What Can Be Done with eBird Data?

Brighter colors indicate higher relative abundance. © Cornell University

The Western Tanager is a species I have yet to see, but which will be unmistakeable once I do, with the male’s red-and-orange head and bright yellow body contrasting with black wings striped with white bars. Based on the animated map above, I expect to spot some of them down in Baja California Sur by September or October, and I look forward to it. As I’ve written here before in the case of another moving map, citizen science makes this sort of illustrative prediction of a species’ moving presence possible, and it’s one of the reasons why I contribute to eBird as often as I can.

A paper titled “Using open access observational data for conservation action: A case study for birds” was published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation by a team of researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, several of whom I was just down the hallway from when I worked there. Although I haven’t gotten through their findings yet myself, Victoria Campbell chose nine interesting examples of how eBird data created tangible conservation in several countries. 

Here she is writing for Cornell’s All About Birds page:

It turns out that when citizen science projects make their data publicly available, as eBird does, they help bridge the so-called “knowledge-to-action gap” that can plague conservation.

Since 2002, eBird has received more than 300 million observations—70 million of those in 2015 alone. At the eBird website, you can view that data as maps or other visualizations and browse by species, location, and date. For more formal analyses, the entire data set is freely available to download, and more than 2,100 people from all over the world have downloaded it.

A research team from the Cornell Lab sent out surveys to users of the full data set to learn how people used the data. They documented 159 examples of people or groups that used eBird for conservation action. A third of all responses were from private citizens rather than academics, indicating that citizen science projects can extend a person’s role from data collector to data user. The team published their findings in the journal Biological Conservation.

According to their results, it turns out that people are using eBird data in various ways; from researching and monitoring conservation areas and species, to conservation planning, habitat and species management and protection, and even in making policy decisions and laws. And they’re using it all over the world. We dove into the paper and pulled out these top 9 examples of how and where the data were used to create real on-the-ground conservation action:

  1. Helped develop the IUCN Red List of Chile’s threatened birds. When there is little information on a species, little can be done to help protect it. The Chilean Birding Network used eBird to get occurrence information on seven data-deficient bird species, allowing their conservation status to be assessed for the IUCN Red List.

  2. Instrumental in listing the rufa Red Knot as a threatened subspecies, U.S. The rufa subspecies of the Red Knot migrates up to 20,000 miles a year between Tierra del Fuego and the Arctic, stopping in places like Delaware Bay to feast on abundant horseshoe crab eggs. When increased harvests of horseshoe crabs caused rufa Red Knot populations to crash in the 2000s, eBird reports helped fill gaps in data about the bird’s numbers all across its migratory route. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to list the rufa Red Knot as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2013.

  3. Helped determine species distributions for poorly known, rare species, Philippines. Three species of ground-warblers—one only just discovered in 2013—are so secretive that they’re only known from a few dozen locations. A group of researchers used eBird and museum data to model the ranges of the species. The results highlighted the need for land protection in currently unprotected parts of the country.

Read the rest of Victoria’s article here.

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