eBirding Around Sensitive Species

By Kent McFarland March 27, 2016
Northern Goshawk protecting its nest.

Northern Goshawk protecting its nest.

It’s that time of year when we are apt to find some amazing nesting birds – from Bald Eagles to Long-eared Owls, and later in the season Common Terns or a rare songbird. So what steps should we take to avoid disturbing nest sites and sensitive species in general? And how does that relate to reporting these birds to Vermont eBird?

It’s up to each and every individual birder to ensure that they behave themselves in the field. The American Birding Association published a Birding Code of Ethics that should be followed by all birders. eBird fully supports these recommendations and we are pleased that the great majority of birders follow this code. We encourage all birders to review these guidelines, and realize that they are established to help protect the birds we all love to watch! Moreover, take it upon yourself to understand the conservation concerns in Vermont and beyond, and be aware that your actions could impact birds negatively. Be smart, be aware, and always keep the bird’s best interests in mind.

How to Report Sensitive Species to eBird

eBird has a series of output tools that display information about birds. Our goal is to promote the exchange of information, and our tools are designed to help people share data. With that in mind, one must consider how to appropriately report specifics about birds that could be considered sensitive or conservation concern.

Here are a few ways to help protect sensitive species when reporting to eBird, while also providing the data to conservation biologists, land managers, or other professionals that may be able to help protect and monitor the species:

  • Wait until the season is over and the sensitive species have left before reporting the birds to eBird. You can always go back and ‘edit’ your checklists later to include sensitive species after the birds have departed.
  • Do not provide explicit coordinates or directions to sensitive species. When using the mapping tool to plot your location, use the ‘general area’ instead of the exact grove of trees where the birds are found. For instance, you may say that birds were seen at a state park, instead of listing the exact location within a state park.
  • Delay reporting observations for a week to keep these reports off the ‘eBird Notable Birds feed’. This way news of a rarity will not show up on everyone’s desktop and cause birders to come to the place.
  • Report the observation directly to the Vermont Center for Ecostudies instead. We’ll take it from there to make sure the data is not lost and those professionals that need to know about it to help protect it are notified.
  • Finally, you can hide observations in eBird after you have submitted a checklist. On the right column at the bottom is a box that allows you to hide the checklists. Or, in My eBird, Go to “manage my observations”, click edit for the checklist you want to hide. On the right column near the bottom, check the box next to the hide checklist. HOWEVER, Hiding a checklist will exclude it from all forms of eBird output that show a location (including bar charts, maps, and arrival/departure tables), but the observation will still be accessible to you, and will appear on your lists. It will be considered invalid in the eBird database since we cannot approve bird records without accurate location information. This will make it much harder for conservation biologists or other professionals that might help protect the bird to find the record though unless they are told about it.

Have a great and conscientious spring eBirding season!