. A student captured images of both the species’s eggs and of the male oriole incubating. I also covered the intriguing phenomenon of the Yellow-olive Flycatcher’s propensity to almost exclusively use black fibers as nest material (see checklist). A student conducted a formal study to test the hypothesis that the black nests afford some temperature benefits for the nest occupants. Note that in addition to using photos, I include notes on ecology, behavior, and conservation to encourage students to go beyond making just lists.

eBird has been of assistance in my scholarly pursuits as well. As part of my undergraduate research program, students and colleagues have heavily used eBird data to revise species distributions. See our paper on the true winter distribution of the Forest Wagtail in India. We also used eBird data recently to document the global range expansion of the Inca Dove (Kannan, R., J. L. Jackson, and E. Brooks. 2019. History and current status of the Inca Dove Columbina inca in Arkansas. J. Arkansas Academy of Science. Vol. 73. In press). Biology major Ethan Brooks scoured all eBird records of the species in Arkansas, and generated global eBird range maps of the species over three decades to show its range progression. Inspired by this experience, Ethan hopes to pursue a similar line of inquiry in graduate school to investigate how climate change is altering bird distributions.

eBird has also helped me serve the birding community and in the process raise funds for bird research and conservation. I regularly lead birding tours to Central and South America to raise funds for the Arkansas Audubon Society Trust (AAST) in which I serve as trustee. The ease with which checklists can be shared and edited, and photos and audios dispensed within my groups, has been invaluable. Since 2014, I have raised over $15,000 for the AAST endowment doing these birding tours. I recruit for these tours using links of my past eBird lists plus my profile page.

In summary, eBird has made me a better teacher, a better scientist, and above all, a better birder and conservationist.