Reporting Sensitive Species in Wisconsin eBird

By Nick Anich March 28, 2014
Kirtland's Warbler Nick Anich

Kirtland's Warbler. Photo by Nick Anich.

We typically encourage eBirders to be accurate when reporting bird locations, however there are some cases when it might be best not to have detailed information on a bird sighting available to the general public.  These instances include birds that can be very sensitive to disturbance, rare nesting species, or cases where birder pressure could cause negative effects.

First, a brief tutorial on the three main ways you can report sensitive species to minimize any negative impact (eBird is working on designing a more elegant solution for this issue, but that may be several years away).

1) Wait until the season is over and the sensitive species have moved on before reporting to eBird. For instances where a sensitive species may only be using an area for a short time, this will ensure that your sighting does not become viewable until the birds have moved on.   This can also apply to a backyard feeder bird where the owner has not given permission for the public to visit.  However, this technique may not be suitable if the location will be used again by the birds for breeding in subsequent years.

2) Enter the location at general scale. If you find a rare breeding species at Dike Road on Horicon Marsh that you would usually enter at the Horicon NWR–Dike Road hotspot, you could instead enter the species at the Horicon NWR (general) location or enter it at the Dodge County level.

3) Use the hide checklist function.  After you have submitted a checklist, go down to the bottom right corner of the screen and click the box called “Hide from eBird Output”. This will keep it in your personal records, but it will not be viewable in public output. If you use the hide function, you should do so immediately to keep the sighting from being sent out on any eBird alerts.

One place that you can record notes on sensitive species is the comments box at the top of the checklist.  (under where you put in date and effort). Unless you’ve changed your account settings, this field is private, and visible only to you and eBird administrators.  The comments boxes next to a species name on the checklist, are of course public.

Specific Guidelines for Wisconsin

Whooping Cranes

 Whooping Cranes Nick Anich

The Wisconsin population of Whooping Cranes qualifies as a sensitive species, and the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) requests that all Whooping Crane sightings in eBird should be submitted as follows:

At Necedah NWR, Horicon Marsh, White River Marsh: Plot birds using the general hotspot for these sites, not a more specific subhotspot.  Do not include specific directions to the cranes in your comments.

All sightings elsewhere in Wisconsin: Please report birds at county level, or use the hide checklist function.

Sightings entered prior to 2014 may remain in eBird as they are.

If you do see a Whooping Crane, please report the details of your sighting here:

Furthermore, WCEP reminds anyone who encounters a whooping crane in the wild to please give them the respect and distance they need. Do not approach birds on foot within 200 yards; remain in your vehicle; do not approach in a vehicle any closer than 100 yards. Also, please remain concealed and do not speak loudly enough that the birds can hear you. Finally, do not trespass on private property in an attempt to view or photograph whooping cranes.

Kirtland’s Warblers

Wisconsin has a very small nesting population of Kirtland’s Warblers in Adams County. While the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology and the Natural Resource Foundation of Wisconsin offer trips to the site in spring, managers do not want the location to be obvious to the public. Please avoid plotting Kirtland’s Warblers at a specific location, and instead:

In Adams County: Please use the “Adams County Kirtland’s Warblers” hotspot that has recently been set up. This location is in the general vicinity of the breeding site, but has been intentionally shifted away from the precise location. If you would like to move your previous sighting into this hotspot, use the merge function.

Possibly breeding birds (in pine barrens) away from Adams County: Please plot at county level or use the hide checklist function.

If you do see a Kirtland’s Warbler away from Adams County that may be breeding: Please report details of the sighting to:

Piping Plovers


On Long Island: Since Long Island is a remote, known breeding location, and nesting areas are fenced, birders may continue to submit sightings at the Apostle Islands NL–Long Island hotspot.  If you would like to move your previous sighting into this hotspot, use the merge function.

Possibly breeding birds (on sandy beaches) away from Long Island: Please plot at county level or use the hide checklist function.

If you do see a Piping Plover away from Long Island that may be breeding: Please report details of the sighting to: and

Northern Goshawk

Northern Goshawk Ryan Brady

At nest sites: Because Northern Goshawks can be sensitive to disturbance at the nest, all nest sites should be plotted at county level or hidden.  Aggressive behavior such as dive-bombing can be an indicator that a nest is nearby.

Away from nest sites: Northern Goshawks may be plotted however you like.

If you do find a Northern Goshawk nest site: Please report details of the sighting to:

The guidance on the above species comes from USFWS, WDNR, and WCEP, and Wisconsin eBird will be doing our best to comply with it to facilitate conservation.  However there are other situations where it is difficult to make clear rules, and we can just offer loose guidance on those species.

Other Species

Other situations involving sensitive species may include but are not limited to:

  • Owl roosts (especially species that roost in groups like Long-eared and Short-eared)
  • Any nesting species that is rare or will be highly sought after by birders
  • Wintering owls or raptors that may be susceptible to birder pressure, harassment, or illegal capture
  • Any rare species that birders might be tempted to use audio playback to attract

If you have a question about whether or not a sighting might be sensitive, you can always email us at to ask.

Birders should also be familiar with the ABA Code of Ethics, and be aware that their behavior in the field, as well as their reports on the internet can have effects on species.

Thanks for your cooperation!


Nick Anich prepared this article, after consulting with WDNR, WCEP, and USFWS.
Ryan Brady, Piping Plover and Northern Goshawk photos
Nick Anich, Kirtland’s Warbler and Whooping Crane photos