eBird: A Scientific Equation for Conservation

eBird: A Scientific Equation for Conservation

Perhaps sometime between 2004 – 2016, you walked around our beautiful sanctuary Bubbling Ponds Preserve (BPP). You observed a Cedar Waxwing then another and another. They’re there for the food: “The birds’ name derives from their appetite for cedar berries in winter; they also eat mistletoe, madrone, juniper, mountain ash, honeysuckle, crabapple, hawthorn, and Russian olive fruits.”  Another source says the bird’s named for its “wax-like wingtips.” Whatever the method of naming, the reason for this article is to inform us about how this species can add to science with our help.

Your part of the equation:

You soaked in this ornately-subtle bird from its prominent crest, to the dark mask outlined by the thinnest of white lines, to the red “bead-like” tips at the end of its secondaries, to the tip of its bright-yellow terminal tail band.

After enjoying this bird, you counted the number of waxwings.

Then, you either:

  • recorded the number in a notebook to submit later, or
  • entered the number of Waxwings into an eBird checklist using the app on your phone as you go, or
  • submitted your observation on the laptop or desktop once you got home

Little did you know that your entering that observation set off a chain of events that has informed groundbreaking studies on “Status and Trends” of this species. You were just out for a little exercise while birding.

Scientists’ part of the equation:

A wonderfully-curious scientist narrowed down reams of data on sightings of Cedar Waxwings, over a one-hour period, or one-kilometer walk, during the ideal time of day. Culminating in an animated map displaying the abundance of Cedar Waxwings. https://ebird.org/science/status-and-trends/cedwax/abundance-map

eBird provides, not only an app for that; but also, an algorithm for that:  

“… the seasonally-averaged estimated relative abundance defined as the expected count on a one-hour, one-kilometer eBird Traveling Count conducted at the ideal time of day for the detection of that species in a region.”

Sixteen years ago, Cornell scientists “embarked on a grand experiment: using the web to connect birdwatchers around the world in a way that informs research and conservation.”

The sum = habitat management:

Their genuine love for birds took your eBird entry from your walk around BPP; created an app for that, created the model, plugged data into the model, and actualized a status and trends map. Talk about right and left brain syncing.  We simply do the birding; Cornell does the number crunching that can inform habitat management. Perhaps plant more native fruit-bearing trees?

Last November, Cornell Labs announced a huge advance in the understanding of birds that is made possible when birders submit their observations using eBird. Major breakthroughs in data use enabled scientists to create “next generation species distribution models that provide full life cycle information about birds at relatively fine scales.”

Added benefits:

Kristen Rothrock, life-long educator and bird enthusiast became an eBirder over the summer. Now Cornell Labs keeps her life list of many birds over many continents. When asked why she became an eBirder, Kristen said, “That my personal passion of bird watching can contribute to the wider world of science is most rewarding. That’s why I now send my lists into eBird. Converting years of bird lists to eBird has simplified, organized, and freed me to just get to enjoy.  It makes me feel like a member of a global community.”

Biotic and abiotic change:

Whether it’s a Waxwing or a Marsh bird – your observation is important because, ultimately, this data can “inform novel conservation actions, from site-specific information about the occurrence and abundance of birds, to looking at patterns of species abundance across continent-spanning flyways.” Their scientific investigations importantly focus on “the consequences of biotic and abiotic change for bird populations.”

A recent survey by our own NAAS geniuses, showed that 46% of respondents wished to participate in NAAS science-related projects. Clearly, our members have a strong interest in citizen science. Now that you know your walk around BPP aids science, there is even more reason to eBird. As Dena Greenwood once said, “If you are birding, you should be eBirding.”

Of course, there’s a course for that. Here is how to get started:


And let’s go eBirding!

Submitted by Kay Hawklee, NAAS Board and Conservation Committee Member