» LEO SACK: All right. Happy Friday, everybody. Welcome to today’s webinar about what to do for eBird’s upcoming global event, October Big Day. Thank you all for joining us. Now, October Big Day is on Saturday, October 17th. That’s tomorrow! So we’re doing this webinar today to help get the word out there, answer your questions, and encourage all of you to participate in tomorrow’s awesome event.

Hi, my name is Leo Sack. I’m on the Visitor Center team at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and I will be facilitating today’s conversation. And with me is Jenna Curtis, Project Co-Leader for eBird, and she is one of the organizers of October Big Day. Great to see you Jenna, how are you?

» JENNA CURTIS: Thank you for having me. It’s been so much fun being here. It’s been such a crazy week getting everything everything organized for Big Day, but I’m so excited.

» LEO SACK: Thank you for taking the time to be here with us. Before we hear more from Jenna, I have a few quick announcements to get out of the way. Number one, closed captioning is available. If you would like to see subtitles, click the CC button on the bottom of your screen.

Number two, I’ll ask Jenna a few questions to get us started, but then we also want to answer questions from the audience. 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. If you like someone else’s question, please up-vote that question by clicking the thumbs up icon. We’ll be answering some questions verbally, and for others we’ll be typing in our answers, which you’ll be able to see in the “answered” column.

Number three, we are also streaming live to Facebook. If you are watching on the Cornell Lab’s Facebook Page, you can add your questions to the comments, and we’ll do our best to answer those too. Also, please be aware that there have been some spam attempts in the Facebook comments – so please do not click on any links in Facebook, unless they are posted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Okay, with all that said, let’s get started! Jenna, could you start us off with a brief introduction to tomorrow’s event. What exactly is October Big Day?

» JENNA CURTIS: “Big Days” are a longstanding birding tradition. Traditionally “Big Days” were a challenge to see how species of birds you or your team could find in 24 hours. At eBird, we’ve built on this tradition with a 24-hour worldwide celebration of birds.

Some people treat these as official “Big Days” trying to set new records for most species found in a single day in their area. For others it’s just a chance to dedicate a little time to appreciate the birds around them and be part of something bigger in the process.

eBird Big Days are a chance to share an experience with your fellow birders and create a global snapshot of birds in the process.

» LEO SACK: I really like that phrase you used, a global snapshot of birds. I want to draw that out. I go birding frequently, and submit my observations for citizen science through eBird throughout the year. Why is October Big Day special? What is the benefit of having a coordinated event where everyone goes out on the same day? And why in October?

» JENNA CURTIS: First, thank you so much for your eBirding. Every checklist – no matter the day – counts! And is useful to help scientists and conservationists work to protect birds.

Big Days are extra special because you get to be part of something bigger. Everyone coming together, uniting on a single day to celebrate birds. So while I’m looking at chickadees and titmice in my yard in New York, someone in Argentina is reporting thousands of Flamingos, and someone in India is reporting several different species of beautiful sunbirds. It’s such a thrill to share these birds together. A global big day sees way more birds than any individual or team could. You can’t get the sort of global spatial coverage you get on a Big Day any other way.

Think of it this way: you go birding on some days, I go birding on others. Our efforts don’t often overlap. But on a Big Day they can and they do!

October Big Day isn’t the only event of this kind. There’s Global Big Day in May, there’s Christmas Bird Counts in December. The Great Backyard Bird Count is in February. All of these events each provide a snapshot of birds, a worldwide picture of where and how many birds are out there on a single day when we put effort, together, into looking for them. And each of these events happen at different seasons and months so together, when we look at all of them throughout the year, we get a better picture of worldwide bird populations all year long.

That’s why at eBird, we do both an October Big Day and a May Big Day. For those in the northern hemisphere, you might be wondering. October seems like a little boring time to go out and see birds. All of the warblers are gone, there’s no more orioles, the hummingbirds have left. Why go birding?

But fall for one half of the world is springtime for the other. October can be a very exciting time to go birding for birders in the southern hemisphere! So together, October Big Day and the May Global Big Day complement each other, and give us a perspective of birds during relative springtimes all around the world.

» LEO SACK: Excellent, thank you. So how big is a Big Day? How many people are you hoping will participate, and from where?

» JENNA CURTIS: Big means global, worldwide. We hope that birders all around the world, in every country, will participate on October Big Day. Last year we had over 20,000 participants from 167 countries report 6,700 birds. That’s over 6,000 of the world’s bird species on one day. This year we hope to have even more participants. I’m hoping we can break a record and get 25,000 participants for this year’s October Big Day.

I’m going to screen share the October Big Day website, if that’s all right.

» LEO SACK: Please do.

» JENNA CURTIS: Hopefully, everyone should see the October Big Day website. This is eBird.org/OctoberBigDay. Everything you want to know about October Big Day is either on this page or you can get to it easily from here.

As you can see, results are already coming in from Australia and New Zealand where it is 5:00 a.m. on October Big Day for them. You can even scroll down this page and see, if we click on Australia, that the first species reported on October Big Day from Australia was a Southern Boobook, which is a species of owl. So they are already participating. Folks in Vanuatu, the very first checklist came in from Vanuatu at 12:04 a.m. their time.

» LEO SACK: And that Boobook was right at the stroke of midnight for Australia’s midnight.

» JENNA CURTIS: Yeah, Australia’s midnight, a few hours after Vanuwato.

The results will continue to update live on this page throughout the day, around the world. Come back here at any time to see how many people are submitting how many checklists, with how many bird species, and breakdowns by continent and country and so on. After tomorrow, this year’s results will stay online for you to see at anytime until next year’s October Big Day when we’ll reset the clocks and start all over again.

Again, we’re hoping this Saturday we can break last year’s record of 20,000 participants, hopefully getting 25,000 this year.

» LEO SACK: Fantastic. That’s exciting to see the results coming in. So, how do people participate in this?

» JENNA CURTIS: It’s so easy. All you need to do is submit at least one eBird checklist on Saturday. That is it. You don’t need to be a birding expert. You don’t need to go birding all day or even leave your home. Just set aside 5 or 10 minutes on Saturday, spend some time looking for birds around you and submit a list of the birds you find to eBird.

I’m going to show you where to find some how-to pointers on our website. If you go to the October Big Day page, again it’s eBird.org/OctoberBigDay. At the top of this page there’s a big button that says learn more. Clicking that takes us to a detailed article with more information about how to participate. If I scroll down there’s even some quick-and-easy bullet points that tell you how to get started.

» LEO SACK: Excellent. While you’re showing that on your screen, let me ask you some quick follow-up questions.

Do I need to register in any way for October Big Day itself or do I just create a regular eBird account if I don’t already have one?

» JENNA CURTIS: You don’t need to register in advance to participate in October Big Day. If you don’t have an account, create a free Cornell Lab account. You can do that on this page, or any eBird page, by clicking the green “Create Account” button in the upper right-hand corner. Again, it’s free. If you already have an account from Merlin Bird ID, Project FeederWatch, Birds of the World, or Great Backyard Bird Count — if you have an account from any of those projects, you can use that same account for this. You don’t have to create a new one.

» LEO SACK: Excellent. And is there a cost either for October Big Day or eBird?

» JENNA CURTIS: Nope. It’s all completely free. Everything you see here is 100% free.

» LEO SACK: Okay. Well, you know, that makes sense. We’re giving data to you. So you should be
paying us, right?


» LEO SACK: Do I get anything for participating? Are there prizes or anything like that?

» JENNA CURTIS: Well, for one thing, Birds of the World Online is free this entire weekend, starting right now. If you head over to BirdsOfTheWorld.org and check out that website, it’s an amazing detailed resource with life history accounts for all of the world’s birds on one page. It is free this entire weekend. So if you haven’t checked out Birds of the World, go over there right after this webinar and check it out. It is such an amazing birding resource.

And, if you submit five or more eligible checklists on Saturday, you’ll automatically be entered into a drawing for a free pair of Zeiss Victory SF32 binoculars. Two lucky eBirders are going win those binoculars. And eligible checklists — to be eligible for that, just submit five complete checklists on October Big Day, with counts for every species you report. Again, five or more checklists that are complete with counts, you’ll automatically be entered into the drawing for those Zeiss binoculars.

» LEO SACK: And I don’t need to sign up for the drawing, I just need to submit those checklists?

» JENNA CURTIS: Yep. Just submit those checklists. Again, there’s more information on the October Big Day page about that as well. That’s all you need to do.
» LEO SACK: Excellent. If I already have an eBird account and am used to submitting checklists all the time, do I need to do anything differently tomorrow for October Big Day?

» JENNA CURTIS: Again, thank you so much for submitting eBird checklists all the time. If you’re already an eBird expert, you don’t need to do anything differently tomorrow. You can just keep eBirding like you normally do. But this might be a good opportunity to explore somewhere new nearby that you’ve never been birding before. Or try estimating counts for every species, if you normally put an “X.” Or submit some stationary, complete checklists that follow eBird’s best practices. These are great ways to make your checklists more valuable to science. And October Big Day is a great opportunity to try them out.

» LEO SACK: For people that are new to eBird, how do they get started?

» JENNA CURTIS: Great question. First, as we’ve mentioned, you need to create a free eBird account if you don’t have one yet. It’s free, it’s really easy to set up, and then it works across all of the Lab projects. And then you just submit checklists, either through the eBird website, by clicking “Submit” at the top of the page, or you can download our free eBird Mobile app, which allows you to keep birding checklists on your phone. The app is really convenient, easy to use, just lets you focus on the birds. And again that’s free as well.

If you prefer traditional birding, if you like a pen or pencil and paper while you’re out birding, that’s fine. Just make your checklists like you normally do, and then come to the website later and submit them online.

If I scroll down the page here, you’ll see a section called “Global Big Day Pro Tips.” These are tips to help you get started, some helpful suggestions. Two tips in particular I want to highlight here: One is to use the Merlin Bird ID app. If you see some birds you’re unfamiliar with and you don’t know what they are, Merlin Bird ID is a free app that helps you identify birds from a photo or a short description. I just want to be clear, Merlin Bird ID is a separate app from eBird Mobile, but they both are from the Lab, and they’re both downloadable on your phone for free.

The other tip I want to highlight is the eBird Essentials course. This is the best way to get started using eBird. Even if you’ve been using eBird for a while, I really encourage you to take this course. It’s free, self-guided, walks you through all of eBird’s best features and tools, step-by-step the whole way through. So that you can learn how to use eBird and get started on October Big Day right away.

» LEO SACK: Excellent. Will you click that link for us really quick?


» LEO SACK: eBird Essentials is offered through the Cornell Lab’s Bird Academy, which is our platform for all sorts of online courses. Some of them are free, like eBird Essentials is, and some are not. This course is estimated to take about three hours for most people, assuming you explore everything the course has to offer.

» JENNA CURTIS: And you can start and stop at any time. You can come back at any point and take another section of the course later. You don’t have to do it all at once.

» LEO SACK: Yeah. I’ve taken it. I loved it. Even watching some of the demo videos in there, is really helpful and goes over the basics really quickly.
Okay. So let’s go back to the other article real quick. I noticed a link at the top of the page. So this year, October Big Day is happening on the same weekend as anotherevent, Global Bird Weekend, which is both Saturday and Sunday. My understanding is that October Big Day is part of Global Bird Weekend. Jenna, what can you tell us about Global Bird Weekend, and the relationship between these two events?

» JENNA CURTIS: You’re right, the entire weekend, including Saturday’s October Big Day, is Global Bird Weekend. You can find that on the October Big Day information page. Which, they will remind you, it’s happening right now! It’s live! This is Global Bird Weekend all over the world.

By submitting eBird checklists on October Big Day, you are automatically participating in Global Bird Weekend. But Global Bird Weekend also offers some other great ways to share your love of birds. Sunday’s celebrations include sharing your photos of birds through eBird, as well as global live-streamed birding events that you can view from anywhere. Some of these live-streaming birding events will include the Cornell Lab’s own Drew Weber and Cullen Hanks. You can see the full schedule at GlobalBirding.org.

» LEO SACK: Excellent. One more quick question before we get to the audience questions here. Jenna, you pointed out that results, at least in terms of numbers and statistics, are visible and starting to show up now on that first page you showed us, www.eBird.org/OctoberBigDay. But what about other types of results? Can people share their photos, and their stories of their birding adventures from October Big Day? Where would they share those and how can we see them?

» JENNA CURTIS: Yes! I hope you share your stories. Please, let us know, how are you experiencing October Big Day? This is such a thrilling event to hear stories of birders all around the world. You can share those with us by posting stories or photos on social media, and using the hashtag #OctoberBigDay. And you may — if you scroll down on the October Big Day page — you may see your post here on our live social media thread. So use that hashtag, #OctoberBigDay, to share photos. You can also share checklist links! So after submitting a checklist, copy that website page address and share it on your social media, and then we can see the birds that you’ve reported as well.

» LEO SACK: Excellent.

» JENNA CURTIS: Oh, and there’s another thing I wanted to point out. At very the bottom of the page, underneath all the latest species additions, is a Live Submissions Map where you can watch all of these checklists come in in real-time. As October Big Day starts to roll out around the world, this page is going to really start to light up. Each little yellow dot that appears is a new eBird checklist. It may be a little bit slow right now, as people are starting to wake up on their Saturday mornings. But come back tomorrow anytime during the day and it will just be like fireworks! Checklists coming in all around the world.

» LEO SACK: There’s a dot!

» JENNA CURTIS: Oh yay, hey!

» LEO SACK: Okay, a few people in the United States reporting checklists today.

» JENNA CURTIS: Yep, not Saturday here yet.

» LEO SACK: But as you said, once it becomes Saturday, it will be even busier. Each one of those dots is somebody somewhere in the world reporting a checklist. There’s one in Kenya. There’s one in Europe. Excellent. Very cool.

So let’s get to some of the audience questions. One that’s gotten a ton of up-votes already: “How totally certain do you want us to be when ID-ing a bird? If I feel 95% sure of my ID, should I still not submit the bird in my list because of the 5% uncertainty?

» JENNA CURTIS: Hmmm. That’s a really nuanced question. It’s a great question, this idea of confidence in your identification. I really think that’s up to every birder. If you feel that what you saw was a Song Sparrow, and you’re an experienced birder, put it on your checklist. If it’s rare or unusual, it will be flagged by eBird’s system. You can add some documentation, some photos or comments, about why you think it was what it was. If you don’t see that flag, you can still add comments. It’s a great way to express what it is you saw. If you had some uncertainty, why were you uncertain? Add some comments in. Get other people to help you identify that.

If you’re really not certain — For me, it’s always just little sparrows that fly by so quickly, and you’re like, “Oh that was a sparrow, but what kind?” In those cases, what I like to do is use Merlin Bird ID, our free mobile app, to see what species are even likely in my area right now. And I use Merlin’s photos and sounds to see what features might match up with the bird I saw. If I can manage to get a photo, or a brief description, Merlin can help me ID it from that too. Even a blurry photo! It’s amazing what Merlin can do with a photo that you think, there’s no way it can identify that. But it usually does!

If I really can’t tell. It flew by too quick, I don’t have a photo, and I didn’t see any features. It’s okay to report “sparrow spuh.” Or a slash, if it could have been two species and you can’t rule out either one. There are spuhs and slashes in eBird for that very reason. Because we know, I know, it’s not always possible to identify every species down with complete confidence. It’s just not always going to be possible to do that. That’s why eBird provides the option for “sparrow spuh.” So that even the sparrows that you couldn’t ID can be part of your checklist.

» LEO SACK: “Sparrow spuh” is “sparrow sp.”, which stands for species, right? It’s like saying, “I know I saw some sort of species of sparrow.”

» JENNA CURTIS: Right. When I say “spuh,” that’s on option on your eBird checklist, it will have “sp.”.

» LEO SACK: And the slashes you refer to. There’s some things like Downy Woodpeckers and Hairy Woodpeckers that are often hard to tell apart, so there’s an option for “Downy/Hairy” if you’re not sure which it is.

» JENNA CURTIS: Yeah. Yeah, so there’s no pressure to identify something to the exact species if you weren’t sure. Use the slash instead. It’s still part of your checklist, and it still counts.

» LEO SACK: And for the things that you’re saying, make comments if you’re uncertain? eBird does flag things that are rare and uncommon in that area at that time of year. There’s also, you’ve got volunteers around the world, right?

» JENNA CURTIS: That’s right.

» LEO SACK: Who are doing quality control checking.

» JENNA CURTIS: Yeah, exactly.

Field notes are such a rich legacy. Part of the birding experience is being able to write down what you saw, or take notes of what you saw in the field. And eBird allows you to put notes right in your checklist, so you can save memories and revisit them later, or improve your birding skills just to see what’s important to look at when you’re staring at a bird in the field.

» LEO SACK: Another question that’s very popular: “If I go out for an hour in the morning and another hour in the evening, do I only count the species that I didn’t see in the morning? Or do I repeat recording all species I see, even if I already counted them earlier in the day?”

» JENNA CURTIS: Great question, and a really common one. Each eBird checklist is a brand new count. Please, include everything that you see, even if you reported it on an earlier checklist. It’s brand new, it’s a fresh start. Report everything all over again.

In this case, if you do one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening, each of those hours should be a different eBird checklist. Each one should be independent of each other, and each one should be fresh. So your one-hour count in the evening should list everything you see in that hour, even if you saw
it in the morning.

» LEO SACK: Excellent. So how is this different from the Great Backyard Bird Count or the Christmas Bird Counts?

» JENNA CURTIS: Yeah, so Christmas Bird Counts are regional. Christmas Bird Counts take place within a pre-defined circle. They happen on different days throughout the winter, December and January primarily. So, Christmas Bird Counts may happen on different days in different areas.

And, Great Backyard Bird Count is a multi-day event, where people have the opportunity to report the birds in their backyard, or a local patch, throughout the course of a several-day period.

So unlike those events, October Big Day is a single day. We want you to participate on Saturday, and submit checklists on Saturday, no matter where you are. There’s no circles, there’s no predefined areas. Just one day, 24 hours, checklists from anywhere around the world.

» LEO SACK: Excellent. Oh! “What if I go birding and don’t see any birds? Is a checklist of zero observations still a list?

» JENNA CURTIS: Yes, and it is possible to do that in eBird. I hope that no one here will have a zero bird checklist. But they do happen. I’ve had them myself. When those happen, you can submit them to eBird as well.

» LEO SACK: Okay. So we’ve got a couple of questions, and we thought this might come up. There’s a question about: “Can we participate through the Merlin app?” So the new save sightings feature in Merlin. And, there’s also a question about the BirdNET app, which is for sound ID. Do either of those count towards October Big Day?

» JENNA CURTIS: BirdNET will not count. You can’t submit observations through BirdNET to count for October Big Day.

If you’re a Merlin Bird ID user, if you’ve been taking advantage of that amazing new Save My Bird feature through Merlin, and you’re not quite ready for eBird, you’re happy with Merlin? Yeah, go ahead! Identify birds and tap “This Is My Bird” on Saturday, and share your appreciation through that. We want everybody to share in a way that’s comfortable for them, even if it’s exclusively through Merlin.

I will say that Merlin observations, things you identify and save within the Merlin app, will not be on the live submissions page or the results that are on the eBird website. But that’s a great way to appreciate birds. So if that’s what you want to do, then please, by all means yes, use Merlin to identify and save birds.

» LEO SACK: Okay. And in terms of what is most scientifically useful? A complete checklist through eBird is the most scientifically valuable thing, correct?

» JENNA CURTIS: Right. So Merlin observations, things you’ve saved in Merlin, are personal and private. They are not part of a global database that gets shared for science and conservation. Only eBird checklists count for that. And eBird checklists collect other information, like the size of your party, and how long you spent birding. Things that are valuable for scientists to help them understand where exactly birds were and when they occurred within habitat. So eBird checklists are more detailed, a little more information there, and thus more scientifically valuable.

» LEO SACK: I’m going to tie that into a question I see here. For eBird checklists. It says: “Do I count each individual bird of a species? For instance, if I see 20 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks?” On an eBird checklist, you would want to count all 20 of them, right?

» JENNA CURTIS: Yes, please, submit all 20! If you see 20 Whistling Ducks, report 20 Whistling Ducks.

If you didn’t get a count, it is possible to put an “X” instead of a count, but those checklists won’t count for the Zeiss binoculars drawing, because [it’s not complete without the counts.]

Counts are some of the most valuable information you can report on the checklist. Even just providing your best estimate. If you see tens of thousands of geese, give us your best count and provide that. That’s such important information. We really appreciate it when people count.

A common question, if there’s time, about counting at your feeder. Say you’ve been watching birds at your feeder for an hour, and you’re not sure if these are the same chickadees or new chickadees. Or if the cardinal keeps coming back or if it’s a it’s a different cardinal each time. Our recommendation for
counting at feeders is to report the largest group you see at one time, plus any distinctly different individuals. Say you saw a group of three female and two male cardinals. That’s five. That’s the largest group you saw. Later, you saw a group of four female cardinals. Now you have two males and four females. You know you have a group of five, and now you have an extra female that wasn’t part of that. So you will report six cardinals total.

I hope that makes sense. We have a great counts resource page that will just explain this all clearly. You can read it. We’ll try to put those links in the chat for everyone. So if you have counting questions, how to estimate, how to report birds at your feeder, just check out those links.

» LEO SACK: Excellent. What it comes down to is, just give the best count that you can.


» LEO SACK: Okay. So here’s a question. “If I’m birding with friends, should we complete several different lists, one for each of us? Or one list for all of us?”

» JENNA CURTIS: I think eBird, it’s much easier to do one list for the whole group. If you bird together for the entire time and don’t split up, just have one list. Through the website or the app, you can just share it with everyone else. Then you don’t have to duplicate effort.

Each person can customize the list for their own species afterwards. So if some of us saw a Black-bellied Whistling Duck and others didn’t, those people can take it off their list afterwards. It’s so easy. I think that’s much simpler than having multiple lists.

But if you split up, if your groups separate for a while and come back together, then you want different lists because each group was kind of going to different areas.

» LEO SACK: Excellent. Thank you. So we are almost out of time here. I want to see if I can sneak in one last question. We’re doing so well on answering people’s questions here. “I have a wide variety of habitats in my area: mountains, deserts, lakes. Is it more useful for you to get data from areas that have high numbers of migratory species? Or is it more useful to get a standard everyday count?”

» JENNA CURTIS: That’s a great question. I would say that birding every day, giving that record of what birds are there over time, is so helpful. But, it’s also helpful to visit different habitats and tell us what birds are in each site. So maybe a little mix of both. Bird every day when you can, and if you haven’t been somewhere new in a while, no eBird checklists from a particular habitat have been submitted, head out there! Spend a day, give us another thorough documentation of birds in that area if you can. Just so that we cover everything. The more coverage, the more effort people are spending birding, the more information we have about birds and habitats that we can use for science.

» LEO SACK: There are a lot of great questions today, but I know Jenna is really busy getting everything ready for tomorrow. So I want to make sure we don’t go too far past the end of our scheduled time. Jenna, thank you so much for talking with us today. And thanks as well, for all of your hard work in organizing October Big Day.

» JENNA CURTIS: Thank you so much for this opportunity. This was so fun. For everyone whose questions we weren’t able to answer, I’m sorry. Hopefully, we’re sharing some resources for you to check out later. Head over to eBird.org and learn more about the system. And happy birding, everyone. Enjoy October Big Day!

» LEO SACK: Thank you. I also want to thank our audience for joining us today, too. This has been a really great crowd and some great questions. Now, if we didn’t get to your question today, please feel free to email us. Let me share a slide here. If we didn’t get to your question today, please email us and we will be happy to follow up with you more directly. For general questions about the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, or about our public programs, bird ID help, or pretty much any random question about birds, please email our Public Information team at CornellBirds@cornell.edu . For more technical questions about eBird, email eBird@cornell.edu . And finally, you can find the results of October Big Day, and links to everything else we’ve discussed today, at https://eBird.org/OctoberBigDay .

That’s our show! I hope you all enjoyed it, and I hope you’ll all sign up for a free eBird account if you don’t already have one, and then go out and count birds tomorrow for October Big Day. Happy birding, everyone! Take care.

End of transcript

People from across the globe will participate in October Big Day on Saturday, October 17, 2020. You can join them in this 24-hour opportunity to count and celebrate birds near you and around the world. To learn more about the event and how to participate, join our conversation with eBird Project Leader Jenna Curtis.