High-tech bird-watching with eBird app

When Dr. Joel McNeal has free time from his job as an assistant biology professor at Kennesaw State University, he usually heads into the woods to look for and count birds.

At each stop, he takes out his smartphone and types the species and number of birds he sees or hears into a special app called eBird. The information is immediately relayed to researchers in New York.

Thousands of other birders — veterans and beginners — do the same thing each day across the nation and around the world. Developed in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, eBird is an online database of bird sightings that is providing scientists, researchers and birdwatchers with real-time data about bird distribution and abundance.

“EBird has revolutionized the way that the birding community reports and accesses information about birds,” says the Aububon society.

While annual surveys such as Christmas Bird Counts and Breeding Bird Surveys gather useful scientific data about birds, they provide only one-day pictures.

EBird, however, gathers and makes available 7-days-a-week, 24-hours-a-day information about bird activity in local areas and entire regions. For birdwatchers, it can immediately alert them to a rare bird in their area. For scientists, the data can help them understand, among other things, how changes in the natural world — such as climate change and habitat destruction — are affecting bird populations.

Whether bird numbers are declining or increasing in an area may reflect our own situations.

“Birds can be ‘bio-indicators’ to help assess the health of our own ecosystems,” McNeal said last weekend at the monthly meeting of the Atlanta Audubon Society.

He serves as Georgia’s eBird coordinator, whose primary duty is to help assess accuracy in reports. For instance, he said, a report of black-capped chickadees in Atlanta will raise a red flag because Georgia’s only chickadee species is the Carolina chickadee.

EBird, he said, was slow at first to catch on, but it has become immensely popular. So far, some 145 million reports, or “checklists,” of bird sightings have been compiled in 169 countries.

And it is growing by leaps and bounds. In January, some 6,000 reports were submitted from Georgia alone.

For more information, visit www.ebird.org.

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