Saturday, March 28, 2015

GREEN BIRDING AND EBIRD

     The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society jointly launched eBird (ebird.org) in 2002. Since then, it has slowly taken off with many serious birders. With the advent of smart phone birding apps, it has become even more popular. I recently started contributing bird checklists to eBird and I'm really enjoying it.
     This bird-sighting website can be very consistent with green birding. For example, it encourages local birding by designating bird "hotspots" (a spot approved by eBird, based on the number of bird species seen there, proximity to other such hotspots, etc.).  Each hotspot includes adjoining lands/neighborhoods as well. I have a half dozen such hotspots within walking distance of my home. I am especially lucky because my house is within one! (I counted the Pine Siskin below, at my house, on an eBird checklist.) Most people should have (or can establish) one or more hotspots within walking distance of their home. (See the website above for details on how to do that.)
     The eBird program further encourages green birding by allowing participants to designate local "patches." I have designated the hotspots in my small town as my local patch. I then compete with other patches for total number of species for all time, the current year, and the current month. At the time of this writing (March 28, 2015) I have 116 species for my local patch, for the month of March. (Some participants have designated really large areas (e.g. Orange County) as a local patch!) But you can still see how you rank with other local patches by deleting such huge "patches".
     The eBird website basically works like this: You bird for whatever distance and time you want on each occasion (in a designated hotspot or your own personal location which is not a designated hotspot). You then submit your bird sightings, which are reviewed by an eBird expert for accuracy before being posted on the website. Others can access your sightings of birds made at the hotspots. You can share your sightings from your personal locations (not eBird hotspots) with people you so designate.
     I find that it's especially easy to use a bird app, on my smart phone, when preparing an eBird checklist. I open my app (BirdLog North America), which then lists the local hotspots and my personal spots. I pick the one I want to bird at, and a checklist of birds for that location comes up automatically. I list the numbers of each bird species I find, as I bird. When I am done birding, I go through the list once to make sure it is accurate and complete. I then add some other quick information, and I submit the list to the website. I can later review my data on the website and make any additions or corrections, if necessary. (Some long-time birders are not using the app, but I can guarantee that it saves much time when compared to the traditional method of taking notes on paper and later sitting down at your computer to enter the information!)
     While eBirding is fun, it also serves a very important purpose. The data submitted makes for a sort of national bird data base. The numbers so acquired over time, can then be used to map the occurrence and the dates of bird species (which might be helpful, for example, to show the effects of global warming). The data can be used to track of the number of each species, to see how a species is doing, and so on. It is much like the annual Christmas bird count, in that the bird data can be used to show many things. Unlike the Christmas counts, though, eBird data covers the entire year. Therefore, it is potentially a much more complete and valuable set of bird data than the traditional Christmas counts!
     So have some fun green birding, and contribute to science!

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