Sensitive Species in eBird for Wisconsin

By Nick Anich November 19, 2018
Boreal Owl Aegolius funereus

eBird has recently been altered to better protect Sensitive Species, because some bird species face risks including capture, targeted killing, or significant disturbance, and for these species eBird data output is restricted in some ways to protect them, while allowing important data to continue to come into eBird. 

Our goal at eBird is to connect a global network of birders with researchers and conservationists, freely providing high-quality information on bird sightings that can be used for science and actionable conservation. However, open-access data can be a risk for birds that are targeted for exploitation—either through capture, killing, or significant disturbance.

While targeted killing and disturbance are risks for some species, the exploitation of wild birds for the pet trade is the most significant risk for the majority of species. Despite many laws that protect wild birds and regulate international trade in threatened animals (see Birdlife International summary of bird trade and CITES), illegal trade remains a major threat to many species.

With these dangers to wild birds in mind, we’ve developed a system to allow Sensitive Species to be reported by eBirders worldwide without fear of harming these imperiled species. Many responsible eBirders intentionally misplot checklists or use overly broad-scale locations for at-risk species, which does not serve science or conservation. This development allows eBirders to submit specific location data for at-risk species in a way that supports groups working to understand and protect sensitive species, without risk of causing the harm to the birds.

What does this mean for display in eBird?

Sensitive species records are:

  • Hidden from checklist views, except to observers on the checklist
  • Hidden from all site-level output (e.g., Hotspot Explorer, bar charts for hotspots, Atlas block lists)
  • Shown only at grid-cell level (400 kmaccuracy) on eBird species maps
  • Shown at region-level output (e.g., Region Explorer, Illustrated Checklists, County- and State-level Atlas lists) with checklist details (date, location, observer, checklist link) omitted
  • Included in listing totals (e.g., Top 100), but never shown as “most recent addition”
  • Shown in Media Search with checklist details (date, location, observer, checklist link) omitted and only for regions larger than a hotspot
  • Specifically marked as Sensitive wherever the species name is displayed in output and location-level data has been removed, such as on the Region Explorer or Illustrated Checklist pages

Since these data can still be used by qualified scientists (including Endangered Species recovery teams), these records are still seen by our eBird reviewers, who must check identifications for accuracy.

Sensitive species will only display at a coarse scale on maps.

List of Sensitive Species in Wisconsin:

Global Sensitive Species in eBird

Northern Hawk Owl
Birds have been harassed at wintering locations.
Great Gray Owl
Birds have been harassed at wintering locations.
Taken by falconers.

Sensitive year-round in United States

Black Rail
Low population size, may be disturbed by audio playback.
Long-eared Owl
Sensitive to disturbance by birders and photographers, who can chase groups of birds off roosts.

Sensitive year-round in Wisconsin

Boreal Owl
Rare visitor to Wisconsin. Birds have been harassed at wintering locations.
Barn Owl
Rare in Wisconsin year round. Perhaps increasing as a nester, but there is potential for disturbance at nest sites.
Sharp-tailed Grouse
Small population in Wisconsin.  Until recently hunted in Wisconsin, specific locations may easily lead hunters to birds or lead photographers to disturb birds at leks.
Piping Plover
Small population in Wisconsin. Federally Endangered Species. Sensitive to disturbance on nesting beaches.
Whooping Crane
Small global population. Federally Endangered Species. Managers have requested locations be hidden. Captive-raised birds are less wary than the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock and managers do not want them to habituate to humans.
Kirtland’s Warbler
Small global population. State Endangered Species. Managers have requested these locations be hidden. Ground nester makes nests vulnerable to being stepped on.  Populations have been harassed by audio playback in the past.

Sensitive seasonally in Wisconsin

Northern Goshawk (March 1 – August 1)
Taken by falconers, disturbance at nest sites by birders and photographers.
King Rail (May 15 – August 1)
Small population in Wisconsin. May be disturbed by audio playback on the nesting grounds.
Loggerhead Shrike (April 15 – August 15)
State Endangered. Sensitive to disturbance as it often nests close to roads.

This list was developed with input from Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Wisconsin Society for Ornithology.

eBird Sensitive Species Criteria 
eBird is a collaborative project with hundreds of partners worldwide. We consult with local partners in order to develop our list of Sensitive Species. Sensitive Species in eBird conform to these guidelines:

  • Sensitive Species are formally recommended by a partner or published source, and rationale for the listing is stored at eBird.
  • Sensitive Species in eBird are those for which demonstrable harm could occur from public display of site-level records, including (but not limited to): 1) targeted capture for the cage bird trade; 2) targeted hunting; 3) targeted disturbance of nests, roosts, or individual birds from birdwatchers or photographers. Species that are rare but are not under pressure from targeted human exploitation or disturbance generally are not considered Sensitive.
  • In most, but not all, cases, a Sensitive Species has formal listing as an Endangered or Threatened species either on a local priority list or by the IUCN (

We ask eBirders observing any of the species marked as Sensitive to please review the information on the species on our Sensitive Species list and to use discretion in sharing sightings via other public platforms (e.g., Facebook, WhatsApp, webpages, listservs, etc.). Revealing site-level records exposes the birds to risk from professional bird trappers, hunters, and/or pressure by birdwatchers and photographers and could cause significant harm to the conservation of these species. We recommend that you enjoy your good fortune privately, keep the specific location secret to help protect the species, and contribute the sighting to eBird where the bird will be protected from exploitation and your sighting will still help inform research and conservation for the species.

See the full list of species treated as Sensitive in eBird.

Updated 2/27/2023