2023 Year in Review: eBird, Merlin, Macaulay Library, and Birds of the World

Black-billed Capercaillie Tetrao urogalloides © Daniel López-Velasco | Ornis Birding Expeditions

2023 was a big year for eBird, Merlin, the Macaulay Library, and Birds of the World. Together, our team and the global birding community grew in exciting new ways, and you helped to make it possible. 

Your birding helped build groundbreaking conservation tools and transformative birding resources, inspiring millions of people who visit Cornell Lab of Ornithology resources to study, learn, and conserve bird populations. To the more than 137,023 new eBirders and 5.9 million new Merlin users who joined us for the first time in 2023, welcome! We also appreciate and thank eBird Supporters who support our teams and the Cornell Lab by making a monthly contribution.

There’s a lot to celebrate from the past year. Let’s take a moment to recognize the many achievements that you helped build.

Advancing our understanding of bird populations

Your eBird observations play a central role in scientific discovery and conservation action. Researchers published more than 150 peer-reviewed articles in 2023 incorporating eBird data. This brings the total number of scientific publications using eBird data to over 930!

eBirding also helps to make the groundbreaking eBird Status and Trends a reality. eBird Status and Trends products are updated annually with millions of new eBird observations. This game-changing scientific resource now provides modeled abundance and range maps for 2424 species and population trends for 852 species around the globe.

In addition to updating Status and Trends products with more data, the team released new tools for precision conservation. New functionalities, including custom mapping tools and regional-level Trend summaries, support organizations working to restore declining bird populations and habitats, and also help birders discover where and when species are expected to be more common.

eBird Status and Trends products support the work of federal agencies, international organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund, and several hundred regional conservation groups and universities.

eBirding also supports members of the Cornell Lab’s Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative. This network of conservation groups utilize eBird to monitor birds, assess land management practices, and prioritize conservation activities across their service areas. Visit Land Trusts Using eBird to see how land trusts have integrated eBird into their work.

The photos and audio recordings you upload to your eBird checklists also play an important role in scientific research. This year, media uploaded to the Macaulay Library were used in studies of duetting rails, migrating Whimbrels, and more than 60 other peer-reviewed scientific publications—even providing insight into how birds evolved to manipulate objects with their feet.

For more than 15 years, the Avian Vocalization Center (AVoCet), founded by Dr. Pam Rasmussen, has cataloged well-documented bird sounds from around the world to aid in environmental and ornithological research and appreciation of birds and their habitats. In 2023, this important collection of sounds migrated to the Macaulay Library. Project AVoCet’s global sound recording collection includes 15,000 audio recordings from 68 countries and 36 contributors. It adds recordings of 3,896 species, 64 of which previously had 0 audio recordings in the Macaulay Library—as well as an additional 606 species that had fewer than 10 recordings. Explore the AVoCet collection here.

One of the 15,000 audio recordings migrated to the Macaulay Library from the Avian Vocalization Center (AVoCet). Furtive Flycatcher is also one of 64 species with no audio recordings in the Macaulay Library prior to the migration of the AVoCet collection.

The Macaulay Library is now home to the first-ever photos of Kangean Tit-Babbler. New additions like these each year solidify the Macaulay Library’s role as the world’s leading scientific archive of natural history media.

Birds of the World, the Cornell Lab’s premiere ornithological reference tool, continues to expand the quality and quantity of natural history information it offers on every bird species. Individual contributors, supported by a global team of editors and partners, have been generating and curating new scientific texts, taxonomic relationships, and media for species around the world. This work has resulted in 1,957 species account revisions since project inception, keeping this important resource relevant to readers no matter where they live or what birds they study.

Additional advancements in Birds of the World in 2023 include:

  • Expansion to 11,017 species, in accordance with the 2023 eBird/Clements taxonomy revisions.
  • Update of 352 distribution (range) maps and incorporation of state-of-the-art eBird Status and Trends maps into 1,100 species accounts, offering deeper insight into how species move across the earth in space and time.
  • Expansion of data on subspecies and hybrids with the addition of new text, photos, maps, and sound recordings, offering an unprecedented focus into these taxonomic puzzlers.
  • Expansion of our global editorial network to 22 associate editors, 16 conservation partners, 4 volunteer copyeditors, 13 student mentees, and hundreds of expert authors stationed all over the world.

The addition of egg specimen photos to Birds of the World species accounts, in collaboration with the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, adds critical insights to the breeding biology of more than 150 species. As Birds of the World closes out its fourth year there is much progress to look back on. Visit the Birds of the World blog to read about their exciting milestones and future plans.

New and improved tools and resources

Looking back at the new features and developments of the past year, it’s amazing what we accomplished together. We started 2023 with the completion of highly anticipated updates to the display of exotic and introduced species on Life Lists, Top 100, eBird Mobile and more. This work realizes one of eBird’s most-requested features. Exotic species are now reflected more consistently across eBird—personal list totals and Top 100 standings better align with long-established counting standards, with Escapees tallied separately.

Along with these updates, we introduced the ability to explore your personal observations of hybrids, ‘sp.’ (e.g., duck sp.), and ‘slash’ taxa (e.g., Common/Red-breasted Merganser). Your eBird Life List is now a complete history of your eBird observations. This is especially exciting for annual eBird Taxonomy updates. With these improvements to Life Lists, eBirders can now see which of their records were revised to ​​Western/Eastern Cattle Egret following the most recent taxonomic update.

With global coverage for bird packs, Merlin Bird ID is now a birding field guide for every region in the world! The latest release of Sound ID now covers 1,218 species, including the more common and widespread species in the Neotropics (602 species) and India (239 species), plus an improved, more accurate sound identification model for more than 800 covered species in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

eBird Mobile was used to collect 13.3 million birding checklists in 2023—2.2 million more eBird Mobile checklists than last year! If that wasn’t enough reason to celebrate, eBirders also gained the ability to view, edit, and explore all previously submitted personal checklists from any mobile device. With these updates, if you reinstall eBird Mobile or change devices, you will still have access to all of your submitted checklists. Plus, new ways to sort and filter submitted checklists and access Trip Reports from your mobile device.

Anyone who uploads sounds and photos to their checklists will appreciate the incorporation of Change Species’ to the Manage Media tool. It’s now easier than ever to move observation details and media from one species to another. Simply tap ‘Change Species’ within Manage Media to move all media files between species (perfect for when you accidentally upload your files to the wrong species) OR to change the species identification of the entire observation–including counts, notes, and other details (for when you upload photos and then realize you reported the wrong species).

Exploring the vast collection of bird photos and sound recordings in the Macaulay Library also became easier with the addition of Major Regions to the Location filter in the Search bar. Discover all birding media from the South Pole or this year’s photos from the Eastern Hemisphere.

Webinars and live events

The popular “Birds of the World Discovery Series” returned for its second season of free educational webinars on topics ranging from the Search for Lost Birds to Annual Taxonomy Updates. Watch for additional webinars in 2024, starting in January with Life History of the Black Falcon with Dr. Steve Debus. Past webinar recordings are available on the Birds of the World YouTube channel.

2023 included Merlin’s first ever trivia game shows, with two interactive webinars and a live show at Global BirdFair in the UK. More trivia webinars are coming in early 2024 in preparation for the Great Backyard Bird Count; stay tuned for more information.

The Macaulay Library is celebrating 2 million sound recordings with “A Celebration of Sound, a live virtual event on Tuesday, 16 January at 8pm Eastern. We’ll recognize the contributions of the global sound recording community and explore the diverse applications of these recordings in research, conservation, and public engagement. (Webinar information and registration).

Updates to core infrastructure

Some of the most exciting developments of the year happened behind the scenes, including regional boundary updates and refinements for more than a dozen countries, and the activation of district-level boundaries in France and Nepal.

Maintaining an up-to-date taxonomy is essential to keep the Lab’s content relevant and accessible. The 2023 Taxonomy Update resulted in a net gain of 111 species, bringing the total number of species in the taxonomy used across Cornell Lab projects to 11,017.

Several technical improvements were made at Birds of the World last year, including the expansion of data-entry tools that support contributors as they add new information. Birds of the World is currently integrating a tool called DeepL, a deep language translation tool that will allow readers to instantly translate Birds of the World into any language. Look for this feature on Birds of the World sometime in spring 2024.

Since the launch of eBird in 2002, there has been just one data quality filter for all of the world’s oceans. This meant that checklists from the Drake Passage, Tasman Sea, and crossing from Iceland to Greenland used the same list of expected species and counts. If you’re fortunate enough to have sailed that far offshore, you may have noticed that the expected birds and flagged rarities didn’t make sense for your location. But not any more!

Thanks to coordinated efforts by eBird staff and volunteers, discrete data quality regions are now established for all oceans and nearshore waters. While these changes may not be outwardly apparent, they allow for individual nearshore and offshore areas to have their own custom data quality filters and data entry checklists, distinct from each other and adjacent land masses. As a result, eBird will be able to better gather and curate more accurate birding data from critically important marine habitats around the world.

Exciting milestones and growth

May 2023 marked an important milestone for eBird: the first time 2 million checklists were submitted in a single month. 930,000 eBirders from every country in the world have together contributed more than 1.6 billion bird observations to eBird, including more than 247 million observations submitted this year alone. At this rate, we are on track to reach a staggering TWO BILLION observations in the eBird database by the year 2025!

On Global Big Day, a record-breaking 58,700 birders contributed over 150,000 eBird checklists and reported more than three-quarters of the world’s bird species. Never before has this much information about birds been gathered on a single day. The accomplishments continued on October Big Day, where 36,000 people—including 2000 new contributors—together reported more than 7,500 species on 83,700 checklists.

Mark your calendar for the next Global Big Day—11 May 2024, and October Big Day—12 Oct 2024 . 

Over 15 million people have discovered the magic of Merlin Bird ID. In the past year, 772,000 people added 12 million identifications to their life lists and 4.5 million people identified half a billion birds from their songs or calls with Merlin Sound ID. This is nearly twice as many users as last year, including more than 3x as many users in Europe!

The Macaulay Library also reached significant milestones in 2023 including the 50 millionth photo and 2 millionth sound recording. More recordists and photographers archived their media in the Macaulay Library in the past year than ever before. In 2023:

  • 19,700 recordists contributed more than 454,000 recordings.
  • 77,300 photographers added more than 12 million photos.

Thank you for helping the Macaulay Library continue to be a leading resource of media for education and ornithological research! Take a look at the top photos and top recordings of 2023, or take a trip down memory lane with the Macaulay Library’s Best Bird Photos of 2024

eBird, Merlin, Macaulay Library, and Birds of the World were excited to welcome 8 new team members this year to support community outreach, project management, software development, and more. Several positions remain open or are coming soon, visit the eBird Jobs page for details!

Building global connections

The exciting advances made by eBird, Merlin, the Macaulay Library, and Birds of the World over the past year are only possible thanks to the efforts of thousands of contributors, volunteers, partners, and collaborators around the world.

The 14th annual Young Birders Event welcomed 16 high school-aged students from around the world for four fun-filled days of lectures, hands-on workshops, and, of course, lots of birding! Students met with more than 20 Cornell Lab staff members and researchers to learn about career paths in ornithology.

More than 2,100 eBirders contributed 115,000 checklists between mid-May and September as part of the New York Times Summer Birding Project. The project aimed to help people of every birding experience level build a deeper connection with birds and each other.

Highlights from the New York Times Summer Birding Project include:

Watch a video celebrating results from the project below:

Birds of the World continues to forge meaningful partnerships with ornithological organizations. To date, Birds of the World has built a global network of 16 content partners who benefit by expanding their networks, sharing local knowledge, and receiving free access to Birds of the World. The Birds of the World team also includes more than a dozen student mentees who provide essential support by updating maps, copyediting accounts, and curating new media assets from the Macaulay Library.

eBird, Merlin, Birds of the World, and Macaulay Library staff members hosted meetings, workshops, presentations in collaboration with local partners at multiple international events including Global Birdfair in England, Ornithological Congress of the Americas in Brazil, International Bird Observatory Conference in Mexico, Thai Bird Fair, and the Australasian Ornithological Conference in Australia. Look for our teams at more conferences and gatherings in 2024!

Additional regional collaborations

Thanks to the efforts of our volunteer translators, eBird, Merlin, the Macaulay Library, and Birds of the World currently support bird common names in 96 languages and regional dialects. eBird supports 17 languages throughout eBird.org and 36 languages in eBird Mobile. Merlin released a fully translated pack for Thailand in collaboration with Bird Conservation Society of Thailand, bringing the total number of languages available in Merlin to 18.

More than 2,700 volunteer reviewers and Hotspot editors oversee eBird data quality in 253 countries, territories, or dependencies. These indispensable volunteers reviewed 5,440,720 eBird observations in 2023—a critical piece of the Data Quality process that makes eBird run smoothly. Thank you for your hard work!

Thanks to the generosity of Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, we awarded more than 14 eBirders free Zeiss binoculars in 2023, including a pair of the new ZEISS SFL 30—the lightest and most compact binoculars to the ZEISS SF family. We are excited to continue working with Zeiss on eBirder of the Month awards in 2024 to thank the eBird community.

eBird partners with the Cornell Lab’s Bird Academy to offer you exciting educational resources in thanks for your eBirding. More than 115 eBirders won access to free Bird Academy courses this year, including two new courses—The Wonderful World of Hummingbirds and How to Paint Birds with Jane Kim.

Thank you for making this possible

We can’t wait to see what we can do together in 2024. Please stay in touch! Subscribe to our eNews or follow us on social media: