10 Reasons to Love eBird

Channel-billed Cuckoo, photograph by Mat Gilfedder

eBird is a way to record and freely share bird observations from anywhere in the world. I report all my bird observations on eBird, and I am in the process of uploading my entire life’s history of birding as well. Here are 10 reasons why I love eBird:

  1. My records start working for science and conservation instantly

I could be observing a Channel-billed Cuckoo in my yard one morning, and by the afternoon of the same day a researcher could be using that record to understand the migration patterns of the species, or local birders could be monitoring the distribution of the species in Queensland. As soon as they are uploaded, my observations can instantly be used by anyone, anywhere, and at no cost. This is really important to me – I want my bird records to help advance our knowledge about birds, and to inform their conservation. Many birds are in such dire straits, that we need to share information about their status as quickly as possible. For example, the Baer’s Pochard I saw last year at Rudong, along the Yellow Sea foreshore in China, is one of perhaps only 40 individuals left on the planet.

  1. It’s free

Unlike many private databases of records held by bird clubs or environmental organisations, I can download and use eBird data freely and instantly whenever I like. I can use eBird data to study and summarise bird occurrence and movements around my region, or anywhere in the world. I could use it to collate and write an annual report on the birds of my local patch, my bird club study area, or to provide data to help in an environmental campaign. eBird is an instantly accessible resource for an inquisitive birder, an environmental activist, a city council, a government official, as well as amateur and professional ornithologists.

  1. It connects me with other people

Perusing eBird checklists for an area very quickly reveals who the active birders are. On many occasions I have gotten in touch with eBirders to discuss local birding tips, and several have generously helped me find some very difficult birds – they are an extremely approachable and very helpful bunch. Being part of the global community of eBirders is like being in the world’s biggest bird club – open to all, helpful to all, and generous in spirit with vanishingly few exceptions.

  1. I can plan where to go birding

The instant and free availability of eBird data means I can start getting more strategic about where I go birding. For example, I enjoy filling in gaps in birding knowledge, and eBird helps me do this. I can research areas that look to contain interesting habitat, but where there are few or no previous visits by birders. This way I can best use my time to add new information to what we know about the distribution of birds.

On the other hand, whenever I visit a new area that might contain lifers, I am always keen to work hard day and night to see new species. I can use eBird to plan exactly where to go to see these new species. And rather than vague references from a site guide or a previous trip report, this is up to date information on precisely where particular target birds have been seen recently. What’s my chance of seeing Mangrove Pitta at Sungei Buloh, Singapore? Where are Scarlet-chested Parrots being seen at the moment? If I go to Hokkaido in February, precisely which spots should I try for Blakiston’s Fish-Owl, or Steller’s Sea-Eagle?

I can even engage in vicarious birding from my desk. eBird automatically emails me every time a species I’ve never seen before is observed in Australia. How cool is that?

White-throated Needletail, photograph by Mat Gilfedder

White-throated Needletail, photo by Mat Gilfedder

  1. I can engage in friendly competition with other birders

Who has seen the most birds at Kianawah Road Wetlands in Brisbane? Who saw the first spring migrant White-throated Needletails in Brisbane this spring? I ask these questions of course because the answer is me! I am really proud of the fact that I am the global authority on the birds of Anzac Road Park, a tiny urban parkland near my house with a playground beloved by my young daughter.

  1. It works anywhere in the world

The same eBird data entry app, and the same intuitive interface works anywhere in the world and for all forms of birding. I don’t even need an internet connection to create eBird checklists. I can go birding in the remotest corners of the world, capture my records while in the field, and upload them painlessly as soon as I reconnect to the internet.

  1. eBird copes with all forms of birding

I have a three year old daughter, and much of my birding recently has been half an hour grabbed here or there while we are in a local park, something seen while driving in the car, or birds seen while we are sitting on the beach. All these sorts of birding opportunities are acceptable and able to be documented in eBird. In fact, most of my eBird checklists derive from this kind of birding, not from dedicated day trips to major sites, nor from formal survey methods. Yet in my work as a professional scientist, I also use eBird to record the observations we make while doing formal field surveys – eBird is flexible enough to accommodate all kinds of birding.

  1. It is making me a better birder

I am not yet, and never will be, a perfect birder. I make mistakes. All birders make mistakes. Fortunately, an enormous team of reviewers around the world is constantly checking the data that come into eBird. If I submit a record that raises eyebrows, a reviewer will get in touch in an extremely friendly way, perhaps by asking for more details. Almost always I am able to provide these, and all is well. This has helped sharpen up my learning of which records are locally notable, and I remember to take field notes or a photograph to document the record. I have learned how to definitively separate Russet-tailed and Olive-tailed Thrushes because of eBird. Sometimes I’ve made a simple data entry error, by selecting the wrong species for example. Occasionally, the review process puts a spotlight on an identification I know in my heart of hearts I am unsure about, and I remove it from the record, or correct it. I am so grateful for this opportunity to learn from others and become a better birder.

  1. My lists are kept bang up to date with no work

Providing I enter data into eBird each time I go birding, eBird automatically keeps track of my life list, year lists, country lists, site lists etc. It also deals with taxonomic updates, which keeps everything up to date.

  1. It moves with the times

Thanks to a visionary leadership and a hugely talented and dedicated team of people at Cornell, the technology behind eBird is continually innovating and improving. The interface is well designed, intuitive to use, and extremely stable.

~contributed by Richard Fuller, Queensland eBirder