Panting from a hard run, I burst into my dorm room and flopped in front of my laptop. Simultaneously wiping the sweat from my forehead and switching on my Muse playlist, I navigated to ebird.org to enter the birds I saw on my run. My intense concentration on the task at hand—and perhaps also “Map of the Problematique” blasting at full volume—prevented me from hearing his approach.
“eBird?!” my suitemate jeered. “Ohh man…eBird, and your clothes, and the music…” he trailed off, collapsing to the floor in a fit of laughter.
Okay, he had the right to ridicule my clothing. I wasn’t really wearing much—just my running shorts. But, that’s where I draw the line. People should not belittle Muse and especially not eBird. I primly ignored him in an attempt to avoid soiling myself with his insolence.
What is eBird? Well…eBird is this totally hip thing that all the cool kids are using.
Sorry, let me try that again.
eBird is a supermassive (sorry, Muse again) online checklist project for bird sightings. In addition to tracking your own personal sightings and notes (much more convenient than the old-school paper and pencil method, at least for harried college students), your checklists go into a database that helps define bird occurrence, abundance, and movements.
Focusing on the greedy benefits of the project, eBird provides an excellent way to organize and keep track of your personal sightings. Depending on how thorough you are, these checklists could include numbers, age and sex comments, breeding status, and personal comments on the birds you see. As you enter the lists of birds you see, eBird updates your life, state, county, and location lists. Additionally, eBird’s rigorous protocol—keeping different lists for each location you bird, with detailed date, time, and effort information—forces you to keep much more diligent notes as you bird.
Of course, eBird offers more than personal benefits. As the database grows in size, it becomes more and more valuable to birders and ornithologists. With every checklist, we come a little closer to understanding where the birds are when.
Don’t believe me? Check out the “View and Explore” region of eBird. Curious about the global distribution of Barn Swallow? No problem—in just a few clicks, you can view where Barn Swallows have been seen around the globe. The only slight complication is that underbirded places like Mongolia aren’t shown as housing Barn Swallows, when in reality they occur there. But still—a cool feature.
Or, perhaps you have a mind to finally track down Black-chinned Sparrow for your county list this weekend. Why even open up the birder’s guide when you can go to eBird and find all the places where they’ve been seen in the county?
The newest occurrence maps—the animated seasonal ones—also happen to be the coolest. With these, you can observe the fiery northward surge of White-throated Sparrows in early May, see exactly where Wood Thrushes breed, and watch the wanderings of Horned Larks. Because the making of these animated maps is labor-intensive, only a small selection of species have been mapped, but the list is growing.
If you haven’t already, join the ranks of the cool hipster birders and submit your checklists to eBird. By doing so, you’ll hone your birding and recording skills and also contribute to our knowledge of bird distribution. Oh, and you’ll be considered one of the cool kids, too. Incentives enough?