April eBirder of the Month Challenge

By Team eBird 31 Mar 2016

American Bittern

This month’s eBirder of the month challenge, sponsored by Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, focuses on fine-scale reporting and helps promote good eBird location selection habits. Almost everything in eBird depends on choosing your location correctly and precisely. Whether online or with eBird Mobile, having an accurate location associated with the birds you see makes your checklists accurate and thorough, helps you and others refind birds you report, and most importantly, gives scientists and conservationists the best possible data—allowing for everything from local analyses to global models. The eBirder of the month will be drawn from eBirders who submit 15 or more complete no-X checklists in April as stationary counts or traveling counts of two kilometers (1.25 miles) or less and five hours or less. This means a total of 15 lists is required as a minimum; if you think in miles, just shoot for one mile or less. Winners will be notified by the 10th of the following month.

The single most important thing in eBird is to report accurately how you went birding. If you covered 12.5 miles, please enter that as your distance in your traveling count. If you seawatched for 14 hours straight, we are impressed (!), but we also want you to report your duration accurately.

With that in mind, your eBird checklists are much more valuable if they are more specific. This includes both space and time.

What we really want to be able to do is to understand how bird occurrences vary across the landscape and also throughout the day. Very long traveling counts—either in duration or in distance—make this harder to understand. To use some North American examples—if you break longer counts into several smaller ones, then we can look at how Hairy Woodpeckers seem to be associated with the larger forest, while Downy Woodpeckers seem to be more prevalent in scrubbier edges and suburban neighborhoods. We can understand that American Woodcock are found in the pre-dawn hours, American Robin numbers peak as they leave and enter the roosts at dawn and dusk, and Turkey Vultures are more prevalent on midday lists.

This April, try to break up your eBirding into shorter lists. If you plan to spend all day at a favorite park, maybe divide it into morning, midday, and afternoon lists: for eBird, this is fine, and actually gives us more information. If you are doing a 10 kilometer hike (~6 miles) consider breaking it into 5 2km segments and try to see how many birds you can find on each segment.


Abundance model for the entire annual cycle of Tree Swallow (click to animate)

When eBird scientists create species distribution models, like the above migration map for Tree Swallow, some decisions need to be made about how much uncertainty in distance and duration to include. Very long all-day counts tend not to be included, nor are counts of more than 5 miles, checklists that include X’s, or incomplete checklists. This is not meant to discriminate against these longer lists, but to make sure that the checklists that are used are the ones with the best information content for tying the bird to the habitat. This is not to say that these data have no use—some other analyses and research questions use checklists of longer distance—and every sighting in eBird has value.

Our April eBirder of the Month challenge is not a plea to never again keep a list of longer than a mile or to never go birding for 5.5 hours. Instead, it is a chance to highlight two important messages: 1) report your effort accurately; 2) shorter distance and duration are always helpful.

Each month we will feature a new eBird challenge and set of selection criteria. The monthly winners will each receive a new ZEISS Conquest HD 8×42 binocular.

Carl Zeiss Sports Optics is a proven leader in sports optics and is the official optics sponsor for eBird. “Carl Zeiss feels strongly that by partnering with the Cornell Lab we can provide meaningful support for their ability to carry out their research, conservation, and education work around the world,” says Mike Jensen,  President of Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, North America. “The Cornell Lab is making a difference for birds, and from the highest levels of our company we’re committed to promoting birding and the Lab’s work, so there’s a great collaboration. eBird is a truly unique and synergistic portal between the Lab and birders, and we welcome the opportunity to support them both.”

Find out more:

eBirder of the Month