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


  1. What would one enter if one saw a large crested woodpecker in the Maderas del Carmen, Coahuila, Mexico? Imperial Woodpecker? But they aren't supposed to be in that part of Mexico. Maybe Pileated Woodpecker? But they aren't supposed to be there either. Maybe an unrecognized subspecies of Campephilus principalis? Well, there really seems to be (or recently was) a large crested woodpecker in that area. See Wauer's book "A Naturalist
    s Mexico".

  2. What if one had drop down lists that allowed one to get as specific as they cared to? Obviously, for data collection, one wouldn't want to start with "bird" and the go from there. A little common sense is in order. But anything that is commonly confused should have several levels of specificity. This would allow experts to get detailed and allow high level amateurs to be less specific but still contribute. This should also be done by appearance and not taxonomically. Taxonomy means nothing to many amateurs. If we are going to market this as something for most everyone, we'll need to adapt the data collection to users needs but still make it useful to researchers. I didn't say it would be easy, but we have to keep the amateur in mind with the UI design.

  3. I find it cumbersome to enter a non-species observation in the current system. But it seems useful to me to report for instance Black-called/Carolina Chickadee or Accipiter rather than nothing. One idea for making this easier is a third listing besides most probable and rare species.