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Help fill in eBird data gaps

Posted on Dec 30, 2013

As we enter 2014 there is no better time than to declare yourself a citizen scientist for the New Year. Make the resolution now please and start your journey by eBirding all of your sightings on New Year’s Day and every day you can thereafter. For those who do not know eBird it is essentially a protected database of avian observations from around the world that is fully searchable by the public, completely free, and intended to last forever to be used by scientists anywhere on Earth. Our collective efforts help to fuel this conservation machine and their maps, graphs, and tables allow us all to enjoy learning about birds. Millions of observations are now logged each month. I have used eBird for nearly 10 years and can tell you it continues to be updated for the better on a regular basis.

Bear in mind that eBird is only as good as the data that is put into it in terms of accurate identifications, precise counts, effort information and so forth. It also needs as many people as possible putting in their data. This is especially important in low population areas where very few people are reporting their observations. I know there are more birders, naturalists, scientists, researchers and others in the field who do not take the time to put in their data, and while I understand time is limited I think once you become accustomed to using eBird you will see how quickly you can complete it and how much value it provides each user.

The Chautauqua-Allegheny region and many neighboring areas are rather rural with a lower population density than much of the northeast. I am looking to convert all of our local friends to begin eBirding so that we can fill in these holes in the map, and here are some straight from eBird as examples. The blue points are all sightings of the given species with orange ones being in the last 30 days and flames representing “hotspots”, major birding sites. These are “all-time” maps representing every sighting ever entered into eBird for each species.

Here’s the Snowy Owl map which was what first got me thinking about writing this entry.

Snowy Owl all-time eBird map

There are a number of points around Jamestown entered by RTPI staff but otherwise they’re few and far between. The birds themselves aren’t rare this year – check out areas to the north! There are some more out there that haven’t been found and a lot more that have not been entered.

Another wintering raptor, the Rough-legged Hawk, is more common than a Snowy Owl and infrequently seen most years but is still poorly represented locally.

Rough-legged Hawk all-time eBird map

OK, that map is really bad. There are so many points all over the area and while in and around Jamestown have some – a few due to us at RTPI – there are huge swaths missing in areas with good Rough-legged lands.

Here’s the Rusty Blackbird, one of the fastest declining species in all of North America in the last several decades and a bird that can be found on farms, at feeders, in swamps and wetlands…plenty of habitats where people should find them!

Rusty Blackbird all-time eBird map

Well, it’s not very good, either. They’re much scarcer now than they used to be sadly and they’re continuing to drop in population almost in silence. I added a few points to the map in both New York and Pennsylvania in the last few months and it is absolutely vital that we record each and every Rusty Blackbird sighting with as much detail as possible in it from number of birds to gender, age, their health and behavior, what they fed on if anything, and so forth.

Here’s the Pine Warbler, a bird that can be found in forests, around any trees that fit its name, your yard or even at your feeders in early spring.

Pine Warbler all-time eBird map

That’s a bit better than the others actually especially considering there are many farmlands in the Chautauqua-Allegheny Region that would not favor them. I know RTPI staff added a heck of a lot of those points in our area in the last couple of years and clearly there is still a bit of a gap.

Finally, here’s another conservation priority species we would love to have both historic and current data on, the Grasshopper Sparrow.

Grasshopper Sparrow all-time eBird map

I was surprised how filled this map was across the board. Nevertheless, if we continue the notion that so much of this is farmlands outside of Allegheny National Forest then we have some issues because there must have been or may still be Grasshopper Sparrows using grasslands or fields for nesting or during migration frequently. The one point near Jamestown was the confirmed breeding discovered at the airport this past summer. There must be more! We will be monitoring the Henslow’s and Grasshopper Sparrows there in 2014 and looking for more as much as we can, but citizen scientists could help us a great deal and save a lot of our time and energy by recording such species and entering their data.

I know there are many tremendously talented and knowledgeable birders in our area and I hope if you’re one of them that you start to eBird to help us out or join in one of the other monitoring projects! You can contact us or me at skruitbosch AT rtpi.org at any time to get involved in a specific program or project. Any cool or intriguing sightings outside of those projects or species are always appreciated and we have more upcoming field work that we will need your help with. Our sincere thanks go out to everyone who already participates.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator