eBirding your Christmas Bird Counts

By cabridge December 4, 2013
Snowy Owl Ryan Brady

Snowy Owl by Ryan Brady

December 14 will begin the 114th Christmas Bird Count (CBC) season, and the first big weekend of counts will be December 15th and 16th. The Christmas Count is the largest and longest-running ornithological citizen science project. Its data are a great complement to what we are collecting in eBird, and indeed the CBC has paved the way for eBird in many respects. It is not a problem to enter data in eBird and then submit it for the CBC too, since the two projects are collecting data in similar ways, but at different scales. eBird can be a great way to store your sector-level data and compare it from year to year.

As you head out to do Christmas Counts this season, please remember the following:
1)    Entering data for the CBC and for eBird presents no problem at all. Indeed, one day we envision the possibility of entering your eBird list and having it automatically contribute to the CBC.

2)    Most CBC circles are divided into multiple sectors, with teams of people (“parties”) covering each sector. Remember that eBird counts are single party counts, so any data collected during the CBC season should be entered for single parties only, not parties that spend a lot of time split up.

3)    The official CBC effort does not permanently store information at the “sector” level. eBird provides an opportunity to permanently record those data. For example, most coastal counts will have a substantially different mix of birds on the open beach versus areas 5 or 10 miles inland. eBird thrives on location specificity, so we welcome your sector data from the CBC.

4)    While eBird works best with location specific sightings, it can be time consuming to enter multiple lists from a single day. We certainly appreciate those who take the time to break a day of birding into discrete stops, but a day-long traveling count or area count is not inappropriate. The important thing is that you describe what you did (accurate mileage, duration etc.)

5)    If you do use a day-long count to enter your count, please give some thought as to the location that you use. Please do not plot your point at a ‘hotspot’ if you spent significant time birding outside of the hotspot area. It is far better to plot a new point to represent the CBC sector, and to name it in a way that makes it clear what it represents — such as “Lakeville CBC–Sector 5”. Since hotspot summaries depend on data collected at the actual point, the bar charts and other summaries become much less meaningful when they include data from outside the location.

If you haven’t already, contact your local compiler, or visit the “Get Involved” page for the Christmas Bird Count at the National Audubon website.  Additional CBC information specific to Wisconsin can be found the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology’s CBC page.

Gray Catbird by Tom Prestby

Gray Catbird by Tom Prestby

Many thanks in advance to all of who participate in both eBird and the CBC. Our collective knowledge of birds has grown exponentially thanks to the efforts of citizen scientists like yourselves. Everyone at Team eBird enthusiastically participates in our local CBCs, so please get out there, have fun, and enjoy the compilations!

While you are at the compilation, try to think about what patterns are emerging this year. Are northern species occurring in good numbers? What finches are being found in your area this year? Are Bald Eagle numbers continuing to increase and kestrels continuing to decline? How are the half-hardy wintering birds like catbirds, Winter Wrens, and Yellow-rumped Warblers? Then, when you get home, try ‘View and Explore’ in eBird to see if you can learn more about these questions!