Every once in a while, something comes along which completely changes birding forever. Whether it’s the field guide, the scope, or the boom in information, these things alter birding as we know it. The most recent innovation is eBird which allows people to report the birds they are seeing to an online database. This allows a massive amount of data to be collected and used by birders and ornithologists.
I personally love eBird. I use it whenever I go birding and find it to be quite brilliant. However, I have found one gaping gap in the power of eBird. That is its lack of popularity outside of North America and the ABA Area.
When I was doing research for where I was going to bird on my recent trip to Mexico, one of the places I turned to for information was eBird. I was shocked however when I discovered the lack of data for the area I was going to be in. Living in the US and being accustomed as I am to all the eBird data I could want at my fingertips, it was quite a surprise. I am now in the process of planning an upcoming trip to the UK and I have encountered a similar problem.
To illustrate the lack of information in other areas of the world in comparison to the US, I have used Birdseye NA and Birdseye EUR to take screenshots of the areas where American crows and carrion crows respectively have been seen around areas with a large population of people. Both of these birds are very common within range and, if there was a good amount of eBird data, should be reported in a large number of areas. That is not the case however.
Sightings of American Crow Around Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Sightings of Carrion Crow Around Manchester, UK
As you can see, there is a huge lack of data even on birds as common as carrion crows!
Another example of the lack of data is the fact that there has only been one eBird checklist submitted in the past two days for the entire state of Brandenburg (Germany)!
There are some areas of the world where this makes sense. Obviously, not every place is as heavily birded as the US. However, for areas such as the UK, France, and Costa Rica (where there is either a large number of local birders or a well developed ecotourism industry) you would think that there could be a large amount of data gathered.
You might ask, “is this important? Does it matter that there is a lack of data?” I think that it really does. In North America, eBird has become an extremely valuable tool, not just for birders but for ornithologists as well. It can be used effectively to map population density, migration patterns, and vagrancy. Imagine if this kind of data could be gathered for other areas of the world as well.
In addition, eBird’s value to birders is extraordinary as well. For a birder visiting a new area, it can be very helpful to have access to the wealth of knowledge in the eBird database.
If I am remembering correctly, I remember hearing someone talking once and saying there was some sort of eBird equivalent for the UK and there may very well be equivalents in other countries as well. However, imagine how helpful it could be if all of this data that is being collected could be collected and stored in one place?
I personally don’t have any ideas on how to spread the use of eBird to other continents. However, I feel like it would be amazing if we could do so. I think that there should be an effort by birders from North America to encourage birders that they may meet from elsewhere to use eBird and spread its use (the Magee Marsh boardwalk seems like a perfect place to do this). I firmly believe that eBird has a lot to offer the world and that its usefulness could be exponentially increased if its usage spread.