eBirder of the Month -- Oliver Komar

By Team eBird November 15, 2012

Oliver Komar birding at Zamorano University campus in Honduras, 28 October 2012. Photo by Paul Stufkens.

eBird has enjoyed substantial growth in recent years, especially in the United States and Canada. Its growth in other countries has always depended on engaging the right partners who have the local contacts, local expertise, and time and willingness to help promote and improve eBird in those countries. Oliver Komar is a longtime birder, professor at Zamorano University (Escuela Agrícola Panamericana) and director of the Regional Biodiversity Institute there, and regional editor for North American Birds for Central America. Oliver has been a godsend for Central America, since his vast experience in Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua has instantly transformed those countries into areas of intense eBirding.

He modestly states “I am excited to promote eBird in Central America as a learning tool, an ornithology tool, and an information resource”, but those of us at eBird know that Oliver is well along down that road already, improving the checklists and review process, promoting to local birders, publishing articles on eBird in local journals and newsletters, and giving presentations around the region trying to engage more Central American birders in the project.
It is this type of involvement that helps eBird to grow into a fully-fledged, locally useful tool for understanding birds in the region. Below are some of Oliver’s impressive personal stats and his own statement about his eBirding and eBird promotion in the region.

Residence: San Antonio de Oriente, Honduras
Years eBirding: 2
eBird Life List: 778
Honduras eBird List: 449
El Salvador eBird List: 432
Nicaragua eBird List: 194
Number of eBird Locations: 518
Number of eBird Checklists: 1,283
At the end of November 2012, Oliver will be joining Tom Schulenberg, Tom Johnson, and Michael Anderson (all Cornell Lab employees/associates/alumns and superb field birders) in Peru’s first Birding Rally Challenge . Their team, the eBirders (we love the name!), will be birding across the Andes in a week-long competition and of course will be collecting precious eBird data as they go! We all wish them luck!
Without further ado, let’s hear from Oliver himself.

From Oliver:

Okay, I admit it. I love eBird!  I think it’s great. I think eBird is for almost everyone, not just birders.

I was an avid birder as a teenager in the late 1970s and early 80s. I loved birds so much that I found a way to make them part of my adult career, as an ornithologist. As I delved into science, I lost interest in listing. But I was always thrilled by the opportunity that birding provided to contribute to science. The potential for birders to become citizen scientists lurked in the back of my mind for years.

By the time the official AverAves portal was launched for Mexico, I had become too occupied with my own projects to pay much attention. I heard rumors about eBird, even met Chris Wood and the team and chatted about it back in 2005, but it seemed it was still years away from being useful for Central American data.

Just about the time of the launch of eBird worldwide, at the end of 2010, I made a major career change, moving from my base in El Salvador to a new base at Zamorano University in Honduras. A close friend, John van Dort, had been using eBird for a few years and suggested I start using it.  I figured that the move to Honduras was indeed a good time to start using eBird for recording any new observations I would make in Honduras.  I was almost instantly hooked.

Within a few months, I volunteered to review the eBird data for Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. I discovered that eBird is a spectacular tool for citizen science. I believe eBird will spark the interest of multitudes of young observers (and some older ones) to contribute to science, and even to become scientists.  Now I am excited to promote eBird in Central America as a learning tool, an ornithology tool, and an information resource.

One of my favorite eBird projects has been to build the bar chart for the Zamorano University campus in Honduras. In less than two years, I have contributed complete lists for every week. Check out the results. Another favorite project has been to get my old field data onto eBird, especially from nearly two decades of ornithological research in El Salvador. I’m still working on it, but I’ve made progress!

I love being able to see my own records combined with everyone else’s on the distribution maps. Published maps of seasonal bird distribution in Central America have always been problematic, because of spotty source information. With eBird, knowledge is growing in leaps and bounds. Detailed information on relative abundance and highly localized populations was never available for most areas of Central America, until eBird. I have high expectations for eBird. I believe we’ll soon be able to visualize local distribution patterns in the tropics, never seen before, such as altitudinal migrations.

I believe eBird will change the face of tropical ornithology. Users can display bird names in multiple languages (using eBird preferences–check it out in your account!), or by scientific names. This will facilitate emerging communities of local birders in many countries to contribute data and participate in ornithology. Neotropical ornithology, long dominated by visiting foreigners, will soon become the domain of local birders, thanks to eBird and the internet.

Finally, I’d like to recognize eBird for igniting my own renewed interest to get out to the field and observe birds.  For years, I felt frustration at not having a decent place to store observations. I even stopped bothering to record casual observations, because there was no easy way to assimilate the information into a meaningful data set. Now there is—eBird!  Now, a business trip or a Sunday drive with the family can be the opportunity to fill in gaps in distribution maps.

Sincere thanks to the dedicated eBird team at Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Thanks also to the extended team of reviewers, and all of the citizen scientists who contribute data.

Oliver Komar birding at Zamorano University campus in Honduras, 28 October 2012. Photo by John van Dort.

Oliver Komar birding at Zamorano University campus in Honduras, 28 October 2012. Photo by John van Dort.