Saturday morning, I got up early and headed over to a program presented by Chris Wood, sponsored by the Topeka Audobon folks and hosted by Janeen Walters at Washburn Rural Middle School. Now I am a geek but the topic had to have a lot of promise for me to give up my Saturday morning cinnamon roll and the promise was more than fulfilled. Chris Wood works with the eBird program at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. I’ve got to say from years and years of working in the field of citizen science I was not expecting to be wowed but I was. My expectations were tempered by the years of struggles trying to figure out how to encourage volunteers to submit, good quality data in a way that benefited the citizen scientist as well as the professional scientist–all the while trying to keep things inviting and exciting for recruiting new folks to participate. Steve Case and Tom Baker put together a good web based infrastructure to support the Pathfinder science project but today’s Web 2.0 tools take collaboration to an entire new level, creating an environment that can promote and support powerful web-based efforts in conservation science. eBird provides an exemplary example.
If you are a biology teacher that provides any instruction in or encourages birdwatching or if you are a bird watcher yourself eBird is something to really consider. I’m not a lister but I think I’m about to start–only because my effort can significantly contribute to a larger effort. I’m really more of a nature observer–birds just happen to be a convenient focal point. I have participated in Christmas bird counts and have made a number of reports to the Kansas Bird List about observations and sightings but in general I’m not a hard-core birder. That is the beauty of eBird. A more casual birder like myself with just a bit of extra effort to record my sightings can make really significant contributions to a data base of bird observations while a more intense birder can have a huge impact. eBird makes it easy to record your sightings and their locations. eBird simply works for all kinds of birders.
In fact, I learned from Chris that researchers accessing the data have developed very sophisticated algorithms to take into account your personal bird watching habits. For instance, I might be hesitant to participate because when I bird in the spring, I’m primarily looking for warblers. I’ll note the sparrows and such now, but my effort is going to be focused on the warblers. Well guess what, the filtering tools will note this correct for this. That is good because I wouldn’t want my lack of focus on sparrows to indicate that they weren’t there when they probably were. (That could create conservation issues.) This is powerful.
Here’s the deal, though. One of the reasons that Chris came to KS is that we have only a few folks signed up and participating in eBird. Notice if you go to the site we are not in the top 30 states for observations reported this year, in fact as of this morning there were only 117 observations turned in this year. The key to this overall effort is large numbers of observers. For instance here’s part of a bar chart of bird occurrence in Johnson County.
Because of the numbers involved and the data base is a very rich resource for professional researchers. The professionals are benefiting and we are learning more and more about our birds. More importantly, as an educator think of the advantages eBird can offer you and your students to collect and help make sense of observations made from year to year, season to season–all the while contributing to the larger research community. Think about it, create an account and start to contribute–I am.