November eBirder of the Month Challenge

By Team eBird October 31, 2015

Magnolia Warbler

This month’s eBirder of the month challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, focuses on repeatedly birding the same area. To date, eBirders have submitted more than 275 million observations of birds, from 2.87 million separate locations across every country. Many of these locations have just one or two checklists—giving us a baseline for the bird community there, but not as comprehensive knowledge as we’d like. With repeated visits to a spot, we can learn so much about how the birds using that location change across seasons and years. Having repeated “sampling” at a location is very powerful for scientific analysis. This repeated sampling is similar to what you might do every year for the Christmas Bird Count, and is very valuable for eBird analyses. Do you like the animated maps of bird movements? This is how we create these—read the full article for a brand new map, never before shown. The eBirder of the month will be drawn from eBirders who submit at least 15 complete no-X checklists from the same eBird location during November. Winners will be notified by the 10th of the following month.

Birders vary widely in the personal way they appreciate birds. Some folks watch birds at their feeders, enjoying the beauty and worrying less about the “rarity” or unusualness of a bird. Others live for the rarity, the vagrant, driving hundreds of miles for a single bird they haven’t seen before. Another frequent birder-type is the patch birder—someone who is dedicated to a “patch“—regularly birding a single location or a couple nearby locations. This sort of birding is what we’re encouraging this month—repeated visits to a location.

It is important to note that all sightings have value in eBird—please don’t feel that just because you don’t appreciate birds a certain way, your contributions aren’t worth anything. Every bird counts, anywhere, any time. All we strive for with these monthly challenges is to make your contributions to eBird as valuable as possible—both for us and for the birds.

So as we mentioned before, repeated visits to a location are valuable for the research outputs of eBird. Why should that matter to you, as an eBirder? At the end of the day, when all the lists have settled—eBird sightings are intended for use in science and conservation. Our goal is to create a system where birders around the world can get excited about reporting their sightings, providing birder-friendly tools that engage people to help the entire community learn more about birds, their distribution, movements, and abundance. Although many of us enjoy those birder tools above all else at eBird (e.g., range maps, hotspots, region summaries), the ultimate goal is sharable information about birds for the world to use.

By entering sightings from a single location throughout the month or year, we are able to more accurately determine what is going on with movements of birds in that area or region. That might sound vague, so how about an example? Lets look at a map, everyone likes maps.

Click on map to animate—it will open much larger in another tab.

The above map shows the abundance of Magnolia Warbler throughout an entire year. This is similar to the STEM Occurrence Maps that we published a couple years ago, except that this illustrates abundance. Abundance is much more meaningful to inform science and conservation—letting you know where the bulk of the population is distributed, rather than just where you are likely to encounter 1+ individuals. This sort of map is not possible unless eBirders are reporting all species, reporting counts of species (not X!), and are visiting locations throughout the year—providing information 365+ days a year on where these birds are.

The more information that we have that meets the complete checklist and non-X criteria, the more exciting maps we can generate! The data usage certainly doesn’t stop there either, and the more information contained within each checklist, the more that it can be used for these applied scientific and conservation purposes.

One of the ways that we motivate ourselves for repeated visits to a location is by viewing the bar chart for a location. When there is no information from that location for a week of the year, it will appear as a sad grayed out rectangle for each species. By visiting during that week and reporting a complete checklist, even just one, you can make the grayness disappear, and fill it with known presence or absence. Some of the eBird team does this with locations around Ithaca—a local location known as Catharine Creek Marsh is almost halfway there for bar chart completeness after being “adopted” earlier this spring.

Birding a place repeatedly can often turn up good birds—especially in November! Species like this Western Kingbird could be your prize.

Birding a place repeatedly can often turn up good birds—especially in November! Species like this Western Kingbird could be your prize if you’re in eastern North Amerca.

This month we hope that you get out for some repeat birding—maybe visit the park down the road 15 times. Do a list from your house or apartment every other morning before work. Make a stop on your way home for 5 minutes at a pond and see what turns up there. One place, 15 times. If you do two places 15 times each, you won’t be entered twice, but it will be twice as awesome of an achievement. These don’t have to be herculean multi-hour lists—five minutes is great as well. If you want to keep track of your local spot, and how it compares to other local “patch” birders, consider keeping a patch list using the eBird Yard/Patch tool! We’ll see you out there.