Do you eBird?

If you haven’t checked out eBird lately, you are missing out on a valuable birding tool. More than just a real-time, online checklist program, eBird documents the presence or absence of species, as well as bird abundance, through checklist data. Where does this checklist data come from? It comes from the observations of thousands of birders, professionals and amateurs alike, who upload their species lists to eBird after each outing.

Most birders keep lists – life lists, trip lists, year lists, provincial, state and county lists, and even patch lists for those special places we return to time and time again throughout the course of the year. At its most basic level, eBird offers even the most devout listers a place to keep track of all of their sightings. Do you want to know how many and which species you saw in 2010? There’s a list for that. Or perhaps you want to know the total number of species you’ve seen in Ontario since you started birding. There’s a list for that, too. Or maybe you’re just interested in keeping track of the species you see in your own yard each year. You got it – there’s a list for that as well.

All you need to do to get started is to grab that notebook full of bird sightings and start entering your observations. Simply enter when, where, and how you went birding, then check off all the birds seen and heard during the outing.

This is a checklist from a single stop on my March 18 outing with Deb and Leah when we saw our first Brown-headed Cowbirds of the year. After inputting lists for a couple of years you might end up with a regional life list that looks something like this (truncated due to length; as of this posting my Ottawa list is up to 222 species!):

You can also view all of your records for a particular species:

Ruddy Turnstone records (lifetime sightings)

Now, imagine if every time someone went birding, they entered their sightings into eBird. Each checklist entered into eBird documents the presence (and absence) of species at a specific time and geographic location. Plotting all of the observations of that species over days, weeks, months, or years allows scientists to determine the species’ range and to detect changes in distribution over time. By entering all of your bird sightings into a central database, you are contributing to our understanding of birds and their lives.

With millions of bird observations being entered into the database every year, eBird is becoming a vast source of bird and environmental information useful not only to scientists and conservationists, but to bird watchers just like you and me. Not only can an individual access his or her own personal records, but all records in the database through range maps and bar graphs. These are useful for determining what species you can expect to find in new places or on vacations, or where to find particular species.

For example, say you are planning a trip to Moosonee and want to know when and where you can expect to see a Le Conte’s Sparrow. A bar graph for Moosonee shows that the best time to visit would be in late July or August. Notice, however, the gray boxes for the early part of July. These boxes indicate that no eBird records have been submitted for that time period, not that there are no Le Conte’s Sparrows in Moosonee during that period.

All sparrow species recorded by birders in Moosonee in the summer months.

Using the map tool you can find out precisely where in Moosonee those Le Conte’s Sparrows were reported. Clicking on each blue spot will tell you the name of the observer, the name of the location, the date the Le Conte’s Sparrow was seen, and the option of viewing the complete checklist for that outing.

Moosonee - Le Conte's Sparrow locations

This is a brilliant tool for planning an outing in your city or a birding vacation in an entirely new area. Want to know the closest spot to find a Eurasion Wigeon, or a reliable spot for Sedge Wren? eBird can do that. In fact, there are a couple of Smart Phone apps that use up-to-the-minute data from eBird to answer precisely those kinds of questions. BirdsEye is my favourite app, but the Audubon Field Guide has a function for locating nearby birds as well.

Range Maps are another handy feature. Not only can you view each species’ range, you can also choose to view a range map from the current year. This is handy during migration if, for instance, you are interested in seeing all Scarlet Tanager reports from this year. Have they arrived yet in your area?

Scarlet Tanager sightings 2012 (Jan. 1 - May 1)

Using eBird to keep track of your personal sightings not only improves the accuracy of the range maps, it benefits scientists studying population trends and individuals interested in birding new places. Why not give it a try today?


eBird: Sullivan, B.L., C.L. Wood, M.J. Iliff, R.E. Bonney, D. Fink, and S. Kelling. 2009. eBird: a citizen-based bird observation network in the biological sciences. Biological Conservation 142: 2282-2292.

Images: All images provided by eBird ( and created May 1, 2012.


3 thoughts on “Do you eBird?

  1. Thank you this great overview. I started looking at eBird this just before my recent trip, but didn’t have time to really look into it. I guess it’s time to sign up and start tracking. That bar graph would’ve been great to plan my trip. I’ll be much better prepared now.

  2. I do love eBird. I don’t use it/input as often to it as I should, but often it is because as a somewhat novice birder that I don’t want to pollute the database with bad information. If I don’t make it back here in the next couple of weeks, I wish to you & yours a very happy and safe holiday season.

    • Thanks Jim.

      My rule of thumb is, if I’m only about 75% sure of the bird’s ID and don’t get a picture, I leave it out of my eBird report. If I get a picture of the bird in question I add it to the checklist, either as a sp. or what I believe it to be…that way if I later receive information which casts doubt on my ID I can review the sighting and either change it or remove it. For example, I saw a dowitcher during my trip to Alberta last year, but my one photo was not conclusive and I didn’t hear it call so I left it as a dowitcher sp.:

      It’s okay not to include everything you’ve seen if you’re not sure. Hopefully as you become a more experienced birder, the longer your checklists will become!

      I hope you have a good holiday, too, and best wishes for a nature-filled new year!

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