Thumbnail image: Jay McGowan | Macaulay Library

>>Leo Sack: All right, hello! Welcome to today’s eBird Live Q&A webinar. Thank you all so much for joining us. If you are a frequent eBirder you may have noticed that the eBird web servers are currently down for some planned maintenance, both today and tomorrow. Now we’ll talk about that more in a minute. But while that maintenance on the servers is going on, we thought this would be a great opportunity to get the eBird staff together and chat with the community, and answer your questions about all things eBird.

Before we get started, I have a couple quick announcements up front: Number one, closed captioning is available. If you’d like to see subtitles, please click the captions button at the bottom of your screen.

Number two, we’ll cover a few frequently asked questions just to get the conversation started, but our main goal today is to answer questions from you, the audience! So for those of you on Zoom, click on the Q&A button located at the bottom of your screen, and type your questions into that Q&A window that will pop up. If you like someone else’s questions, please upvote that question by clicking on the thumbs-up icon. We’ll be answering some questions verbally, and for others we’ll be typing in our answers, which you will see in the “answered” column of that Q&A window.

We’re also streaming live to Facebook. Now, if you are watching on the eBird Facebook page or the Cornell Fab of Ornithology Facebook page, you can add your questions to the comments and we’ll answer those too.

So with all of that out of the way, let’s do introductions. I’m going to invite my panelists to come in and join me here. My name is Leo Sack, I’m the Public Programs Assistant for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Visitor Center and I have the honor of working with all of these different amazing programs at the Lab, including eBird, so I will be facilitating today’s conversation.

And with me today we actually have five amazing staff members from the eBird team. Two of them will be on camera with me the whole time, we have eBird Project Co-Leader Jenna Curtis and eBird Project Assistant John Garrett. So Jenna and John, hello!

>>Jenna Curtis: Hi, thanks so much for having us here!

>>Leo Sack: My pleasure.

>>John Garrett: Hey, hello.

>>Leo Sack: Hey, John. Thank you guys both so much for being here. And I should also mention that we also have three more members of the team participating behind the scenes today. I don’t know if any of them want to turn on their cameras and say hi, there we go. So we have eBird Project Coordinator Ian Davies, he’ll be moderating the chat and Q&A box with us in Zoom. While eBird Project Co-Leader Marshall Iliff, and Macaulay Library Communications Coordinator Kathi Borgmann will be moderating the chat in Facebook. Oh, and we have Chris Wood with us as well! Yes! The whole team is here! So this is amazing, we have so many all-star team members with us helping us out today. They’ll all be typing in answers to some of your questions and feeding other answers to us to discuss verbally in our video window here. So hello and thank you to all of you guys, Ian, Marshall, Kathi, Chris. Hi there!

>>Marshall Iliff: Hi, thanks. It’s great to see so many people joining.

>>Ian Davies: Hi everybody, really looking forward to your questions, thanks.

>>Leo Sack: Okay. And I think Kathi doesn’t have her — she’s not logged into Zoom but she’s on Facebook as well. And Chris, delighted to see you as well! So, thank you all so much for being here. It is amazing to have this all-star crew of experts.

At this point, Ian, Marshall, Kathi, Chris are all planning to turn off their cameras and mics so they can focus on the chat but they are welcome to pop back in and chime in to the discussion anytime.

So with all those introductions done let’s get started. So, Jenna and John would you each take a moment to introduce yourselves just a little further – tell us a little bit about your background your role on the eBird team and get us started. Jenna do you want to start? s

>>Jenna Curtis: Sure, thanks. I am eBird Project Co-Leader, so with the rest of the team I focus on outreach and communication and engagement with our awesome community of eBirders around the world. I help with social media posts, working on the newsletters, and educational materials like the help center.

>> Leo Sack: Fantastic! And John?

>>John Garrett: Yeah. I’m John Garrett I’m the eBird Project Assistant. I started working here in February this year so my roles are mostly around the help center, responding to questions that come in there, and beta testing new things, so any new developments on the website or the mobile apps. I’m one of the main people testing them before they’re rolled out. And also doing things like connecting with reviewers in different areas and figuring out what eBird reviewer should work where and things like that. A lot of jobs!

>>Leo Sack: Excellent. So let’s back up to the basics to make sure everyone’s on the same page. John, for anyone watching who might be new, just real basically, what is eBird and besides watching today’s webinar, how can I learn more about it?

>>John Garrett: That’s an excellent question. eBird is a global database of bird observations that anyone can contribute to. It’s super powerful. Anyone can use it. It kind of started with this idea that anyone’s bird observations are valuable both for birders and for researchers. You can submit observations, keep track of your own observations, and explore other people’s observations in real time and see how they all fit in a bigger picture. Applications are extremely wide-ranging both for science and conservation and birding.

>>Leo Sack: Okay! And ways to learn more about eBird if you’re new and you want to get started?

>>John Garrett: Yes we have an eBird essentials course. It’s free. You can sign up right after the database migration is over and learn all about how to use eBird that way and what your data will be used for and how to get the most out of it.

>>Leo Sack: eBird essentials… I’ll pull up do you want to screen and share that, or I think I probably could as well. Whoever has it ready first. Let’s see give me just a moment,I thought I had it pulled up. Where did it go?

Aha thank you Jenna!

So if you can scroll down a little bit, Jenna, you’ll see a bit more this is just the cover page. So to take this course is free, but you have to log in with a free Bird Academy or Cornell Lab account. That is part of one of the services that’s down today while the servers are being migrated. This is estimated about three hours to take the entire course if you really want to dig into all of the features. You can also get through it a whole lot faster than that if you just want to watch the demo videos and get some of the highlights of how to get started. There’s a ton to explore there and it is a great course.

>>Jenna Curtis: That’s right Leo. Not only is it free, it is completely self-paced. So you don’t need to have a bulk three hours at a time, you can work your way through different sections, come back and revisit things later, and work it at your own pace. Especially covering concepts you might not be familiar with. Even if you’re an expert eBird or feel like you’ve been using the system for a long time, we really encourage you to take the course. You’ll learn something new and it’ll help you make your observations more valuable for science as well as more meaningful to yourself.

>>Leo Sack: Yes. I should say I’m an educator rather than being on the eBird team. I teach people about this stuff and I am also an eBirder myself. I’ve taken this course and it has really helped me a lot. I can’t say enough good things about it.

Let’s move on to our next question. Jenna, why should I use eBird? Why go to the effort of collecting this data for eBird on which birds I’m seeing, how many of each species I’m seeing, and where and when I’m seeing them? Where does all of that data go and how does it get used?

>>Jenna Curtis: Another great question! Just as John said, there are lots of different reasons and applications that you might use eBird data. You can use it personally to keep track of your birding activity and your progress as a birder over time. You can use eBird’s tools to find birds you’ve always wanted to see or learn new things about your favorite species.

But not only that, eBird supports science and conservation. It takes public birding reports and puts them in the hands of researchers and conservationists around the world who can use your birding observations to protect and better understand the birds we all love. eBird data is used in everything from school science fairs to ecological restoration projects computer programming applications and some amazing cutting edge scientific research.

I’m actually going to share one example of that research here. These are the eBird status and trends right here. What we do is we take eBird observations and we make models of when, where, and how many birds occur at a level of detail never before possible without eBird. The eBird science team produces these. Currently we have these sort of animated year-round abundance maps for almost all of the North American bird species and we’re working on expanding this to hopefully someday cover all of the world’s bird species. And again this sort of detailed understanding of when and where birds occur would not be possible without the efforts of eBirders.

>>Leo Sack: Excellent. By the way, we had a webinar just on those status and trends maps. If people want to learn more about that you can go to the Bird Academy website and see the archived video of my webinar with Tom Auer from the eBird science team about these status and trends maps.

>>Jenna Curtis: They are super cool. I could just stare at these all day.

>>Leo Sack: I know, but we gotta keep moving. so many questions!

So I want to address the server maintenance right away, because I’m sure tons of folks have questions about that. So John, tell me why are the eBird servers down today and tomorrow? What’s the goal of scheduled maintenance? What websites and services are or are not affected? How long is it going to last? Tell us about it.

>>John Garrett: Yeah, so I’ll just start by saying taking servers down generally is a routine process in database management but you might notice this time. If you’ve been around these before, the servers are down for a much longer time than normal and we’re doing something different this time. So that’s why. We’re migrating the entire eBird database all of the millions of observations that have come in from one system that’s called Oracle to another that’s called Postgres. And this will allow us to make eBird a lot better. It’s an intensive process and we’ve actually been work at this behind the scenes for most of this year.

So if you’ve been using eBird for a while you might notice that many of the pages we’ve you’re used to have gotten a new look recently, been majorly improved. And the database migration is one of the main reasons we’ve been focused on redesigning the eBird website. So pages like Explore regions, Explore hotspots, My eBird, your sightings lists, Manage My Checklists. These pages are now designed to work better with this new database system that we’re migrating all of our data into. So we’re kind of just getting ready for that transition. This transition will allow us to do all sorts of other things with eBird that we couldn’t really before.

You can still eBird during this. This outage will go until 8 a.m. on the 19th of November 8 a.m. Eastern time. you can still use eBird Mobile. So if you have eBird Mobile downloaded onto your phone and you have packs downloaded for your region, which is just the list of birds in your area that you can use to enter into eBird, you can still create lists. You just can’t submit them until after November 19th 8 a.m. Eastern time.

Everything else is pretty much down right now. You can’t use the eBird website at all, it will redirect you to the help center page. You can’t use anything on the Macaulay Library right now. You can’t use Merlin. You can’t use Birds of the World. But you can still create eBird checklists, just not submit them right away.

>>Jenna Curtis: And birds are still working! So if you… [laughter] Birds are still out there. Birds are still functional out there.

>>Leo Sack: They’re still flying around!

>>Jenna Curtis: So go outside and go birding.

Although, Looking out my window here in this Ithaca weather I’m not so sure about that even…

>>Leo Sack: Okay. Jenna, what do you think? Do we want to take the time to demonstrate what it looks like to make a checklist in eBird Mobile and not submit it until later? Or is that self-explanatory enough?

>>Jenna Curtis: I feel like if you’ve got eBird Mobile installed by now you should be able to just walk your way through the process. Even if you don’t have a pack installed, you should have a default list for your country available to you so that you can still keep checklists. And if we have some time at the end we can walk through that if that’s something that people want to see. But I think we’re ready for some more questions.

>>Leo Sack: Excellent. In that case, I think that covers the basics. So next up we had a ton of audience questions emailed to us ahead of time by folks who registered for today’s webinar in advance. So let’s tackle a few of the most commonly emailed questions and then we’ll continue on to the live questions in the chat and Q&A. And I see a few of these questions are actually probably showing up both places. So John I’ll give you this.

One person writes: how important is it to report a complete checklist that is reporting everything you were able to identify? Many times I just want to add a rare bird to my life list. But I worry that feels selfish because it’s more about your big picture data, right? So John remind us about the difference of between complete and incomplete checklists. What advice that you would give?

>>John Garrett: Yes that’s an excellent question. I’m glad lots of people are asking that one. So a complete checklist is not a complete list of all the birds that are present. It’s a complete list of all the birds that you were able to find and identify. Which is a pretty big difference. My main advice would be do a complete checklist when you can and don’t do a complete checklist when you can’t .So if you have the opportunity to stop your car and stand for five minutes and record everything that you can find there, great! Do that. If you’re just driving you should be focused on driving, so don’t do a complete checklist. If you’re, you know, driving along and seeing Osprey fly over.

Complete checklists are – I think of them as the backbone of eBird. They not only tell us where and when birds are, they also tell us where and when birds aren’t. So by marking your checklist complete you’re implying zero for everything that isn’t there. That tells us a lot of information. It’s what makes things like bar charts possible in eBird. It makes all the frequency and abundance information possible. The fancy status maps like the Barn Swallow map Jenna was showing earlier, that’s only possible because of complete checklists. But again, if it’s not possible to do a complete checklist, don’t mark it that way. Yeah, and maybe don’t submit any checklist as you’re driving. Pull over do an incidental report not while you’re actually on the road.

>>Leo Sack: Excellent. Okay I don’t know if I missed this. How does this tie into the concept of birding as your primary purpose? It seems like some observation types in eBird require birding to be my primary purpose. What does that mean?

>>John Garrett: Yeah, so birding is your primary purpose can be a little finicky as a concept, but really we’re just asking: are you doing your best to detect and identify everything around you to your best ability? We’re not saying are you doing anything else with your time. But if you’re mainly focused on birding rather than, you know, driving again, then you can put birding as your primary purpose. And again that doesn’t mean you have to find everything around you. That’s impossible. Even the best birders in the world never find all the birds around them. But if you’re putting effort into finding birds around you, then birding is probably your primary purpose.

We generally consider, if you’re inside of a building, for example if you’re in an airport and you see something cool and you want to “tick” it for a particular state, that’s incidental and birding is not your primary purpose. But it’s also pretty easy, if you just happen to be somewhere and not really birding and you find something cool, to turn that time into a chance for a complete checklist just by stopping what you’re doing and birding for five minutes.

>>Leo Sack: Excellent. Sounds like a good solution.

Okay, here’s a question for Jenna. Sometimes I’m watching birds at my feeder, or I’m sitting still or moving slowly, and the birds are flying back and forth. I’m not sure if I’m seeing new birds or repeated sightings of the same individual birds over and over again. How do I know if I already counted a bird or not?

>>Jenna Curtis: That is such a great question. I wondered that myself a lot. It really is just a balance between being conservative about your counts and realistic about what you’ve seen. At eBird, we want you to count every individual that you saw on the list. Then when you end that checklist and start a new checklist, you’re starting a completely new count. So if you’ve already counted some chickadees on an earlier checklist, and you ended that checklist you’ve started a new one. A completely new count of chickadees regardless of what you may have counted earlier.

A really common situation is when you’re counting birds at a bird feeder and birds are coming going and you’re staying still. How do you know if those are new birds or not? We have a really great feeder counting, and Counting 101 instructions in general, on our help center which is available right now. So if you’re just looking for a little light reading and want to really learn more about the eBird process, check out our support center. It’s online. And it has a really cool Counting 101 tip sheet that tells you how to count birds in any situation, including at your feeder.

Our recommendation for that is to report the maximum number of birds of a species that you saw at one time, plus any unique individuals that you know were not part of that initial group. So if you see five female cardinals at your feeder and then later you see one male well, then the maximum you saw was five females at a time plus that one male that you know was not part of the initial group, and so you could report six.

I would just say that the longer that you spend birding the more likely you are to get some repeat detections, especially if you’re staying in one place. So there is some value in keeping shorter, more concise lists at a time, so that you don’t really even have to worry about whether or not you’re recounting individuals over a long time period.

>>Leo Sack: Good advice and that feeder protocol sounds a lot like FeederWatch.

Okay so next question. John, one time I saw a really cool bird. Something I’d never seen before. eBird made me enter comments before I could submit my list and there was an “R” icon. A letter “R” next to the species on my checklist. So what does that red letter “R” icon mean? And what happens next if you found a bird with a red letter “R” next to it?

>>John Garrett: Good for you. You’re doing a great job birding, you found something probably really cool. It’s a rare bird flag and they’re determined by automatic filters that are put in place by our local volunteer reviewers. So anything that exceeds the expected number for that species for a date and location that gets flagged. That’s all set by local experts. It’s important to remember sometimes, there’s confusion around this, it’s the observation that’s getting flagged. It’s not you. And that’s really exciting. It’s really good to understand how to document your rarities. We have articles in our help center that explain the key elements of a bird description to help you do that.

Basically it comes down to: describe the bird. This will help volunteer reviewers understand what you actually saw and how to make an assessment of that report. This is all essential to either data quality. It’s how we know that those maps that we come up with, for example, are legit. And so it’s both fun and exciting and important for data quality.

>>Jenna Curtis: Whenever I see an “R” on my checklist, I get so excited because it means that this is such a unique or unusual observation. It’s something that’s not something you would experience every day. And so it’s an opportunity to share that really unusual moment with other people through photos, sound recordings, a detailed description. The more you can share to help others experience the same cool observation you’re experiencing ,the easier it is for our volunteer reviewers to think about it and evaluate it. And the more fun it is for you to remember it later on. Going back and revisiting some of those rare observations later and being like, “Oh that’s right, this is what I was doing. This is what that that experience really was like in person.” It’s like a trip down memory lane.

>>John Garrett: And I’ll add one more thing. There’s a chance that you’ll get an email from a reviewer asking for details. That’s also really exciting, because that means that you’re getting to be in touch with the top birding experts in that area who can give you all sorts of tips. Potentially, or not. Some of them are very busy.

>>Leo Sack: It doesn’t mean I’m in trouble or they’re telling me I’ve done something wrong or I’ve identified the bird wrong?

>>John Garrett: No, it just means that you found something really cool and it’d be really helpful if you could add more details about that really cool thing you found.

>>Leo Sack: Excellent we don’t want that to be intimidating to folks. Quick follow-up questions: sometimes with rare birds, that might be the very first time I’ve seen a bird like that and maybe I don’t have much experience IDing it. How certain should I be about my identification before I report it?

>>John Garrett: We would like you to be certain, but we also have lots of what we call slashes and “spuhs” in eBird. So a slash is when you see something like Long-billed/Short-billed Dowitcher and a “spu”h is anything like “shorebird sp.” If you’re not sure, by all means take advantage of those categories. They’re there to help you. There’s absolutely no shame in them and that’s what they’re there for.

>>Leo Sack: Excellent. And just to clarify, “spuh” is how you pronounce the abbreviation “sp.” which is short for species. So shorebird species, woodpecker species. Excellent.

Let’s see… sometimes that I worry that I messed something up and eBird didn’t get my observations. They don’t always show up on the eBird alerts even if I expect them to. How can I be sure that you received my checklists? And how do I know whether my sightings have to wait for a volunteer to review them or not?

>>Jenna Curtis: I’ll take this one. There’s a kind of a two-step process you can go through to make sure that your observations made it in and are part of the public eBird database. the first is to go to the eBird website when it’s back up, and go to my eBird, and click on checklists on the left hand side. That will show you a list of all of the checklists you have ever submitted to eBird from that account. And we’ve just redone that page so now you can sort and filter and change it based on a location, so it’s much easier to find the checklist that you’ve submitted.

So any checklist that’s in there is successfully in the eBird database. It has gone through, we have received it and archived it. And so you know that the observations on that checklist have been received.

And then, if you have questions about any individual observation, an easy way to check is to go to the eBird species maps. I actually have a screen share that I can show, just to kind of show you how to check to see if an observation is part of the public database or not. I will share my screen now. Can you see the two maps right there? Yes, okay great.

So this is the eBird species maps, the purple maps. If you go to eBird and click on Explore it’ll be down below the “explore species” option and you can search for any individual species. You’ll see a map of all of eBird’s observations, public observations, of that species. Just Zoom in to where you think your report should be showing up. So keep Zooming in they’ll go from the purple boxes to these little blue dots. And just Zoom in to where you submitted that checklist and if you can see your observation on this map then it is good. It is part of the public database. It’s visible to others. It’s archived and permanently stored for science and conservation.

And so you know that you are all set. If your observation is not showing up on the species map the way you expect, it always good to check the checklist location make sure that it’s been submitted where you think it should be and you haven’t accidentally picked a different state or the wrong Washington County, as some of us may have done once. So always good to just double check the checklist location.

And a really common question is about alerts and why your observation hasn’t shown up on alerts the way you expect it. So eBird alerts in particular, those are only observations that had the “R” flag next to them. They are unusual observations. Those only include rare species, not unusually high counts of maybe an expected species. And so if you reported something and it didn’t have the “R” next to it, it won’t be going out on alerts. Just so if you’re looking for it there. If it’s on the species map, though, it’s in eBird.

>>Leo Sack: Excellent. Okay, lots of good stuff. So at this point, we’ve got tons of questions pouring in from the audience both in the Zoom Q&A and through Facebook. So let’s check and see what questions we’re getting.

I see from both sources we have lots of questions about becoming an eBird reviewer. So you guys were just talking about the role that reviewers play in verifying those rare sightings. How does one become an eBird reviewer? And I also see a question, do eBird reviewers have term limits? A limited time that they can be a reviewer for a particular location? Who wants to take that one?

>>Jenna Curtis: I think John should. John’s got a lot of eBird review experience, he’d be a great person to answer this question.

>>John Garrett: Yeah we might both answer this one. So first eBird reviewers can get to that position in a number of ways. We have a form that you can submit that will collate all of the submissions together. You describe what you why you think you’d be a good fit for an eBird reviewer, what area you’d want to review for, and things like that. Then we can pass these around to existing review teams to see if they think this person would be a good fit for them.

Back in the old days, when eBird was just getting its start off the ground, it was all basically word of mouth asking who was the best person to review for a region. And that’s still sometimes the case, especially in areas without many data. But we do have a form now where anyone can apply to it.

There are no exact term limits generally the e-reader viewers are going to be the top experts for a region, both for birding, and people skills are equally important as their birding skills. And that combination can be pretty limiting to the number of people who would be really good either reviewers. So we don’t have term limits.

>>Leo Sack: Makes sense. Jenna is there anything you want to add?

>>Jenna Curtis: I think John covered most of it. I will say that eBird reviewers do a lot. They are so important to the data quality process. They not only look at flagged observations, they also review media to make sure that photos are correctly identified in the Macaulay Library, they check every individual checklist to make sure that the location looks right. You know, if the species list doesn’t seem to match the location that you’ve reported it to maybe you accidentally picked the wrong hot spot or something like that. There are so many things that eBird reviewers pay attention to and watch.

And as we develop and grow as a community we would love to provide opportunities for different types of review and communication. We are always looking for passionate eBirders, even if you are not necessarily an expert at bird ID, we do see roles for you and helping other eBirders learn to use the system and become stronger and more effective participants in this global community. And so eBird review is a lot of things right now. And we can’t wait for it to just become more exciting things in the future, with more opportunities for participation.

But above all a reviewer’s job is data quality and assuring that eBird remains a reliable, useful database for scientific use and conservation. So if a reviewer doesn’t always have time to email every observer, if you feel like maybe things aren’t being processed as quickly as you would like, we really appreciate your patience. Our reviewers are volunteers. They’re unpaid. Just thanks so much for bearing with us as our community grows.

>>Leo Sack: So it sounds like these reviewers, again as you said, unpaid volunteers who are really doing something critically important and helpful for you and that is amazing. So thank you to all of them. But follow-up question, somebody asks are you concerned about bias in the reviewer’s vetting of sightings? If a given reviewer has maybe been the regional reviewer for a given region or are you worried about bias in terms of not vetting sightings as rigorously if they come from well-known birders. Or a bias in what is expected, that they might not be as quick to recognize changes from year to year due to climate change or other factors. Are there are there bias concerns at all with the review process?

>>John Garrett: I can take a stab at that one. I’ll start by saying that concerns about bias are important and especially in a project like eBird and it’s not unique to reviewers. Everybody birds a little bit differently from everybody else. So the way everybody eBirds is going to be, from one person to another person, it’s all going to be a little bit different. And there is going to be bias in that and how one person birds compared to another.

We have statistical ways of trying to understand these things and I would think the same applies to reviewers as well. To a certain degree, they are going to be similar to how different people bird from each other. There are going to be slightly different ways that people review next to each other and we have ways of handling those sorts of things. You know, different reviewers might create filters that flag rare birds in different ways in adjacent counties. We’re developing tools and we have tools already that can help compare these sorts of filters that these reviewers can be more aligned with each other.

So yes, it is an issue and yes we are concerned about it. That sort of individual bias is something that’s inherent for a project like this, pretty much no matter what. But there are also cool ways of analyzing that and dealing with it and compensating for it.

>>Jenna Curtis: Yeah, and I would say that at least I feel eBird benefits when we have diverse active review teams around the world. And so if you have questions about review, if you’re interested in reviewing in your area, the first place to start is at our eBird help page. We’ve got a whole section on review including the reviewer handbook so you can see all of the detailed instructions that our reviewers receive as well. So you can really get to know the process and everything that a reviewer does.

>>Leo Sack: Excellent. Let’s change subjects to something a little less high-tech for a moment, or a little bit less in the weeds I guess, than the review process. There’s a question: when can we get Merlin, referring to the Merlin Bird ID app, on our PCs? I know that’s not strictly eBird but I wanted to see if either of you had something to mention on that, or if we should just point out the web-based version of Merlin.

>>Jenna Curtis: Thanks Marshall. Marshall answered that one great. For those of you who are on Facebook, we have this question on the Zoom side of things. Marshall has chimed in and said that the Merlin app is designed for mobile devices including tablets. And it really benefits so much from having location services, so that your device knows what’s likely around you in terms of bird species.

The Photo ID section is being developed as we speak. It’s always growing and improving to be incorporated more thoroughly with eBird, and so there may be opportunities for Merlin to be on your PC in the future. Maybe not as a standalone app, but as part of and integrated with your eBird observations.

>>Leo Sack: Thank you. I’m sorry I totally didn’t even notice he’d answered it underneath where I’d said I wanted to answer.

I just wanted to make sure he got credit for it. Thanks Marshall!

>>Leo Sack: You’re on top of this while I’m trying to watch all the questions. Thank you. Okay let’s see…

>>Jenna Curtis: It’s great to see so many questions out there. I’m seeing bird ID questions. I’m seeing bird cast questions. It really is a reminder that the Cornell Lab is not just eBird, it’s a whole suite of citizen science and community science projects. SO just a quick thanks, while we’re at it, for everyone who’s asking questions right now. I hope we can get to some of them.

>>Leo Sack: Well and there are so many and it’s the whole range. Everything from, you know, the highly technical stuff to curious kindergarteners who want to know a good way to tell the difference between a House finch and a Purple finch. My answer to that would be to check out Merlin, maybe the web-based version of Merlin, that you can find on All About Birds. What do you guys think? Any other suggestions on that?

>>Jenna Curtis: Yeah, Merlin’s a great way to learn. And I guess now is a time to point out that Merlin and eBird the apps are now linked and so you can switch in between the two. If you’re an eBird user you can go identify things in Merlin and then quickly pass them back to eBird and put them on a running checklist. So it’s now even easier to check and see whether it was a House finch or not. And then put it on your checklist when you feel good about it.

But again if you’re not sure, just like John said, if you’re if you can’t tell and you’re just not sure but you want to put it on it on your list – that’s what Purple/House Finch is for.

>>Leo Sack: Perfect. Speaking of different projects being linked, do the entries for Project FeederWatch get entered into eBird?

>>John Garrett: I can take that one. They do not automatically go into eBird, Project FeederWatch is great. The protocols for Project FeederWatch are a little bit different from eBird’s so we can’t just automatically incorporate the data from Project FeederWatch into eBird. We kind of talked about that earlier. Our help center article on how to count birds goes over our preferred ways of counting birds in eBird, kind of like what Jenna said earlier. If you’re seeing lots of birds at a feeder, you take the maximum that you can see at once plus any unique individuals. Kind of balance that being conservative with being realistic. And it’s a little different from Project FeederWatch, so we encourage you to submit observations into both. But they will not be automatically incorporated from one into the other.

>>Leo Sack: Excellent. Here’s a great question: what would quote-unquote “perfect” reporting to eBird look like? Would you want to see backyard birds daily observations up in down the road daily? Mostly just outings to specifically bird watch, going to specifically hot spots? What would be the most useful scientifically to eBird?

>>Jenna Curtis: This is a great question and thank you so much whoever asked this. This is such a fun question to think about, from a scientific standpoint. Checklists that get incorporated into eBird Status and Trends… eBird Status and Trends has a very high threshold for quality for observations and so they will use complete checklists of a short, not too long (so not more than a lot of hours and not too many miles of traveling distance) where birds are counted (so where abundance is provided). And so we always recommend for our eBird best practices that you keep checklists shorter than three hours, five miles, and that you change checklists every time you change locations.

So that to me is perfect eBirding. Anyone who makes an effort to keep short checklists, change checklist when you change locations, and count as many of the birds as you can.

I understand that it’s not always possible to count every species especially if you have those huge flocks of tens of thousands of starlings or geese and it just feels a little overwhelming, but part of perfect eBirding is making an effort to do your best to estimate counts for all of the birds even when there are very large flocks. And as for backyards versus hot spots, we do benefit from having checklists in new areas where there is no existing data. Those checklists tend to fill gaps in our knowledge of bird distributions. But I wouldn’t necessarily say that perfect eBirding requires you to have to travel in order to fill those, and those are helpful.

But I don’t necessarily think that that makes for perfect eBirding. John what do you think?

>>John Garrett: Yeah I think part of the whole idea is that there are many many ways of doing it and there is no single perfect way. However you want to bird, eBird can almost certainly incorporate it. There’s great value in birding the same spot over and over every day and there’s great value in covering different places and going to under-visited locations is great value. I agree with everything Jenna said.

>>Leo Sack: Excellent, and I’ve heard probably one of you guys, I think Jenna, I’ve heard you say something along the lines of nobody’s really counting your yard but you. So one advantage to counting, to eBirding, in your yard or your local neighborhood, your local patch, little woodlot behind your house or your school that nobody else is going into, is nobody else is there but you. So you’re helping fill in the map

>>Jenna Curtis: Yeah and I love to encourage people. We do get questions like this in the help center where people say “I mean, I don’t travel, I don’t go birding everywhere. I just like to count the birds in my yard. Is that okay?” Yes counting the birds in your yard every day is great. That is valuable information. I feel like sometimes people feel like they need to apologize like, “I’m so sorry you’re getting all of these boring birds.” They’re not boring to me! I think it’s great that you see Blue Jays and Juncos. Or Marsh tits or Great tits and Blue tits.

I’m thinking of Tim this morning – I don’t know if you guys watched the Swarovski live birding but Tim Rutledge was in the UK just showing off his variety of bird feeders. Eurasian gold finches and all sorts of other feeder birds. And I was just like, for him those are everyday birds and you could get bored looking at them. But for me they were brand new and they were so exciting to see. And so when you’re thinking like “Oh another Blue Jay. eBird doesn’t care.” eBird cares!

>>Leo Sack: And how are we gonna know if Blue Jays, or American Robins or something, how are we gonna know if they’re declining in numbers if we don’t have that data on these birds that we think of as common?

Okay, let’s keep moving. Do you keep trends of individual eBirder observations? So what kind of data do you have on- I don’t know if you’re spying on me as an individual eBirder, but do you have aggregate data of do the eBirders improve over time or are some birders more prolific than others? Like, what kind of data do you have on that?

John, do you want to fill this one? Looks like Marshall just answered it in the Q&A but go ahead.

>>John Garrett: Curious, what Marshall said.

>>Jenna Curtis: For those who are worried. While John’s checking in on that, I will just say that if you’re worried that eBird’s following you, like Leo we are watching you and seeing reports of when you don’t submit complete checklists… We don’t track. We provide tools for you to follow your own activities so that you can improve and grow and track your progress. But from a scientific standpoint we don’t follow that as closely.

>>Leo Sack: Okay, I think I remember reading somewhere that there were there were some analyses that showed that eBirders, when they start birding to as they get more experienced, start finding more and more species. But that’s like big picture, you know, analysis of general trends. Not spying on somebody.

It’s kind of big data and we can look at these big picture things. When you submit your tracks into eBird, we don’t send that to all the reviewers and “oh this person is going to be here this day”. It’s strictly used for research to help inform things like those status maps and things like that.

>>Leo Sack: Excellent. Let’s see…

>>Jenna Curtis: I have a follow-up. I see that Grace in Zoom has said that she submitted a checklist to a hotspot, but during the course of her birding she wandered outside of the hotspot and left that perimeter. And now she’s wondering if she should go back and submit two lists. This relates to a really common question: should I report to the hotspot or should I report to a personal list?

For those of you who are wondering, if there is a hotspot available and you birded inside of it, then chances are that that hotspot is the right one for you. If you birded multiple hot pots or multiple locations, we would like you to be submitting separate checklists for each of those locations. Or in some cases there may be an overarching hotspot that you can choose that would encompass all of those. Central park is a common example where you have hotspots for individual parts of the park but you also have one hotspot for the entire park, in case you just have one checklist that covers a whole bunch of different areas.

If your checklist includes birds inside the hotspot area AND birds that were not part of the hotspot, that were somewhere else, we would prefer that you would not submit it to the hotspot. Because that could affect the hotspot’s aggregate information and imply that there were birds that occur in that hotspot that weren’t actually present there. If that makes sense.

These things happen it’s hard sometimes to tell where a hotspot ends or what the boundaries of it are. We understand. So we ask that you do your best. But if you’ve noticeably changed habitats or a distinct location and you are in a different part of the map than you were before, maybe consider stopping that checklist and starting a new one.

>>Leo Sack: Excellent. How about a question about using the eBird data to benefit your own planning of your birding adventures. So we’ve talked a lot about submitting data to eBird but it also gives back because there’s so many ways that it can help you plan your own birding adventures. So Amy on Facebook asked if you want to try to see a particular bird for example a Pileated Woodpecker how can you increase your chances of success? For example, a recent sighting, how can you find where there are recent sightings even if it’s not rare?

>>John Garrett: That’s a great question and one of the core things that I think has made eBird so useful over the years. There are a couple of ways to do this but they all boil down to looking at the species maps. So if you want to find out where Pileated Woodpeckers are being seen go to “explore species,” type in Pileated Woodpecker and then find the map and Zoom in to where you are. You’ll find all the little markers and you can see where there are lots of markers see where there are not so many markers and use that to inform where you want to go. If you’re not sure what species you even want to look for there’s also-

So Jenna’s demoing here so you can go to “explore species” or “species maps” directly right there.

>>Leo Sack: Excellent. And you can’t use it right now because-

>>John Garrett: Yeah this is a screenshot that Jenna is showing us. And down in the bottom left there there’s a feature, Target Species. And that’s really handy if you’re going somewhere but you don’t know exactly what you want to look for. You can use target species to tell you what species you haven’t seen in a given area and what species would be new for you for anywhere in the world. Or new for you for that given area. You can even do things like what species have you not photographed or gotten a sound recording of in a given area, or what’s there just in the month of November that’s in a given area. So that’s also a really handy tool for planning trips and figuring out what you haven’t seen where you live or elsewhere.

>>Leo Sack: Excellent, and Jenna do you have a slide or an image of the species maps that you can show us again. We would just show you the website but the servers are down so we’re relying on Jenna’s screenshots here.

But as John was saying if you go to the species map and you look up that bird when you’re Zoomed out, it’s all purple pixels and the intensity of the purple color kind of shows you how frequently they’re reported there. And then when you Zoom in you see these little marker points like you’d see on Google Maps. And they’ll either be red or blue. They’ll have a little white flame icon in them if it’s a hotspot – a spot where something is seen a lot.

So okay so in this image that Jenna’s showing, the larger blue dot with the white flame in it, that’s where that species has been reported. That’s a burning hotspot. Usually that means that species been reported a bunch there.

Notice all of these dots are blue except, look on in the key on the right hand side. If they are red, that means they’re recent. One of you guys, how recent is recent?

>>John Garrett: In this context it means within the last 30 days.

>>Leo Sack: Okay, there was just a question that said “what determines if the location is colored red or blue?” I wasn’t sure what they were referring to, I’m assuming it’s this map. Go on, John.

>>John Garrett: Yeah, it just means within the last 30 days. And if it’s older than that, then it turns blue. There are other ways recent can have meaning in eBird. For example, the alerts feature which tells you when, it’ll email you when there’s a rare bird in a given area or a bird that you haven’t seen in a given area. Those only last for seven days. That’s a little more immediate. But in the species maps, and it says somewhere on there that it’s within the last 30 days.

>>Leo Sack: Excellent.Â

>>Jenna Curtis: And I will point out, I think I have a slide here… Oh there’s a good example of a Zoomed out range map.

These tools that we’re describing are now becoming available on eBird Mobile. You can now search nearby hotspots in your area or anywhere in the globe see what has been reported there recently. It’s got bar charts on your phone, so if you want to know when you’re most likely to see a Snow goose in Central Park, you can do that on your mobile device now. And currently Android devices have the ability to search for nearby recent reports of species. iOS should be getting that in the near future. And so soon all of the things that you love about eBird for bird finding and trip planning should be moving on to your phone as well.

>>John Garrett: I’ll say one cool trick. Someone was asking about the best way to eBird earlier. One thing I like to do is, you can take this radius in the app on your phone for nearby hotspots and tap on unvisited, and then sort by most species or whatever. And then you can see the best birding places that no one has been to within your area. It’s made me know about a few certain parks and things that no one had checked in a long time. And even here in Ithaca, where eBird Central is, there’s good little pockets that don’t get enough coverage. It was fun checking them out.

>>Leo Sack: Can we invite you guys back or get back together again another time later and do a webinar just on these features that are getting added to the eBird Mobile app? Because I am so excited about these, there are so many fun little tips and tricks that that make eBirding even more fun than it already is.

>>Jenna Curtis: We can’t wait to come back and talk about more of them when eBird is up and running and we can walk through them live.

>>Leo Sack: Excellent. Let’s see, there’s so many great questions… Please address adding media. How useful is it to add media to your checklists?

>>Jenna Curtis: John, go for it.

>>John Garrett: Sure yeah, I would say adding media is one of the easiest and most powerful ways all at once to make your checklist more valuable. One way I like to think about it is that a lot of our baseline knowledge about birds just generally scientifically comes from museum collections. Comes from specimens of dead birds and people, ornithologists, would look at these specimens and figure out where birds lived and what they looked like. This is sort of like a modern day museum that anyone can contribute to. All of the photos that had previously only been in people’s personal collections and not to share with the world can now be shared with everyone and analyzed in ways that wasn’t really even thinkable even a few decades ago.

So I would say absolutely, the more photos and audio you can submit, the more value you’re contributing to eBird and Macaulay Library. The photos can be used for all sorts of things too. Merlin, Birds of the World, a lot of the training for the robot in Merlin that identifies bird footage just came from photos that were submitted to eBird. Wide-ranging implications. It’s extremely valuable and for yourself, too.

>>Leo Sack: We just had a follow-up question on this topic real quick, Jenna maybe you want to answer this one. Is it possible or and are you going to make it easier to upload media to eBird through the eBird Mobile app?

>>Jenna Curtis: I can’t wait for us to- we should definitely have another webinar where we can walk through some eBird Mobile tips and tricks and show you how to upload photos from your phone right now. As we hopefully work to make eBird even easier and more mobile accessible in the future. Hopefully we’ll get to walk through this someday, but if you open a checklist in eBird Mobile and edit it on on your phone, that’s a quick way to have access to your phone’s photo gallery and eBird’s media upload tools.

And I will say, John mentioned audio recordings, Macaulay Library is having a live Q&A just like this tomorrow morning at 9 00 a.m. Eastern where they’ll be discussing audio recording tips and tricks. They’ll have some archivists there in person to answer your questions about recording audio so that it’s accessible for anyone can upload sounds to the Macaulay Library. You don’t have to be a pro but you can learn from them.

>>Leo Sack: Excellent. I see where we’re about at our time. Shall we sneak in one more question? I want to make sure we don’t go over too far. Okay, Jenna I know you’re looking at this too. Do you have any questions that are really jumping out at you? Is something you’re dying to answer?

>>Jenna Curtis: The question of whether or not this will be available later. Yes, this recording will be up on the Bird Academy website and our social media pages so that you can come back to this later. And we look forward to doing these more often. Thanks again so much for everyone for participating today.

>>Leo Sack: And let me share really quickly- I’m going to share my screen just to show you this is So this is the Bird Academy page where all of our webinars and other live public programs are archived. It will take us a few hours to get the recording up here and archived. But then yes, you will be able to go back and see it. It’s also immediately archived on eBird’s Facebook page so you’ll be able to watch it again there too.

So as long as I’ve got my screen share up I also want to show you this slide, because we are about at our the end of our time and I want to make sure we don’t go too far over. There’s so many great questions today. I apologize if we didn’t get to all of them, but I do want to make sure we don’t go too far past the end of our scheduled time.

So Jenna and John thank you so much for talking with us today. Also Ian, Marshall, Chris, Kathi, everyone on the team who’s helping us out. Thanks for being with us in the chat. It’s really great to have so many experts here answering everybody’s questions and I know we all really appreciate all the work that your team does, so thank you.

I also want to thank our audience for joining us today, too. And if we didn’t get to your question today, please email us and we will be happy to follow up with you more directly. So for general questions about the Cornell Lab of Ornithology or about our public programs for bird ID help, pretty much any random question about birds, you can email the Cornell Labs public information team at

For more technical questions about eBird you can email this amazing eBird team at And then of course you can check out the eBird website,, although as we’ve mentioned the servers are down today and tomorrow for that server migrating that will allow us to do more amazing things. So be patient and then visit after that.

That’s our show I hope you all enjoyed it. Thanks for being patient with us through the server maintenance today and tomorrow and thanks for being part of this giant global project with us. Happy birding. Jenna and John, thanks again.

End of transcript

Whether you’re an eBird expert or just getting started, now is the time to ask any and all of your burning eBird questions. Join eBird staff for a live Q&A about entering and exploring eBird observations and more. November 17th at 12 pm eastern