Saturday, October 24, 2009

Parsing help

Our eBird bloggers include some of our most active, committed, and tech-savvy eBirders. It is this last element that we'd like to draw upon in this post, since it is really a call for help.

We periodically receive communications from birders who have years (even decades) of their bird notes in text form. Often in MS Word, or a similar format, these notes tend to be formatted in very regular ways which makes it possible to write some smart scripts to parse the information into a CSV or Excel file for eBird upload.

Unfortunately, the three eBird Project Leaders are pretty good with bird ID, but at the moment, none of us has the expertise to quickly and easily convert long text files into a CSV or Excel-compatible file that we can use via the eBird upload tool. An our eBird developers are busy developing RSS feeds and improving eBird queries and building other new cool stuff for the site itself, so we can't really draw on them.

We are wondering if there is anyone out there in the eBird Blogosphere that would have the expertise and willingness to assist us with converting text to CSV. Email Marshall directly at if you think you can help or have ideas (or if you have bird records in this format that you'd like to convert). Thanks!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Revealing personal locations--how do you feel about it?


Over the past two years we've been developing tools that showcase our users, and in so doing we've made more and more of the eBird data easily accessible to the public. One of the things we've struggled with is whether or not to show people's personal locations on a map. If you look at the eBird "High Counts" output tool, you'll see a mix of locations listed there. The "hotspots" are linked to a Google Map, whereas people's personal locations have no map link. We thought this would be fine, but it turns out that we're getting a lot of complaints about it.

If you look at "High Counts" for a region and see one that interests you, don't you want to know where the high count occurred? The problem is that for personal locations we do not enforce any kind of naming standards, so there's lots of places like "My backyard" or "Jim's Place". The problem with this is that when there is a record of interest to the public, they can't make sense of that location name, nor can they click on a link to find out more about where it actually is.

On our Google Rare Bird Gadget we display all locations on maps, personal and shared. We have had few complaints about this. I'm wondering how you all feel about creating links to personal locations in all the eBird output tools so that people can learn more about your data? We will still have the "hide this" option to hide checklists so users with sensitive data can keep their information private if they wish. We'd love to hear your thoughts, comments and concerns.


Brian Sullivan
Team eBird

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

eBird taxonomic revision


Has there ever been anything that you have wanted to enter in eBird but have been unable to? Something like "eider sp." or "booby sp.", a rare hybrid that you saw (like Glaucous x Great Black-backed Gull) or a subspecies group like "Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)" (we already have that one).

The reason we ask is that we are revising our taxonomy now. We plan to expand the list of birds you can enter significantly, and have a list of recommendations from other eBirders which we will incorporate. If you have any birds you'd like to see in eBird, send any ideas like this to Marshall (

NOTE: Before you send recommendations, please check to make sure we don;t already have the bird you are recommending. There are two ways to do this:

1) Download the eBird taxonomy and search for it here:

2) Edit or submit a checklist, click "rare species" and type part of the bird name in the "Add a species" box. If you want to add a "sp.", just type "sp." and if you want to add a hybrid, just type hybrid, since you will get a list with all options containing that character string. Please remember, that we use a slash "/" for species pairs--thus, we use Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher rather than dowitcher sp. and Greater/Lesser Yellowlegs rather than yellowlegs sp.


-Marshall Iliff for Team eBird

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Take the eBird Survey


We've just put up a participant survey on the eBird site. The goal of the survey is to try to figure out a few things: 1. we have many choices ahead of us in terms of eBird development, what do our users think might be the best direction in terms of improving overall usage?; and 2. we suspect that the data entry process has deterred some potential eBird users. How can we improve this so that it becomes more streamlined, and more user-friendly?

Please take a minute and take the survey, and let us know what you think.


Brian and the rest of Team eBird

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

eBird Online Presentations


We're about to test out the ability to give online eBird presentations through a tool called Yugma. It will allow individuals to see our desktop and interact with us via an online forum, and essentially get all the benefits of a hands-on eBird presentation with the travel, expense, and environmental costs of jetting all over the continent. Let us know what you think of this idea, and if you want to attend the first presentation. Email me to confirm at

Check out this post from the home page:

We love to give eBird presentations in person, but the next best thing might be doing it via an online tool that allows a group of people to attend an eBird talk. We can accomplish this in two ways: the first is to schedule a specific eBird presentation for a local group, which you can arrange by contacting us at ( The second is to have bi-monthly eBird online eBird presentations that are open to anyone wishing to learn more about eBird. These will generally be an hour long, and occur in the evening. They will require an internet connection so that users can be connected to each other, and be able to see our presentations on their desktops. We are currently trying to guage interest in this kind of bi-monthly event, so we're in a testing phase. The first presentation will be a general eBird overview given at 7 PM Eastern time on Wednesday, July 22nd. Attendance is limited to 20 people/talk, so please send us an email to register ( and receive instructions. These are free!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Help spread the word - eBird promo materials available


We've just posted some promotional materials on the eBird site at this URL: The first powerpoint is a general eBird overview that talks about the concept of the project, shows the data entry process and a bit about data output. The second powerpoint is an overview of how to be a better eBirder, which incorporates many of the topics that we've posted about on the home page as well as in this forum.

The idea is for faithful eBird users to take these powerpoints and present them at local bird clubs, look at them with friends etc. We wanted to make these materials available so people wishing to promote eBird would have a good starting point to do so. Take a look and let us know what you think, and if you dare, try giving an eBird talk in your home range!

If you do let us know so we can keep track.


Brian, Chris and Marshall

Thursday, June 25, 2009

eBird - Under the hood


This summer we're working on performance issues at eBird. Some birders who have lots of checklists are seeing really slow load times for things like the My eBird page, and we need to make sure that as eBird grows we can scale our tools up to meet user needs. What this means is that most of our development time will be spent on improvements that might not be obvious at first, but that should reap rewards for all users in the long run. We expect this to take a few more months.

We do have a few exciting developments that are about to be launched. The most important of which is a series of eBird APIs that feed data out to outside developers that want to make tools that use eBird data. These could include iPhone apps, Facebook apps etc. These should be launched in the coming weeks, and we're really excited about it.

We hope that you'll be patient as we go through this back-end development phase, but we do look forward to pushing out new and better tools for birders on the other side of this period.


Brian, Chris and Marshall (and Tim who is sequestered in his cube)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Check out eBird's most wanted counties...


We're in the process of developing ways to try to inspire people to get out to different parts of the country and collect eBird data. Birders are often creatures of habit, which is a good thing, but it's also important for us to gather a wider spread of geographic data for analysis. We've beat around a few ideas, one of them called gBirding (more on that later), but we've also thought of trying to engage birders by showing them where the counties are with zero or one eBird checklist. Because the Top 100 tool works for counties, it's pretty easy to go out and become number 1 in a heartbeat. In any case, thoughts on how to engage people to get out to different parts of their own counties, or states, would be welcome. What would drive you to go birding somewhere that didn't necessarily have great birds (but might!)?


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Migrants in June--Yes June!

I think a lot of birders tend to think of June and July as the quiet season for migrants. These are certainly the lowest months for participation in eBird (in terms of the number of checklists submitted). Brian, Marshall and I have long wondered, what's the reason for this drop-off. Yeah, we know that it can be hot, humid, and buggy--and anyone who could see me now would know it's also allergy season. But, it's also an incredibly good time for birding. Most of us know that it's a great time to find nesting birds, but these months are under-appreciated in terms of finding migrants.

With that in mind, I decided to check some of the landbird locations around Braddock Bay, New York this morning. Firehouse Woods can be a spectacular location for birds in migration. Nestled between Lake Ontario, several smaller lakes and a bit of suburban sprawl from Rochester, the small woods here are a haven for migrants. If you come in here from mid-April to mid-May the woods are teeming with birds and birders. But by late May, there is almost no one birding. And in June? No one at all--the eBird bar charts are almost empty for the summer months!

With that in mind, I've decided to spend some time checking local migrant traps (both landbirds and shorebirds) from mid-June to mid-August to see what birds may be passing through that we don't notice. It would be great if others gave it a try--I think we'll all be surprised by how much is going on.

I'm already off to a great start with a NORTHERN PARULA today--a bird that was last reported to eBird from here on 17 May (and certainly doesn't breed near here). Where was it headed?

My complete eBird list is below.

Good eBirding,
Chris Wood, Ithaca New York (currently near Braddock Bay, New York)

Location: Firehouse, Long Pond Rd (Monroe Co., New York)
Observation date: 6/14/09
Notes: I checked both sides of the woods going as far as the loop in the trail on the south side.
Number of species: 32
Great Blue Heron 1
Mourning Dove 2
Downy Woodpecker 4
Eastern Wood-Pewee 2
Willow Flycatcher 2
Eastern Kingbird 1
Warbling Vireo 7
Blue Jay 3
American Crow 1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 3
Barn Swallow 1
Black-capped Chickadee 7
House Wren 3
Marsh Wren 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
American Robin 10
Gray Catbird 7
Cedar Waxwing 2
Northern Parula 1 **RARE at this season. I'm not sure what direction this bird was headed. A single bird came in silently to my pishing--it appeared to be an adult male with a bold complete breast band and brightly colored throat and upper breast. No sign of molt. I only saw him for about 15 second before he disappeared.
Yellow Warbler 18
American Redstart 2 Two singing males--the one that I saw was a first year male with one black feather on the breast, dark lores, a couple black feathers on/near the malar and a bit more orange color to sides of breast.
Common Yellowthroat 2
Chipping Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 4
Swamp Sparrow 5
Northern Cardinal 4
Red-winged Blackbird 12
Common Grackle 2
Brown-headed Cowbird 4
Baltimore Oriole 5 As with most birds that I have seen around here, all individuals (including two females) had a lot of red in the plumage--males on breast, females on sides of breast, sides of the uppertail coverts (tract, not individual feathers).
American Goldfinch 8
House Sparrow 2

Monday, June 8, 2009

Should this blog be an open forum?


Concerning Dany's recent post that the eBird Blog is boring, well, the other option here is to open this up to the eBird community for posting messages, asking questions etc. of each other. We don't have a problem with that, but we also don't want this to turn into a discussion about how to ID birds, travel tips, etc, that are found elsewhere.

We really wanted to keep this related to eBird as much as possible, but I agree that this could quickly get stale if all we do is ask for help and then tell you "Oh yeah, we already thought of that--it's on the list". The reality is that we HAVE thought of lots of things to develop, but time, money, personnel and having to prioritize limit what we can get done quickly.

In any case, I put the question to the crowd: should this be a public blog for eBird users to post stories, insights, bird info etc?


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

3 June 2009 - eBird questions, comments and suggestions


It's great to see so many comments and interest in eBird. I'll try to keep the blog fresh with periodic posts like this so people can pose questions (about eBird only please!), comments and provide suggestions for improvements. It is our hope that you, the eBird users, will help others by responding to questions as well. We will, of course be monitoring and chiming in when we can. For technical eBird issues, there is a Google Group called "eBird Tech Talk" run by Charles Swift. That is a great forum for trouble-shooting eBird techincal problems.


Team eBird

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Are you reporting all the species you saw/heard? What the heck do we mean???


Hyla raises a very important issue in stating that new eBirders might not fully understand this very important question asked at the top of every eBird checklist. The question as currently stated reads "Are you submitting a complete checklist of the birds you saw/heard?". By clicking an additional drop down menu immediately below called "What does this mean?" users see the following text:

"We want to find out whether you are reporting all the birds you were able to identify to the best of your ability. In other words, answer "Yes" to this question when you submit more than just the highlights of your birding event, and try to note every species present. We realize that all birds are not identifiable and user abilities vary. You should always answer "Yes" to this question unless you are purposefully excluding some species (e.g. European Starlings) from your checklist. You do not need to count all the individuals to answer "Yes" to this question. Please try to report all species."

I can tell you that we've struggled with the wording of this question at eBird since day one. We thought by adding the expanded clarification above the matter would be settled. But it sounds like it's still not fully clarified.

So, help us out, respond to this post with suggestions on how to word this better! Read more about this concept and why it is absolutely critical that every eBirder understand why they should be reporting all species here.


Team eBird

Friday, May 29, 2009

Want to help with eBird hotspots???


There have been quite a few questions lately about 'eBird hotspots', most wondering why their hotspot suggestion hasn't yet been approved. Hotspots are an ongoing issue at eBird, mostly because the system we have in place is suffering from success! The concept is a great one, and we've got lots of hotspots in the database now, just over 30,000. The concept was pioneering at the time, 2002, to let eBirders create hotspots. Where we have a problem is actually finding the time to go in and approve all the hotspot suggestions. That job falls to Chris, Marshall and me, and despite trying to keep up with it we have fallen behind. Right now there are about 5,000 pending! The only reason we don't approve a hotspot request is if it already exists (a common problem) or if the place is a personal location like someone's backyard. In any case, there are many requests languishing, and that means that we have to change the process.

In some states people have stepped up to become hotspot editors, and we'd like to pursue this model nationwide and countrywide throughout the rest of the Western Hemisphere. These individuals essentially manage all the hotspot requests for the state (or country) and have the power to merge, move and rename existing hotspots. In places like California, Texas, and North Carolina we have people actively managing hotspots and the process goes smoothly. We need help elsewhere though! So, if anyone out there wants to help manage hotspots for their state, please get in touch with us. After an initial bit of work, it probably would take about 10 minutes per week/state.

Let us know if you'd like to help and we can give you the tools!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Comments on your comments!


Thanks again for providing valuable insight into how you use eBird, what you like about it and what you think needs to be developed. The responses show that we have a broad range of users, from beginners to experts, and each user seems to use eBird a little bit differently. Below I'll try to address some of the questions that arose.

To Dave Rach: Active promotion is what we're hoping to achieve. We want eBird to go 'viral', that is we want all of our users to actively promote it to their birding friends and family. Ideally each eBirder would be a vocal advocate for the project on listserves and anywhere else they could find a forum.

To Claire: I actually think that it's great that you're one of the biggest contributors. This shows that you don't need to be a famous globe-trotting expert to make a huge contribution to eBird. Your data are as valuable, or arguably even more valuable because of your understanding of eBird, your repeated observations and your inclusion of effort information. This is the epitomy of what we want in an eBirder!

To John: Hotspots are sometimes an issue in eBird. eBird thrives off data, and when a new hotspot is created it is certainly data poor. Over time the bar charts etc become fleshed out with more data. It just takes a while, especially if you're one of few people contributing to the hotspot.

To Kathiesbirds: The fact that you've moved from GBBC to eBird and now count all of the birds you see all the time is incredible. That's the model that we hope many GBBC participants will follow. In terms of convincing your friends who are using other birding software, well, that's a big issue. Many birders do use other software to keep their lists, and we're aware of that. We are trying to develop ways to easily migrate those data into eBird. See this URL for a section that shows the differnt programs (e.g., AviSys) that have written code to bring data into eBird ( The real issue here is that eBird collects data in a way that is useful to science. By contributing complete checklists of birds from discrete locations with associated effort information, you are adding value to your observations and allowing them to be used in scientific analysis. Observations of single birds in space and time, as many of these software packages record them, and less useful becuase they lack the specifics that are needed for analysis. That's the critically important thing about the way eBird works. We're always walking the line between trying to let birders do what they do in an enjoyable way, but at the same time steering them in the direction of making their data more useful.

To Corey: We do have plans to make eBird available worldwide. We hope to do this in the near future and it is one of our major goals. The problem is that its not as simple as just turning it on. There are many things that work behind the scenes to make eBird what it is, including regional editors who review data, automated filters that create checklists and flag potentially erroneous data, hotspot editors etc. It is a major job to just get all this working in the USA! Right now we plan to launch the rest of the world in beta, which means it'll be less than smooth for a while, but will consistently improve with time and subsequent iterations.

To Paul Hurtado: We're actually working on a concept right now to do just that! We are going to introduce a map that shows where the data are concentrated and where we need data. We're actively working with analysts right now to create that.

To Sean: We are currently working on our first series of APIs and data feeds that will stream data out of eBird. These should be launched within the next several months. What we need to do next is to ask you, and the rest of our users, exactly what kinds of feeds you'd like to see if you were going to display eBird information elsewhere (e.g. Facebook).

To Michael: There are lots of good ideas here. The big one that I see is the realization that we might need to take more 'starter' data to get people involved, and then push them in the right direction with their new observations. Right now you need species, date and location for a record in eBird. We've toyed with the idea of creating an 'initial life list' option where users could just go in and set up their lists without the associated data, and then move forward from that point. What has stopped that is our desire to keep the database solid, and free of information that can't be used by science. What we're realizing is that we might have to change that policy to get people 'over the hump' and into eBird. Once they are in eBird, we've found that they really do begin to understand the importance of contributing effort-based observations. Not all will, but it certainly might help.

The blog would be a great forum for people to help others upload data. We'll do a post on that in the near future. There are some new tools that make this even easier. Check out the eBird Express here (

To Sean: We are in the process of trying to 'take the lid off' eBird, open it up in ways that it hasn't been seen before. Part of that will be allowing users to expose their data to the public or to just 'friends'. Right now only you can see your individual checklists, but in the next iteration of eBird we want YOU to decide who can see your data. I know that I'd like to see what some folks are reporting. In addition we need to begin to uncover the review process, make our data editors visible and accessible to the public and generally pull back the curtain on some of things that happen behind the scenes. More transparency will make users more comfortable with the whole process.

To Oriole: Agreed, birding has to be fun first, after all, that's why most of us do it! We just need to find the right mix of fun and science at eBird.

To Derek Bakken: eBird does allow the option of entering data at the county and even state level. The reason that we try to steer people away from that and toward more location-based checklists is that the latter are so much better for analysis. The former are find for listing, but it all comes back to adding value to your data. If you're out there collecting data, why not go the extra mile to make it useful. It's actually more rewarding in the end even for listing purposes because then you can view location-based lists, not just county etc.

To Brendan: We are definitely focused now on trying to build community around eBird. We don't want to build a "Facebook for birders" but we do want to interface more fully with these types of social networking sites. I'll turn it back to you: what kinds of eBird information would you want to display on your Facebook page?

To Jennifer Wenzel: If you open a checklist using the "Manage my observations" tool you can see under "Date and Effort" info on each individual checklist whom you've shared it with.

To Clay: Do all you can to get others into it!

To Anonymous: RE your observations being in the wrong order, email me separately with more details and we'll look into it (

To Dave Rach: We can open this forum up so that users (members) can post topics. What we don't want is for the discussion to turn from eBird to "what bird is this?" etc. There are other forums for that kind of birding info.

To Joe: Hah! I also birded Costa Rica on my honeymoon and submitted a ton of checklists. I used an Excel spreadsheet to collect the data while I was there and then bulk uploaded it when I got back. We need to do a feature on how to do this on the eBird home page. Look for it soon.

To Lindsey: Another nod to the social networking side of things. We need to do this better.

To Gallus: eBird allows you to enter all field identifiable subspecies in North America. They might not be on some checklists, it depends where you are birding, but you can always add subspecies data using the "Add a species" option on the checklist page. See the eBird taxonomy ( for all that we have to offer. We are now working closely with Clements so that it and the eBird taxonomy will become one and the same.

To Evan: Location-based data are better for analysis and for listing purposes. It sounds like what we need to do is to design a quick way to create 'day reports' that will tally all the birds you've seen in a day.

The 'timeout' on a checklist submission should be 60 minutes. eBird restarts the clock each time you interact with it so if you click the 'rare species' link in blue at the top of the page, and then revert back to 'most probable' you'll be back where you were with 60 fresh minutes to continue.

To Riasp57: It's great that you've moved over from GBBC to eBird. If you want to talk specifically about what birds your seeing and that type of information, you can check out the listserve called BirdChat here (

To Jay McGann: Duplication of effort is definitely something that we struggle with. That's why we're trying to make it easier to import data from other software to eBird.

To Finatic: Yes, eBird Buddies would be able to see your checklists etc. and look at your data. Maybe even comment on birds that they like or dislike.

To Anonymous RE Weather: You can put weather info in the checklist comments to describe local conditions. We gather weather info for analysis from automated sensor networks so adding that into eBird would be somewhat redundant - at least from an analysis perspective.

RE "Here Comes Everybody". We realize that in most community-based sites that a relative few contribute the majority of the data. Even still, the numbers at eBird are on the low side. What we hope to learn is why 90% of users don't contribute data, and then possibly make some changes to welcome that group into the fold. There will always be more users than contributors, however, we are hoping to improve the ratio.

To Linda Price: Yes, agreed, we definitely need to feature the utility of finding your own place to monitor. While many birders do visit the hotspots, finding and owning your 'local patch' as the Brits call it, has tremendous benefits.

I really like your idea of the 'eBird help night' at local bird clubs.

To Jay McGann: We are attempting to do precisely what you say, which is to bring all bird data under one umbrella (including eBird) at the Avian Knowledge Network. Check it out here (

To James Fox: We need to step up our hotspot process in general. There's a lot of potential here for more useful information and ways to organize bird information.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Do you eBird? - Open Thread

Based on recent research we've learned that roughly 70,000 people use eBird more than 50 times a year to gather information on birds. Most surprising to us was the fact that just 10,000 people entered data into eBird at least once, and even more remarkable is that just 2500 people entered more than 50 eBird checklists last year. What this tells us is that there is a large community of people out there using eBird as an information source, but a relative few actually contribute data. We want to better understand what drives our users, and ultimately participation in eBird. Why people submit data, why they don't, what's good and bad about eBird? Helping us answer these questions will make eBird a better tool for birders, and ultimately put more data into the hands of scientists and conservationists. With that, we ask you, the eBird community how we can be better...