October 25, 2012

Online Resources for Better Bird Watching - Ebird


The Natural History of Selborne - journals of Gilbert White
Beginning in the late 19th century the field of “natural philosophy” took a hard turn away from the casual naturalist wandering the hills and dales and moved indoors to the labs and collection halls of the University. This move away from the observations of farmers and fishermen, hunters and bird watchers towards “hard science” meant individuals from outside the academic circle had little input on the research and publications of the day.

Since the 1960s academia, has arguably loosened its monopoly on the field of natural history, acknowledging the role of “amateur” observations. What is most commonly referred to as, “citizen science” is a push toward inclusion. The power of citizen science is the breadth of data that can be easily collected from thousands, even millions of locations. The advent of the Web and its ability to easily communicate and instantaneously share data online citizen science projects have literally connected millions of nature journals into a single source of searchable data. 

One of the more impressive outcomes of this online citizen science data is “Ebird,” a website dedicated to recording and sharing bird watching observations from across the United States. Ebird (www.Ebird.org) is a collaboration between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. The concept is simple, allow folks to enter their own list of species and tie that list to a specific location and time. 

Since 2002 Ebird has collected over 3 million observations from bird watchers across the U.S. and has begun to process this raw data into usable, graphical information and there are many features to explore and utilize within the website that make for powerful teaching tools for the classroom teacher, informal educator, or curious naturalist. Below are a few highlights. 

Store, tabulate and compare you own data by using the “submit observations” feature. Follow the simple steps of free registration, enter the location of your observation (local park, school yard, conservation area etc), enter the time and date, and then click the species you observed into the online checklist. Ebird saves and adds your observations into their databases but you can go back month to month or year to year to compare your sightings and track individual species. 

Find locations to look for birds by clicking on Explore Data then Range Maps. Locate both trip lists or the frequency of a single species based on location. This is a great way to identify good areas for a field trip or weekend bird watching adventure. 

Compare the monthly frequency of up to five species at once through the Explore Data then Line Graphs feature. This feature allows you to see the seasonal changes in various species. 

What can only be described as amazing, watch the animated Occurrence Maps. Using a black and white map of the United States specie occurrence data is overlaid using a concentration of color, ranging from dusty orange indicating low frequency to bright white indicating high frequency. A sliding bar at the bottom of the map loops from January to December, giving the viewer an animation of seasonal observations from across the country. What transpires is nothing less than incredible. A glowing algae bloom of bird movement, created solely by individual observations. We can literally watch as Chestnut-sided warblers burst from the gulf of Mexico in April and flood northward in a matter of weeks, leaving the lower 48 by May, but for a few strips of breeding birds in the Appalachian mountains. Watch Longspurs descend from Canada in the winter or the mysterious migration of the Blackpoll Warbler. 





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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact: alexanderjosephdunn@gmail.com

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