One of the primary goals of eBird is to provide us (birders) with way to share and organize our observations. The reason? Well, that’s because it’s the best way to achieve another eBird’s primary goals: collecting and sharing that data with scientists so they can better understand birds and improve bird conservation.
So how can you make eBird work better for you?
If you have a smartphone, one answer is to start using the BirdLog app. Why? Because it makes “eBirding” a LOT more efficient! Many birders find submitting eBird checklists to be a bit cumbersome, or at the very least that it detracts from paying attention to birds in the field. Also, it takes time to transcribe field notes into a checklist at home after your trip. BirdLog allows you to tally birds in the field on your smartphone and then quickly submit them as an eBird checklists (or at least drafts of checklists) from the field.
So how exactly can BirdLog make your eBirding more efficient? Well, beyond the fact that it allows you to merge the task of data entry with tallying birds the field, BirdLog does a few other things to save you time.
Here are my top time-saving tips for using BirdLog in the field:
Use short-hand: BirdLog does name matching as you type in a bird name, and gives you candidate names you can just tap. You can exploit this “fuzzy matching” capability by typing only the most unique words instead of full species names! For example, “Northern W” will get you to Northern Waterthrush, but “Water” will get you there faster. Skip those “Northern” and “Common” words, and you’ll speed things up considerably!Alternatively, do you know any 4-letter banding codes? Well so does BirdLog!! Use them! If you don’t know the 4 letter codes for species names, fear not! They’re easier to learn thank you think (this cheat sheet explains the rules and exceptions for Ohio; Colorado is in the works!).
- Don’t pause to enter every bird while birding. Keep what you can in memory, and enter them when you’re likely not to miss any new birds, or are otherwise free to pause.Instead, only enter new species while birding, then enter numbers for each species when you’re finished. I frequently do this, then review the “Likely” species list back at my car, entering species totals and catching any species I observed but forgot to tally, before heading to my next stop. Note: While this won’t affect the accuracy of species only seen once or thrice during your outing, you’re likely to be left doing some guesstimation for more common birds that you saw by the tens or hundreds. That’s alright! If it helps you submit a checklist that you otherwise wouldn’t have submitted, estimating those numbers means you’re still providing valuable data!
- Consider all checklists submitted via BirdLog to be drafts, and edit them later via the web interface (see www.ebird.org, log in, click My eBird –> Manage my Observations –> Edit). Why? First, BirdLog only allows comments — it doesn’t allow you to enter age/sex or breeding codes available through the web interface. So it’s limited. Second, when I’m in the field, I’d rather be birding than cleaning up my writing, so I put that off for later. By considering my BirdLog checklists as drafts, I don’t waste time entering comments (except things I’m likely to forget or that might be valuable for reporting a rare bird) since I always plan on revisiting my submitted checklists at home where I can clean them up, add age/sex and breeding information, embed photos or audio recordings, etc. Trust me: this approach DOES produce higher quality checklists with less time wasted in the field!
- Share the workload with your (e)birding buddies. By trading off checklist duties, and sharing those checklists with one another later, you get a break! That means more time spent birding.
There are a few pitfalls to avoid (if possible) that might save you time or effort, but do so at the expense of producing less valuable eBird data:
- Always give numbers, be they exact counts or good estimates! Even one “X” in a checklist full of exact counts for each species makes that checklist less valuable, and it’s easier than you think to provide good estimates (see #4 above!).
- Don’t submit one checklist for multiple locations, especially spanning different counties! One of the valuable things about eBird data is that checklist data can be analyzed in conjunction with existing GIS/spatial data: land type, nearest body of water, county population, weather data, etc. The more location-specific you can be, the better! Keeping observations associated with the right county is paramount, as eBird data are in many ways organized by county-level boundaries.
- Likewise, avoid submitting one checklist for a long duration of time. Birds are more or less active (and thus, more or less detectable) during different times of day. You might have noticed how dawn and mid-day detectability rates differ? Well your data won’t reflect that if you submit a checklist spanning 5am to noon! Instead, try and break it up into sub-three-hour checklists, or even less time if you’re birding around dusk and on into the night, for example. Some of the least valuable checklists are those that violate both this and #2 above.
- Finally, don’t over do it! If you burn yourself out eBirding, and end up giving it up, all your future observations that might have been are lost to science. Pace yourself, have a good time, feel free to go birding and NOT worry about submitting a checklist if you need a break, and plan for the long haul. 🙂
UPDATE #1: I should have mentioned above that the Help section of the eBird website was recently overhauled and much improved. Check it out! In particular, see the page on BirdLog Best Practices. Second, I’d like to emphasize that the BirdLog app for Andoid phones (what I use) is a bit different from the app on iPhones and iPads, and there’s also the BirdsEye app for iPhones/iPads that allows you to do even more with eBird. Here’s a quick video overview of BirdsEye, and here’s another.
UPDATE #2: Pre-Order BirdsEye app for Android!! I just noticed that not only are there are plans for an Android version of BirdsEye, but you can pre-order it RIGHT NOW! So why has this popular birding app only been available for iPhones? Android apps take more work than iPhone versions due to the greater of diversity of phones and flavors of the Android operating system they must accommodate. So help out the good folks at Birds In The Hand by pre-ordering a copy of BirdsEye for Android to help fund it’s launch.