If you’re like me, you keep track of birds you’ve seen in or from your yard. Some people write bird sightings on their calendar, some check off birds in a field guide and some keep a formal list in a journal or computer. And some of us use eBird, an online tool that makes it easy to keep track of birds you’ve seen at home, as well as anywhere else in the world.
Launched in 2002 by Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, eBird started with the Western Hemisphere only, but expanded to include the entire world in June, 2010. As of July, 2013, there are more than 100,000 users worldwide who have submitted tens of thousands of checklists including over 100 million observations. Data are recorded for more than 10,000 species, virtually every known bird, and are available free of charge to anyone.
Employing user-friendly, intuitive software, eBird is easy to use and allows observers to quickly enter checklists of sightings, whether for an all-day outing or a casual single-bird backyard observation. eBird tracks your records, allowing you to maintain a ‘life list’, as well as document your sightings by date and location. Similarly, you can examine eBird checklists submitted by others to see which birds have been reported (and when) for any area in the world. For example, you can enter eBird, click on ‘Explore Data’, go to ‘Range and Point Maps’ and enter any bird name for any period of time and any location, such as ‘Pinal, Arizona’. A Google map appears for the requested area, which you can scroll beyond to adjacent areas/counties, and small blue and red icons appear wherever submitted checklists include the requested bird. Red markers indicate recent sightings and blue for older checklists. You can zoom closer to get street-level locations, and when you click on an individual marker, you will see checklist detail, including observer’s name and a count of each species reported.
To set up an account, use your Internet browser to find www.ebird.org and then select ‘Register as a new user.’ Enter your first name, last name and email address. Choose a ‘User Name’ of at least 6 characters and create a password of at least 8 characters. Click on ‘Create Account.’ It’s that simple. Generate a simple checklist for your own home address by writing down the number of birds for each species you find in your yard over a short period of time, say 15 minutes. You might find six House Sparrows, four House Finches, two Lesser Goldfinches, a Curve-billed Thrasher, a Northern Cardinal, two Cactus Wrens and a Costa’s Hummingbird. Maybe a dozen Gambel’s Quail chased by a Greater Roadrunner. If you see a bird you don’t recognize, skip it or use a field guide to help identify it. Once you have an initial list, sign on to eBird and click on ‘Submit Observations.’ Under ‘Where did you bird?’ click on ‘Find it on a Map.’ Once you have established your yard (and any other spots) as a site, they become part of your birding spots and will appear automatically, but use ‘Find it on a Map’ to set up any site the first time.
Enter the county and state, click ‘Continue’ and then enter your street address in the box following ‘Zoom To.’ A Google map will appear and you can zoom the screen larger until you easily see where your home would be. Click this spot and a small icon will appear, representing your house. Give this spot a name (‘My SaddleBrooke Home’), but don’t suggest it as a ‘birding hot spot.’ Continue with your data entry by entering the observation date, type (‘stationary’ if you were watching your yard), start time, duration, party size (2 if your spouse helped) and comments (e.g., ‘my first checklist’.) You will then scroll through an eBird intuitive list of all the bird species you could find at this location for this time of the year. As you encounter the names of birds you actually saw, enter the number and continue until finished. Note that the birds are listed in taxonomic order, like birding field guides, rather than alphabetically.
Add to this data base by entering new lists over time, and you will build a significant yard list. If you happen to look out the window and see a new bird, you can create a single-bird list (‘casual’ 30-second birding) without taking the time to note all the birds you might see over a half-hour. If you see a bird you don’t recognize even with a field guide, try to get a picture of it, send it to me and I will try to help identify it.
Since we began our yard list a few years ago, it has grown to 74 different species. If you live on the golf course or your yard connects to open space, your list no doubt will be larger. We also maintain a list of birds found in the whole community, east to the Canada del Oro Wash. At present, this list consists of 136 species. Both our yard list and the complete SaddleBrooke list can be found at my blog, www.birdingthebrooke.com.
(This article originally appeared in the October, 2013 issue of the Saddlebag Notes newspaper, Tucson, Arizona.)