Thumbnail image: Brad Imhoff/Macaulay Library

[Lisa Kopp] Hi, everybody, welcome. We are going to get started in just a few minutes. It’s nice to see people hopping on. We’re excited to have you joining us today for our eBird Q&A webinar. It’s 11:59 here at Ithaca, New York, so we’ll get people to the top of the hour to get started.

Just a heads up that the chat function isn’t going to be available for use except to speak to myself and to give us a heads up about any tech needs. So just wanted to make sure everybody was in the loop on that. And we’re here, at noon. So I can get started.

My name is Lisa Kopp. I am on the visitor center team at the Lab of Ornithology and I’m going to be facilitating today’s conversation. We have two members of Team eBird who will be joining us in just a few minutes when I get through announcements, Jenna Curtis and Marshall Iliff. And we’re really excited to talk to you about eBird.

We know that there are just tons of questions about this incredible platform and we’re going to get to as many of them as we can. So before we get started today, I want to read a statement acknowledging the Indigenous people as the original inhabitants of the Ithaca, New York area, which is where we’re hosting this from.

Cornell University is located on the traditional homelands of the Gayogohono, the Cayuga nation. The Gayogohono are members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, an alliance of six sovereign nations with a historic and contemporary presence on this land. The Confederacy precedes the establishment of Cornell University, New York State, and the United States of America.

We acknowledge the painful history of Gayogohono dispossession and honor the ongoing connection of Gayogohono people, past and present, to these lands and waters. For those of you who are not familiar, those of us here today as hosts and panelists are all a part of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology team. And we’re home to a community of researchers and supporters from all around the world who appreciate birds and the important roles that they play in our ecosystem.

And our mission is to advance leading edge research, education, and citizen science to help solve pressing conservation challenges. So eBird, what we’re going to be talking about today, plays a major role in all of those themes. So a few quick tech notes before we get started.

So first thing is closed captioning is available if you’re watching on Zoom. You can click the More button in the bottom right of your bottom right corner of your Zoom screen, and you can either show or hide subtitles. Today’s webinar is a Q&A. So we’re going to be using that lovely Zoom Q&A tool as a way to submit your questions. And we had a ton of really great pre-submitted questions that we’re going to start out with, but we still want you to be able to submit whatever questions you have as they come up throughout this hour.

The Chat tool is really going to be used for, as I mentioned, tech needs or if all of a sudden our sound goes out or our video goes out, it’s really helpful to be able to get a heads up from you all in that way. If you are here on Facebook and joining us from the lab’s Facebook page, welcome, we’re excited you’re here too, and we want you to be able to participate too. So I have some incredible colleagues who are behind the scenes helping out with questions coming in from the Facebook comments. So you can add your questions there and we’ll look to get to them as best as we can.

So as I mentioned, today is a Q&A webinar. Hopefully, some of you have attended past webinars. And oftentimes, those start with a presentation or a slide show, and then we leave a section at the end for Q&A. This is meant to be an open forum to answer the questions that you all have. And as I mentioned, we got some incredibly helpful starts to that conversation in the Zoom registration with pre-submitted questions.

So we’re going to start out with that, and then continue to answer what we can within an hour. But I can guarantee you, if we don’t get to your question today, we will be doing more of these. We know how helpful they are, so this isn’t your one and only chance to get your questions answered.

We’re also going to be sharing lots of additional resources in the chat, so make sure you check on that for links that can get you additional information about some of the topics that we can’t get to in this hour. And unfortunately– we always get this question, the chat can’t be saved, it’s a Zoom setting for privacy purposes. So I think that if you need to, you’ll have to take screenshots or open a link and then bookmark it and your web browser.

If you are Zoom registrant, you will also get a follow up email from us with a recording of this video. In that email, we’ll include a couple of the top links that we talked about in the webinar. And if you are watching over Facebook, we will add a link that shows you the page that this video will be archived and posted to in the next few days. So I think that those are all of my announcements. So we can get started and I can ask Jenna and Marshall to hop on. Hi, Jenna, Hi, Marshall. Thanks to you both for being here today.

[Jenna Curtis] Thanks so much for having us, really excited to be here.

[Lisa Kopp] Yeah.

[Jenna Curtis] Hi, everyone. I’m Jenna Curtis, I’m one of the eBird project leaders here. I focus primarily on communications, both communicating with the eBird audience through the website, social media, and the eBird mobile app. And then also with our dedicated team of eBird volunteers all around the world who helped to make sure that our database is as high quality and reliable for science as possible.

[Lisa Kopp] Thank you, Jenna. Marshall, you mind telling us a little bit about who you are and what you do at the lab?

[Marshall Iliff] Yeah. Hi, everyone, I’m Marshall Iliff. I’ve been with eBird since 2007. I focused a lot on data quality and the team of reviewers that Jen mentioned also, but I also do a lot with the eBird taxonomy as that updates across eBird Merlin birds of the world sort of all the Cornell Lab products.

[Lisa Kopp] Great. Thank you both, again, for being here today. So we’re actually going to start with some of what you just mentioned, Marshall. There’s been some big stuff happening at eBird, and I wondered if you’d be able to share some of the major noteworthy things that you all have been working on recently.

[Marshall Iliff] Yeah. So the big thing that’s just happened that takes up a lot of my time over the past couple of months is the once annual taxonomy update that we do. And that brings all the bird names, all the basic framework for what bird species we show in eBird and Berlin and birds of the world and everything, up to speed with the latest science.

So we’re constantly checking [INAUDIBLE] to see what our latest understanding is of the genetic relationships, and vocalizations, et cetera. How we actually define what is a distinct species in avian science. And we try to keep that up to date once a year. It’s a big project, so we don’t do it constantly.

We have this discrete time where we update it. And we’ve just finished that, had lots of eBird records, but also changes to the bird names and changes to that basic framework of birds that you can report in eBird.

[Lisa Kopp] I can’t imagine what goes into that from a tech perspective. Obviously, the science that goes into those kinds of changes is incredible in and of itself. But then, having to update the framework for all of these functions– all these apps and things that we’re using as front end users, it just must be so much work. So thank you for staying on top of that for all of us. We got a really great follow up question from Bellina B who asks, how do when a split or a change has occurred?

[Marshall Iliff] Yeah. So that’s a really good question. It starts with the challenge that bird science around the world doesn’t always agree on what a bird’s species is. So you might– right now, there’s several different major global bird lists that keep track of– these are the lists of birds of the world, and they don’t all agree exactly.

They mostly agree, but they don’t agree exactly. And to make matters worse, the field guide that you’re using– I’m right now calling from the other side of the world in Taiwan where I have to look up a lot of birds, and the field guide may not agree with what eBird has and what this other global bird list has.

So one of the really exciting things about this year’s update is it’s the first one that we’ve done that’s formally part of a collaborative effort to bring those taxonomies in line and to have all these, basically, bird scientists around the world start using the exact same language for like-bird species were observing. So a lot of the changes this year are explicitly to try to bring everyone into alignment, have all the lists change at the same time in the same way. So it’s really exciting.

The WGAC is the working group under the auspices of international ornithologists union, but big picture is It’s going to reduce a lot of this confusion. And it’s an especially exciting update in that respect. But it will take several years to reassess all the world’s birds and bring it into alignment and probably years more to have new field guides published that are all following this, which hopefully is one of the end results.

[Lisa Kopp] Wow, that’s fascinating. And another just unbelievable undertaking– but I can understand why it’s so important knowing how global eBird is now. And I know most of our audience is likely North America based, but eBird users are all over the world. So I can imagine that having that continuity is really meant to make things as exclusive or inclusive as possible.

[Marshall Iliff] Yeah. So– Yes, I just wanted to answer the specific question. To understand what just changed, we have an eBird different story that summarizes some of the most noticeable changes. And then we have a super detailed story that goes into every single line by line change. And all of those have links to your specific eBird account and maps to understand what change. So anyone can dive as deep or as shallow into this update as they want to.

[Lisa Kopp] That’s great. Yes, we actually just got a question from Marcia who asked, can I get a list of what changed in my eBird due to taxonomic updates? So thank you for that softball question Marcia and thanks for answering it preemptively. And I can go ahead and put the link to the News article in the chat so that everyone who’s interested in looking at that more in depth can do that.

So what’s next– I feel like– whenever I ask this question, I always feel bad because I know how hard and constant the eBird team is working on things. And so asking for like, what’s more and what’s next? Feels just like I can’t– I always feel a little bad. But I know you all are doing amazing things, so any updates on what’s coming down the pipeline for eBird?

[Marshall Iliff] Yeah, so there’s actually a lot of things coming down the pipeline, but the one that’s really at the front of my mind is better handling of exotic species. So if you think about something like European Starling in North America, that’s obviously a species from Europe that was introduced by man into New York and then has spread across the continent from there.

It’s become– it’s always been important that we’ve been able to identify those and tag this history of where the bird came from largely because there’s this long history of a framework for how birds are counted for a region. If you have a pet bird and it just escapes from a cage, that’s not really part of the ABA fauna, for say, Utah, or Kansas.

So when we keep official bird list for regions or when people are comparing personal bird lists, those are kept in a separate category. But it’s so complicated to try to identify that on a global scale that we haven’t been able to do it until now. So now we have the tea.

And with the resources, we’ve been able to identify a system to identify these exotic species all over the world and place them into of three categories of how close they are to the fully established European Starling set of history versus like I just let this bird out of a cage history. And it’s really eye opening, as we’ve gone through this process, to see just how much humans are influencing what and where.

Here in Taiwan where I am now, there’s a lot of species that have been introduced from elsewhere and are living commonly in the streets here. One of them, Javan myna, is almost extinct in its native range in Java actually because of so much bird trapping. But it’s a common bird here on the streets in the urban areas in Taiwan, which is an amazing thing to think about from a conservation perspective.

But anyway, that’s something to look forward to being fully realized in eBird hopefully before the end of the year. Right now, you can see it on range maps. You can actually see the different colors related to where birds came from and whether they’re introduced or exotic.

[Lisa Kopp] Wow, so that’s really soon. That’ll be– that’s coming within the next few weeks.

[Marshall Iliff] Yap

[Lisa Kopp] Exciting. OK, so let’s go to you for a little bit, Jenna. Do you want to take us back to the basics? We got some great intro level questions of how do I get started with eBird? Do you want to talk–

[Jenna Curtis] Yeah

[Lisa Kopp] –through about that might look like?

[Jenna Curtis] Before we dive into that, I just wanted to– I just pulled up, I’ll share my screen here. What Marshall was talking about with Javan myna, a native range versus their introduced range. So here, we’ll show you how to dig into these tools and just a second.

But just to illustrate what Marshall’s saying, the purple area is the native range of the species where they’re endemic and the orange area is where they’ve been introduced by humans. And so you can actually see how Marshall’s talking about, about the exotic introduced populations versus their native ranges. And this is such a great tool for education and for understanding how birds get established and spread in new areas.

[Lisa Kopp] Wow, that’s very cool.

[Jenna Curtis] Yeah. And for all the folks who are here just getting started with eBird, welcome, we’re so glad to have you. So just start with the very basics, we have a free self-paced online course that really covers everything that we feel are the important things to know about learning eBird. And that’s called eBird Essentials.

It’s completely online, it takes a couple hours to finish. And at the end, you’ll feel like you understand the process a lot more, how the tools are used, and how you can use eBird to contribute to science and conservation. Our experience has been that people who complete the course feel a lot more confident about eBird. So if we’re unable to get to your question today and you just want to know more about this Awesome platform, please head over to the eBird Essentials course and get started there.

[Lisa Kopp] Great, thank you, Jenna. So Marshall, why would people want to use eBird? What does it do– what’s the value to someone individually? We can talk about some of the bigger picture stuff, but why would someone want to become a new user of eBird?

[Marshall Iliff] So yeah, eBird was really founded on the idea that there’s all these people out there around the world who love birds and go birding often every day just because they love it. And so many of them keep track, just habitually, of what they see and where.

And as the internet was becoming a thing, there was this realization of like, what if instead of writing these on paper we just put that all in a database in one place and can use that to help monitor bird populations and understanding– and protect those birds with that information? So that’s really where eBird comes from.

And yeah, for anyone who has that instinct to record what you see and jot it down, we just ask, jot it down in eBird instead and then and then instead of just accumulating a bunch of paper that someone’s going to have to throw away someday, you’ll replace that’s useful for science. I have an auto timer light that I need to turn back on.


[Lisa Kopp] Well, you didn’t lose power, I was worried. That has happened before, during a webinar. We lost– the lab lost power, someone did a webinar in the dark. So Marshall was just talking about people jotting down the birds that they see. You’re on a walk, you’re in your yard.

Oftentimes, you’re not really thinking that those common birds that we see all the time matter. And I remember reading through a pre submitted question where someone asked, why would I do– do you really care about all the crows that I see randomly? Are sightings of common birds valuable to eBird?

[Jenna Curtis] Yes definitely every bird counts, that’s our motto at eBird. Every bird from a common bird that you see every day to a special bird that’s rare and unique to you for the first time, we want every bird observation. Because it’s only by understanding all the birds that are in an area and how many there are that we can truly begin to understand changes in bird populations over time or bird distributions.

We can understand the habitat conditions that influence where birds do and don’t occur, which is so important for both basic scientific research and bird conservation and protection. So if you have a list that’s just birds in your backyard, starlings or sparrows, if you feel that’s not a very exciting list, please, please continue to report it, we value every single list. And one of my things that I like to say the most about eBird is that oftentimes, the only person to submit those starlings or those sparrows to the bird is you.

Now if– so you might be the only person to ever report that birds that day. So if you don’t do it, who else will? And that’s why eBirding and regular eBirding and eBirding all the birds is so important.

[Lisa Kopp] Great. Speaking of more common birds, it’s Project FeederWatch season, so we did get a couple of submitted questions about the difference between Project FeederWatch and eBird. So Jenna, would you mind addressing that quickly?

[Jenna Curtis] Yeah, sure. eBird and Project FeederWatch are two great ways to contribute your bird observations for research and conservation. There are two different citizen science projects. They do use different protocols and counting methods. Project FeederWatch focuses on censusing birds around feeders and backyards in North America, and that protocol is designed to collect the best data to answer those questions. Whereas eBird is a year round Global Reporting platform.

But because these two programs focus on different things and are based around different questions, they do use separate databases. So things that you report to eBird won’t necessarily feed into Project FeederWatch and vise versa. You can use a single account for both projects.

So if you’re in eBird or you’ve got an account, you can use for Project FeederWatch. If you already contribute to Project FeederWatch, you’ve got an account you can use for eBird. But I encourage you to check out both projects to understand what they’re each about and how– you might be interested in contributing to both.

[Lisa Kopp] Yes. And I just added to the chat a link to an upcoming webinar focused on FeederWatch. So if you’re interested, there are so many ways to get involved in citizen science and the projects around the lab. FeederWatch is another great tool. So you can tune in to that webinar to learn about how to do that.

OK, so Jenna, we know from pre-submitted questions and the questions that I’m seeing coming into the Q&A right now that we’ve got some newer folks just learning how to eBird and how they can use it to explore and report birds. Would? You mind doing a little demo of just the first steps within eBird? You’re muted.

[Jenna Curtis] Thank you. Let me share my phone screen here. So for me, the easiest way to enter data is when I’m in the field live, observing birds in person. Hopefully, you can see my phone screen here, is that the case?

[Lisa Kopp] Yep, you’re good.

[Jenna Curtis] Great. I think the best way to do that is with what I’m showing here, which is the eBird Mobile app. This is a free app you can download. It’s available for both Android and iPhone devices. In the interest of time, we’ve only got about a half hour left, I’m not going to be able to cover all the features of the app, but head over to that eBird Essentials course that we mentioned earlier for a more thorough walkthrough.

If you do prefer to keep a pen and paper list, if you don’t want to be on your phone while you’re birding, you can keep those and enter them through the eBird website. And we have more walkthroughs from that on the eBird Essentials course and the eBird website as well.

So here’s the opening screen of the eBird Mobile app. This is where you’ll start a checklist. For folks who might be using this app or brand new, one of the cool things you might not know is if you just tap the date– so tap the date with your finger, this allows you to change the date so you can enter past lists from either previous days or just earlier in the day using your phone as well, and that’s just tapping the date on the screen.

When I start a checklist, I’ll just tap that big green button. We did get a question just in the chat just now about why this record track option is there? We strongly encourage you to always keep track recording on not only because it helps eBird Mobile to automatically calculate the important effort information that we gather along with your birding list, and also to know where you’re at so it can provide the most accurate location information possible for science.

But even if you’re not moving around, if you don’t have a distance estimate, it’s also really important just, for like I mentioned, location precision– knowing where you’re birding and suggesting the best protocol for how you’re birding an area. So for those reasons, we always strongly encourage you to leave track recording on.

We have some more information about track recording on our website, we can share if we get some questions about that. But I’m going to start an eBird checklist here. And what I’ve got here is a list of birds that are expected for my GPS location. And even if I don’t have data, eBird mobile can still use my GPS and installed data on the device to pull a list of birds that are expected no matter where I am in the whole world.

If you open the app for the first time, you may wonder why the birds on the list are sorted a certain way. What I have here is called [AUDIO OUT]. And I can access that by tapping the three lines at the bottom of the screen. And that’s a great way to change how you see the list. The two options are taxonomic sort, which just orders the bird in their familial relations starting with, the earliest taxonomic birds on the list, and going down to the more recent ones. That’s related to the taxonomy that Marshall was talking about earlier.

But in most cases, I prefer to use smart sort because birds are still in a taxonomic order. But what it does is put the more commonly reported birds at the top of the list, the birds that I’m more likely to find when I’m out birding. And then down below are the less commonly reported birds and the uncommon or rarely reported birds.

And I know that based on those colored dots that appear next to the birds names. Those are automatically generated by the app based on what other people in my area are reporting. So if I report something with an orange dot, that means it’s uncommon and that birders in my area report that on less than 6% of their checklists for this general area and also this time of year.

If you’re curious how eBird is pulling in that data or using that data, just look at the top of the screen. And you can see here that I’ve got likely species based on 106 checklists within a 20 kilometer radius of my area. So there’s 106 other eBird checklists from this particular time of year in area that are being used to tell me what’s commonly reported or less commonly reported.

Just as kind of a, side note, I always love when I’ve got a dot on my list because it either means that I’m reporting something that’s unique or unusual, but not many birders are finding it, or if I’m in an area with less eBird data. It means I’m contributing a valuable information point and I’m helping to improve our understanding of what birds are around here so that the dots can be even more accurate in the future.

[Lisa Kopp] Henna, while you’re on that topic, I– see a couple of questions about verifying those if you go out and you see a bird that has a red dot next to its name, I might not be a good enough birder, it’s really know for sure that I might feel really confident. But it might not actually be that. But how is that– how is there a check and balance on that with eBird and we risk Messing with the data if something is submitted that’s inaccurate?

[Jenna Curtis] Yeah, maybe Marshall– while we’re at it, do you want to talk about when you’re reporting something that you might not be sure about or something that’s marked with a dot or a flag on a checklist, the general procedure that you go through when you’re reporting those words on your list? Especially now that you’re in a new area that you may not have learned it before? You’re seeing lots of birds that you’re like, oh, I’ve never seen that. How am I? sure? Like. Should I report that?

[Marshall Iliff] Yeah. Sure there’s really two levels of checking there. And these red dots are really based on the frequency of reports in that specific area. And they’re very prone to showing a lot of dots in new areas where no one’s heard it before. So we don’t want people to overemphasize those, but it’s a good initial thing. Like think just a little bit more about this ID, but we have the serious– like here’s an orange rare bird flag that pops up if you see something really unusual.

And that’s where our formal data quality process really kicks in and we do want people to be very mindful about what they report and how when they see that flag, with the understanding that birds have wings, they do use them, they show up in rare places. You may have even been going to that place specifically to see that rare bird.

The thing that we ask is when you see something that you think might be unusual or is know is unusual, just put a little extra time in to document it. And at the simplest level, just write down some of the field marks that you observe, the behavior of the bird showing, the habitat it’s in. Both for your own– for me, that’s really helpful for learning.

Learning to go back to these records and make sure I’m correct. And as I’m learning new areas right now, I’m going back and doing that like self correction process a lot. But then also, that’s the information that [AUDIO OUT] to verify. If you really did find something that’s unusual, maybe new for a region, those field notes are the first way to help vet that data.

And always, if you can get a photo or with Merlin, just a sound recording of any vocalization the bird makes, just that can be enough to confirm potentially a new bird for the country you’re in, just by hitting record, holding your smartphone up, getting a snippet of the voice. Even if the voice isn’t how you identified it, someone else might be able to identify it that way. So we really encourage people to think about the phones that are probably in your hands and using those to help document birds.

[Lisa Kopp] Great, thank you, that’s so helpful. Jenna, I cut you off when you were going through our initial demo, so do you mind picking it up?

[Jenna Curtis] Yeah, sure. So here I am back at my list in addition to an exciting bird that we just described using the notes that Marshall just shared with us. I also maybe– looking out my window here, I’ve got three Starlings, European Starlings.

So what I’ve done here is if you’re watching on Live with us, I’ve entered the number of birds that I’ve seen, and then I’m starting to type the birds names. And as I’m typing the name, eBird is filtering the checklist that we saw in front of us two birds that match the words that I’m typing. You don’t have to know the full birds names so you just know them as starlings. You can type Starling, there it is.

And once I found the bird that I want to report or it’s displayed for me on the screen, I’m just going to tap it. Note that I have not finished typing the full birds names, I’ve just entered Starling, I see Starling on the screen, I tap it with my finger, and now it has added three starlings to the list.

Some people ask, why does the number come first? Why does eBird always want me to enter a number before I report the species? And that’s not only to encourage you to count and take note of the number of birds you’re seeing, but it also means that if you say see two starlings later, on all I have to do is type the number two and I’ll tap Starling again and it’s added that number to the species without having to retype Starling or do anything more with letters, I’m just adding more birds.

Say I also see a house Sparrow and a couple of house finches here. I don’t have any house finches on my list, but again, I’m just entering the number. I see house Finch on the screen, I tap it, and Now I’ve got house Finch on my list as well. If you’re in an area with a ton of birds and this is such a big list to sort through and you’ve been birding for a while, you feel like you’ve gotten a good sense of all the birds that are around you. What I like to do is down at the bottom of the screen, there’s a checkmark and a number.

And what that means is that’s the number of birds that are currently on your list that you’ve added to your list and if you tap that. It filters your list by the birds that you’ve reported. So now any species that we haven’t added to our list has been hidden and we’re just seeing the birds that we’ve been finding, and that makes it a lot easier to continue to add individuals to bird’s [AUDIO OUT].

So in this case, I see a couple more house sparrows. Instead of entering a number, I’m just going to tap the one next to house sparrow. And that’s going to increase my count.

Oh, no. I’ve tapped too far. How do I remove some house sparrows from my list? I can either tap the name house sparrow and adjust the number, or another thing you can sometimes do is negative 1, and then tap house sparrow and it subtracts from your list as well.

[Marshall Iliff] Hey, hey.

[Jenna Curtis] So those are–

[Lisa Kopp] Smart technology.

[Jenna Curtis] Exactly. And so once you get the hang of it, it can just be so quick and easy in the field to just be walking around and be like, oh, I’ve got six geese. I’ve got Canada goose. So I’m just going to write– all I typed was 6 C-A. And it was just so easy to add Canada Goose to my list.

[Lisa Kopp] That’s great.

[Jenna Curtis] And then when I’m done birding, yeah I’ll just hit Stop. And what you’ll notice is that eBird, while I’ve been birding– keep birding here. eBird has been keeping track of the number of minutes that I’ve been birding, how long I’ve been birding, and how far I’ve traveled.

In this case, I’ve been sitting in my chair. So we haven’t traveled very far. But if we’d been walking this whole time, eBird would be keeping track of the distance. And it does that all automatically for you.

So you collect this really important effort information for science. What you’re doing is you are creating a survey list that’s similar to what scientists do when they go out to do formal bird surveys in the field– that effort information. How hard you had to work, how far you walked, how long you spent looking for birds in order to report the birds that are on this list is so valuable for some of the tools that we can share and do with eBird data.

But here I’m done birding. I’m going to hit Stop track. And now eBird is going to ask me some more questions about the birds that I’ve seen, how I went birding. In this case, eBird has seen that I did not travel any distance, and therefore it has recommended a stationary count.

But I’m sitting here in my office. I don’t even have a window open. I’m not able to hear any birds, and I’ve been talking to you guys. So I might have missed a bird or two.

So I don’t think birding was really my primary purpose in the last 10 minutes. So I’m going to change that to Incidental. If I was outside dedicating time to detecting all the birds around me and just putting some effort into it, I would probably call this a stationary list. But right now, birding is not my primary purpose.

So the Incidental protocol is the one I want to use. Yeah. And at this point, we’re ready to submit this list. But I did see that there were a few questions about picking a location.

You will need to pick a location before you can submit your list. If you don’t have a data connection, if you’re out in the field and you have no cellular, no Wi-Fi, you’re not going to be able to pick a location and submit your list. You’ll need to wait until you get back home to do the next couple of steps.

And not necessarily home– a hotel room or just until you have Wi-Fi again. But say, for example, you don’t have a connection. You can’t pick your location. Tap the x in the upper right corner of the screen.

And that’s going to hide the checklist so that you can start a new list. You can travel to a new location. You can keep birding without a connection. And when you return to the Wi-Fi or cellular service, tap Checklists at the bottom of the screen. And all of the checklists that you’ve been creating throughout the day will be there so that you can go back, tap a checklist– this is the one we just took– and finish that submission process.

And then that’s the Checklist tab on the home screen. But we do have reception. So I’m going to tap Choose a location.

eBird’s recommending any nearby hotspots. Those are locations that anyone can use to enter data for their checklists as well as any personal locations that I’ve previously created from this area. If none of those suggested locations are where you went birding, or if you’re in a new area with no existing points, just zoom in and find the area that you want to describe your birding. Say in this case, the pin’s over here.

Then I’ll just tap the map. And here. I’ll hold up my fingers, too. Oh, maybe not.

I’m just tapping the map to create a point. And that’s how you can create new locations and ensure that you are selecting the best location that describes your birding activity or where you went birding. It can be helpful when you have the track on your screen because you’ve been tracking your distance. And you can pick a pin that reflects that track area.

[Lisa Kopp] Wonderful.

[Jenna Curtis] Yeah.

[Lisa Kopp] Thank you.

[Jenna Curtis] So in this case– yeah. I generally find that the suggested locations are pretty good. And when they’re not, it’s so easy to just tap and create a new one.

[Lisa Kopp] One question we got when you were tapping– well, actually, multiple questions was about counting. So a couple of people asked about, is the number required? What if you don’t have time to count?

Or what if there’s a huge flock and it’s really difficult? It just happened the other day. There were some giant tractors plowing a field and I pulled over to watch hundreds of gulls flying around.

And there was a way to count, but there’s also a way to do that within eBird. Would you mind telling us about how to do that?

[Jenna Curtis] Yeah, I know when large flocks show up, my heart starts racing. I’m like, oh, my gosh. That’s so many birds. How am I going to count them all?

And my first step is just, take a deep breath. Do your best. Any number that you provide– if it’s your best guess, if it’s a rough estimate by thousands, is more informative to science and conservation than not entering any count at all.

So you can estimate by 10s, estimate by 100s. Add birds as best you can. Report a conservative number of how many you feel were heard or seen.

Just do your best. But this is not our preferred practice. But if you just can’t give a reliable count– either you just don’t remember or you don’t have those notes, you can use x to indicate a bird that was present but that you didn’t count.

And that’s the [AUDIO OUT] to use x. And that just indicates, I had some mallards. But I don’t remember how many. But again, the challenge with an x and why we don’t recommend it, especially for science and conservation, is that [AUDIO OUT] later, does x mean 1 mallard or 2 mallards? Or does it mean 5,000 mallards? There’s really no way of knowing. And so even if I had just entered 10 as a rough estimate, way more informative.

[Lisa Kopp] Great.

[Jenna Curtis] Marshall, do you have anything to add about counting? What are some of your favorite counting tips?

[Marshall Iliff] That’s a great one. If you have a large flock, like Jenna mentioned, if you break it into chunks, that’s really helpful. You can start at the left edge of the flock, actually count to 100, and then get a sense for how many segments that flock makes up.

And that lets you do, really, a quick estimate that gets you to the right order of magnitude, which like Jenna says, that’s what makes it really valuable for science. Because we lose so much information with an x.

[Lisa Kopp] We put in the chat the eBird article with tips for counting, too. So there’s some helpful little tools that you can hopefully put into practice. I saw Marshall answered in the chat a question that someone had about, OK, well, how do I know if I’m counting the same sparrow six different times as I watch it fly by my window or onto my tree, or something like that? Any ideas for that, Marshall, that you want to share broadly? I see you typed an answer in the chat.

[Marshall Iliff] It’s really just to use your best judgment. You’re the only one that was there at this location counting the birds. So just think about, is this a sparrow that just flew behind the tree and then flew out from the other side of the tree?

That’s probably one sparrow, not two sparrows. And to the extent that you’re paying attention to the plumage of birds, that can help. But it’s also, like Jenna said, we’re asking for your best– do your best. Try to be conscious of that question if you think it might be the same bird. But often, plus or minus one or two birds because you’re not sure if it’s the same or different isn’t something to lose sleep over.

[Lisa Kopp] It’s always comforting to hear. I think people learn about how valuable eBird is for science and conservation efforts, and for all of these incredible tools. And I think they get worried about entering something that’s going to mess up the database. And it’s comforting to hear from the experts that the scale at which eBird operates is so grand that a couple of estimations here and there are not going to compromise the database.

[Jenna Curtis] Exactly.

[Lisa Kopp] Oh, go ahead, Jenna.

[Jenna Curtis] We have so many questions. I want to get to them all.

[Lisa Kopp] I know. I know.

[Jenna Curtis] And I’m watching the time tick away. There are so many questions about exploring data and Merlin’s sound ID. So I’m going to probably close my phone screen here.

I did want to point out that eBird Mobile includes an Explore feature as well. So you can [AUDIO OUT] by locations. But you could also– I’m tapping the icon next to the search bar to change it from hotspots to Species.

And I can look for nearby reports of species. All of this is on the website. I’m sorry we don’t have time to cover all of the amazing things that the eBird Mobile app does today.

But I’ll try and get on to some of the other questions. But please do check that out. And hopefully, we’ll be able to cover those more in another webinar.

[Lisa Kopp] I do want to take a little bit of time to talk about Merlin. I know we have lots of Merlin users. And we’re getting questions about how to use Merlin in connection with eBird. So Marshall, I’m wondering if you’d want to talk a little bit about the differences between eBird and Merlin, and why someone might want to use one over the other.

[Marshall Iliff] Yeah, sure. So I really think of Merlin as the friend that’s helping you identify birds. So if you aren’t sure what you’re seeing, you say, ah, I saw a bird. It was big.

It was white. I saw some yellow on it. What do you think that might have been? And then Merlin is the one that helps you say, maybe it was a great egret.

They’re big and white and have a yellow bill. So think about Merlin as the field guide that’s always with you, an identification resource, and really a tool to help learn bird identification and learn birding. And eBird is really for those that– you’ve gotten to the point where you’re identifying multiple birds and you’re starting to keep lists of them, as Jenna did in the walkthrough. That’s when you’re going on a bird walk and tallying multiple birds and starting to count them.

So think about eBird as for keeping your records. And Merlin is often using the two in conjunction. I’m in a new place. I’m trying to identify the birds, but I’m also tallying them as I go.

But the one piece I would add that is that both, and especially eBird, have really rich resources for exploring birds that others are seeing. And there’s a lot of learning resources available on eBird from browsing photos, or looking at migration patterns, looking at maps. But you won’t find a field guide presentation in eBird the way you will in Merlin.

[Lisa Kopp] Great. And the follow-up question we’re getting quite a bit is using one of Merlin’s incredible features, which is sound ID, where for our audience who hasn’t, who may not be familiar, you can hold up your phone, let it record. And it will, in real-time, identify birds based on the calls or the sounds that they’re making. And people are asking whether they can enter into eBird the birds that Merlin is IDing by sound even if they haven’t necessarily seen it.

[Marshall Iliff] Yeah, so sound ID is where you take that friend and say, hey, I got this recording of a bird, and you send it. And it comes back. We want people to be really careful about just saying Merlin identified this bird. Think about Merlin as that friend.

You ask for an opinion. But use your own brain to make that [AUDIO OUT] what you put on your list. Does it seem like Merlin’s right?

Merlin’s human, too. It makes mistakes. And some of them– since it’s not human, it’s a computer. It’s making different kinds of mistakes than a human would.

So that human brain check– does the habitat make sense? Does the range of this bird make sense? Is Merlin telling me I’m seeing something super rare?

Use that to filter out the things that don’t seem likely and to independently say, OK, Merlin thinks it’s this unusual bird. I’m going to go pull up some recordings and see if that’s what I hear. And after you’ve done that process, then you’re the human making the final identification.

And that’s what we really want. The one other piece to add, though, is every time you use Merlin sound ID, it saves a file of that recording to your phone. So if you really think you had something unusual, you can upload that directly to your eBird checklist. And as long as we have that documentation, then it’s a bit safer to report what you and Merlin thought you heard.

[Lisa Kopp] Great. Yes. Jen, I see you pulled up your screen. I was hoping you wouldn’t mind showing how to do that because we do have a couple of questions about it.

[Jenna Curtis] Yeah, yeah. So here I am on the Merlin app. And I’m going touch Sound ID. And I’ve got some past sound recordings here in the My Sound Recordings folder that I can go in and engage with and see what I’ve listened to in the past.

There’s all those great resources that Marshall mentioned to help your brain decide whether or not you agree with Merlin’s description, what to look for if you hear the bird and want to try and see it to verify it independently. The range maps and things to help whether or not the bird that Merlin is identifying is in your area– those details are all there as part of the sound recording. But say I want to add this to my eBird checklist for my spotted towhee report.

I’m going to tap this little box with an arrow coming out of it on the left side. On an Android device, it would be a different icon. But it’s just that sharing icon that appears to the left of the Play button.

You can tap that. And it’ll give you the option to share it with either a friend via text or to email it to yourself, upload it to a computer. There’s a lot of different app options there to basically send that sound recording to a computer where you can upload it to your eBird checklist.

And we can provide some links for how to add media to your eBird checklists. It needs to be done through a website. You can do it on your mobile device. If you open the eBird website on your phone using a browser.

So while it’s not currently possible to upload media directly through that eBird Mobile app that I was showing earlier, all you need to do is go to a submitted checklist, and instead of tapping Edit, which you would edit the checklist in the app, tap to open the checklist on a web browser. And from there, I’m not logged in right now.

So the options to upload media aren’t visible. But I can just sign in to do that. From this page, you’ll be able to add media, including Merlin sound recording files that you’ve saved to your device or emailed to yourself to that checklist.

[Lisa Kopp] Great. Thank you. Since we’re talking about the lovely synergy between Merlin and eBird, I wondered if we could talk about planning for trips or looking at the resources built into eBird that again, there’s a lot of crossover with Merlin. But how to search for either specific birds, or think about planning a trip, and using eBird as a tool for that. Jenna, would you mind talking a little bit about–

[Jenna Curtis] Yeah, this time I’m going to share the eBird website on my screen.

[Lisa Kopp] Great, thank you.

[Jenna Curtis] Let’s try that. Oh man, there’s so many great questions. We’ll have to do this again.

Thanks, everyone, for logging in. So here I am on the eBird website. This is And I’m going to tap this Explore option at the top.

And that is where all of eBird’s greatest, most awesome birding tools and resources on the website are. So many ways to engage with, find, report, discover more about birds are all right here under the Explore tab. We did get a question about where to find Red-cockaded woodpeckers in Alabama.

So I’m just going to walk through how I would answer that question. And that’s with the species maps. Species maps here. And I know that I want to look for Red-cockaded woodpecker.

And when I enter that species, eBird is going to show me a map of everywhere that Red-cockaded woodpecker has been reported by other eBirders throughout all time. And I want to Zoom in on Alabama. So I could either scroll in on the map, or I could enter a specific location, like Birmingham.

And the map will automatically zoom in there. And you can see that as you zoom in on the map, it switches from these purple boxes that indicate areas where birds have been reported and the color indicates the frequency or the density of reports in that area. But as you zoom in, the boxes switch to individual map pins.

So you can actually see the specific locations where Red-cockaded woodpeckers have been reported by eBirders in the Birmingham area. So this is how I would say– looks like if I want to find a Red-cockaded woodpecker, I should probably head out to just south of Duncanville. Quite a few number of reports there.

Might be a good place to start. Oh, and there’s even a red pin, which means a recent report that someone has reported. Click on the pin. I can see that there’s been reports as recently as this week for birds in that area.

So I could also filter the map to a specific date range. Say I’m going to be in the area in the spring and look for birds that way. So that’s great. We also saw a question about wanting to know anything and everything about hummingbirds in southwestern Utah, which I just love.

That’s such a fun question. So I’m going to show a different tool here. And hopefully, Marshall can walk us through one of the best tools of eBird, which is the bar charts.

[Marshall Iliff] Yeah. So bar charts are really one of my favorite. They’re a pretty stripped down, just list of birds, but then have this green bar that indicates the frequency that each species occurs, basically week by week throughout the year. So it’s a really good way for understanding bird migration.

We use this term frequency, which is a really simple metric. It’s just the percentage of complete checklists that report a species. So if you go out and go birding, and every single time you see European starling, that would be a 1.

But if you see Anna’s hummingbird, 2 out of 10 times, that would be 20%, 0.2. So the difference in the number of times you expect to find it on a given bird walk is really useful for looking at how birds are changing seasonally. And as Jenna gets to the bar chart [AUDIO OUT] we can quickly scroll to the hummingbirds and see, OK, which hummingbirds are here all year?

Which ones are seasonal? And so if you’re looking for which hummingbird occurs all year long, you’ll see as has a fairly big signal all year long. Costa’s has an obvious spring signal when they’re in the area, conspicuous and displaying. But then it’s an unusual species that you might find at any time of year.

But then there’s others, like calliope hummingbird just passes through in a basically two-month period, spring and fall. And then Rufus hummingbird, you almost don’t see in spring, but is a very common bird in the fall. And then broad tailed, you see, is a very common bird all summer long, but just totally clears out, is never found in winter.

And that’s true. If, you did the same thing for Mexico, you’d see the reverse. Because they go down to Mexico for the winter and then come back in March and April to Utah.

[Jenna Curtis] Yeah, and it looks like in the winter, you might be able to find maybe rarely a broad billed hummingbird. I’m [AUDIO OUT] at the map here. And I can see that the winter reports, or most of the reports of broad billed hummingbird are from the St. George area.

So when birders are reporting broad billed hummingbirds, that’s for this area. And if I’m another part of the state, the birds might not be as frequently reported.

[Marshall Iliff] And that’s a super great example for getting to that next level inverting, is once you understand the seasonality and start to understand what’s unusual, it gives you this trigger to when do you really need to look extra carefully at a bird. So if you think you see a broad tailed hummingbird at your feeder in December, but you realize, that’s super unusual, and it’s never happened in eBird before, and you say, OK, I’m really going to study this one, maybe you get to the point where you say, that’s not a broad tail.

That’s a rarer species from somewhere else, like maybe an Allen’s hummingbird from the West Coast or something. Because often, the unusual birds are occurring at unusual seasons. And broad billed is a great example for that in southwest Utah. If you see a hummingbird in winter, it might be one of the rare ones if you know it’s not the common one, which is Anna’s.

[Lisa Kopp] Well that’s–

[Jenna Curtis] And these bar charts are also available in Merlin on your phone. So the bar charts that you see in Merlin can be interpreted and used the same way if you’re in the field.

[Lisa Kopp] Yeah. Merlin really is such a little field guide in your pocket, a very, very smart field guide where you don’t have to flip through anything. But Marshall, what you just brought up about rare birds relates to a question that we got a couple of times pre-submitted, which is about protecting sensitive species.

So I think one of the questions was, how can users of eBird record sightings of rare or sensitive species without revealing their locations? I think we’ve all heard of a rare bird or a sensitive bird that you want to avoid 50 people going and being in its space, and potentially harming it. So any information on that, Marshall?

[Marshall Iliff] First and foremost, we all want to bird mindfully and think about these birds that we’re out to enjoy, and their life experience. Don’t pressure birds too much. Try to avoid disturbing nesting or roosting birds.

The roosting is really important because they’re rebuilding their energy. So if you’re always flushing shorebirds, they just literally won’t be able to get enough food. So just try to be respectful of the birds. There are some birds that are so interesting to birders– just such a draw that we actually protect them in eBird.

So there’s a set of birds that are just automatically, we don’t give that point-level information so people can drive right to the bird. Because we know the risk of disturbance is too great. You can think about that most often with owls.

A lot of them are owls that people love to see. I love to see them. But it’s just such a risk that they’ll be flushed and basically disturbed from their day roofs that we hide those. So you can try to figure out what the sensitive species are in your area by pulling up some of the Explore– I’m dark again. But I’m going to keep going.


If you pull up some of the Explore resources, you can see at the bottom of the list the sensitive species. So those are the ones that are protected and hidden. And those ones you can report with full knowledge that eBird is keeping the birds protected. But yeah, so Jenna, I’m a little disoriented by the light going off.


Tell them anything I forgot.

[Jenna Curtis] No, I’m watching the clock tick away. And a related question based on data privacy and personal privacy– we can provide a link to eBird data privacy in that follow-up email for folks who are concerned about keeping locations private and keeping species sensitive. But just the specific point being, if you [AUDIO OUT] your home location or you have a sensitive location that delaying or holding back on a sighting to keep it out of alerts just isn’t going to fix, you can provide the nearest intersection or provide a similar habitat close by that is not your exact backyard.

And normally, we do encourage people to provide your exact location because that provides the most specific and precise habitat information [AUDIO OUT] But we do understand there are cases where sometimes, you just don’t want your home location given. And so the nearest intersection or the nearest park– as long as the habitat is somewhat similar– is OK.

But related to that, a data privacy question we often get that I know we’re running out of time, but I do want to quickly cover is say you submitted an eBird checklist from your home. And now your address is online and you didn’t realize it. And you’re like, how do I fix that so that it’s not my address anymore?

So with the one minute we have left, the way to do that is to go to the eBird website. And go to My eBird. And tap Location.

And from there, you can rename locations, merge. If you’ve got a cluster of points, we saw some question where you’ve got a ton of points on the map and you just want to simplify them into one, all of those options to rename, merge, manage your locations are all in the My Locations page. And I think the easiest thing to do is to just search for the name of the location you want to change.

For example, I want to rename to something more precise. Oh, I can’t. Someone else owns this location. But basically, all of your location managing things there– so you can rename your home address to something a little less obvious than the exact location.

[Lisa Kopp] Thank you, Jenna. That’s helpful. We did have a couple privacy questions.

I can’t believe that an hour just went by so fast. Thank you so much, Marshall and Jenna, for rapid firing, answering rapid-fire questions for the last hour. And thank you to all of the audience for tuning in and for submitting such great questions.

As I mentioned, we’ll be sending an email out to anyone who registered over Zoom with a recording to this talk. So you can go back and review things, and pause things after Jenna’s demos to test it out on your own. And like I said, we’ll be doing this again.

So if you are not yet a part of our email list where we send out information, we can put a link to that in the chat to make sure that you are alerted to our next webinar, where we will continue to answer questions and help you use the wonderful tools that the lab provides. So I hope everybody has a great day. And thank you again, Jenna and Marshall, for joining.

[Jenna Curtis] Thank you so much. Happy birding, everyone.

[Marshall Iliff] Thanks, everyone.

[Lisa Kopp] Have a great day. Bye.

End of transcript

Make the most of your birding with eBird. Learn where to look for birds and ways to share what you see with others. Watch the recorded live Q&A when members of Team eBird answer your questions about exploring and reporting birds and contributing to science. Open to birdwatchers of all skill levels. 

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