"Pennsylvania eBird" is a customized website in the international eBird network that shares news about birds, birding, and conservation with birders and serves as a common database for their bird records. The Pennsylvania Game Commission is partnering with the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology and Audubon Pennsylvania to coordinate Pennsylvania eBird. The stories featured on the Pennsylvania eBird reflect the common interests of these organizations.
Pennsylvania eBird has two very distinct responsibilities: to inform and to collect data. The website will always feature a timely selection of features on wild birds, ranging from the latest bird news and natural history to field research and conservation issues. In addition, it serves birders interested in participating in ongoing efforts to collect field observations that comprise a database that has become a vital source of bird information that improves with each passing year and as more birders join the eBird team. The new features and tools of eBird are among the features that are presented at the portal.
What? eBird is a real-time, online checklist program that has revolutionized how the birding community reports and accesses information about birds. eBird was launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithol-ogy and National Audubon Society and has generated tremendous participation, both nationally and in-ternationally, since its inception. At this website, participants can enter bird data (including the numbers of individuals and breeding behavior observed at particular locations) and display their own results or those of the whole birding community.
When? Participants are welcome to enter their bird data for any day of the year in eBird. This is a project for all seasons. Data are welcome for the winter months as well as the busy migration and nesting seasons
Who? Most eBird participants are experienced birders with knowledge of bird identification. However, this project is a great opportunity for be-ginners to make a contribution. New birders are encouraged to join their local bird club or Audubon chapter bird walks and learn from more ex-perienced birders. People are en-couraged to enter their data into eBird whether they are birding close to home or far away.
Where? Select a place that you normally go bird watching to collect data for eBird. The first step in the eBird data entry process is simply informing eBird specifically where you were. It is best to be as accu-rate as possible. Bird checklists from defined geographic locations are best (e.g., your property, a public park, a state game land, state forest or park, or a local birding hotspot). There are several ways to es-tablish the birding location. On the eBird website, there is a suite of tools that help you tell eBird where you were birding. eBird allows you to select from existing birding locations on a "Google Map," and also allows you to create new locations by simply clicking on the map and then naming your new location. Zoom in as far as possible before creating your new location to ensure accuracy. You also can find it on a map provided or otherwise. eBird allows you to input latitude and longitude from your birding locations in either decimal degrees, or degrees, minutes, seconds. GPS is a great way to pinpoint exactly where you were birding! Observers can select an entire city, county, or state, but more precise information is much more valuable.
How? Log into eBird through Pennsylvania eBird. There are tutorials, as well as many hints and tools, for participants to use for data entry given in eBird stories. Additional tutorials are available at the general eBird site. If you have participated in a Cornell Laboratory of Ornithol-ogy project (e.g. PA Breeding Bird Atlas, Feeder-Watch), you can log in using your established Username and Password. Otherwise, you must establish a Username and Password. To enter your data, enter the "Where did you bird" page and select from "My Locations." The dropdown menu appears only after you have created your first eBird location. All locations that you choose, or create will be maintained in this list for easy access later so that you don't have to recreate the location mapping process for places you bird often. A particular location can be given multiple eBird spots that are distinctive and can be used by others visiting a site. Examples are particular trails, roads, overlooks, boat launches, desig-nated natural areas.
The data entry process enables you to attach some measure of effort to the bird observations you are about to submit. Important things to con-sider here are date, what kind of birding that you did, how long you spent birding, when you were birding, and how many observers were with you.
The first important step is categorizing your birding event into one of the following four types: a traveling count, a stationary count, an area count, or a casual observation. A traveling count includes observa-tions made while birding over a specified distance and duration. This applies to many birding trips along trails or a driving loop. A stationary count is a set of observations made from a specific location (moving less than 100 feet) and duration. Good examples of this would be hawk-watch, a boat access, overlook, or a wildlife watch platform (a porch, park seat, or window). Area counts are observations made from a specified area and duration, often when covering the same ground repeatedly. Examples include a thorough survey of your yard, property, local park, game land, or state forest. The last kind, casual observations are incidental observations when birding was not your primary purpose but you made an interesting observation. Perhaps an osprey or bald eagle flying overhead or a rare bird seen in your yard or while driving to work.
eBird can only accept observations from a single day. Two-day or week long counts cannot be consid-ered, so please break out your birding into day long events (the smaller the time frame the better). Dates as old as 1900 can be submitted. Old field records from your past birding exploits are very wel-come to give all of us the historic perspective and also add to the checklist of particular locations and counties. eBird also allows the importation of existing databases in spreadsheet format. Read more about this option at the eBird website.
To enter the bird data for each field trip, the participant enters the "What Did You See or Hear?" page that lists the species most likely to occur at that location at that time of year. For each field trip, the participant logs in the number of individual birds of each species observed there. There also is the op-portunity to enter notes about any observation. This gives the participant the opportunity to explain a particularly high number of birds, verification of a sighting that seems out of season, description of an unusual bird, any particular unusual behaviors, the sex and age of individuals, and also the breeding ac-tivities observed.
There are a few questions on the checklist page that are important. The first one is: Are you submitting a complete checklist of the birds you saw/heard? It is critical that you understand this question and an-swer it correctly. 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.
Get Involved: Visit Pennsylvania eBird and explore the many tutorials and explanations of the project, as well as the timely articles on birding opportunities. The eBird platform allows people to keep tabs of their own personal lists by country, state / province, county, and location. Bird clubs, Audubon chapters and other organizations can adopt locations as eBird spots to monitor birds at sites as a group project. This is especially appropriate for Important Bird Areas, but good for any site that you want to advertise as a good birding area. Participants have the option of sharing their field trip results with others includ-ing List Serves. This gets even more people involved.
Benefits: eBird's goal is to maximize the utility and accessibility of the vast numbers of bird observa-tions made each year by recreational and professional bird watchers. It is amassing one of the largest and fastest growing biodiversity data resources in existence. For the individual, eBird offers many bene-fits including the ability to keep lists by location and year. It has many abilities to visual bird data either for multiple parties or multiple locations or for individuals and a single location. Any individual can see a range and point map, a bar chart (phenogram), or line graph over time of all bird species observed. The individuals can keep track of the birds they observe at any of their favorite locations, as well as all the birds added to the locations by all eBirders.
For ornithologists and wildlife professionals, eBird offers many benefits. The data collected cast a light on many of the Species of Greatest Conservation Concern including endangered, threatened, and vulner-able species. eBird is especially good with fairly common species, even those that are declining or of conservation concern. Some of these are Watch List species for which the state bears a lot of responsi-bility because they are found here. Because participation is throughout the year, eBird is a powerful way to look at locations in entirety – the breeding, passage migrant, and winter bird populations. The value of each location can be better understood and realized. Stopover locations as well as rich nesting grounds are valued. For winter, it lets people get past their yard and birdfeeders into the field.
Special Project Birds – We have special concerns about some species for which our state plays an impor-tant role in a species' life history and conservation. For instance, eBird offers an easy way for observers to log in their observations of Tundra Swan and Rusty Blackbird, a wetland songbird that migrates through the state in large numbers (visit the International Rusty Blackbird website to learn more).
Many of our species of greatest conservation concern are documented easily through eBird year-round. Pennsylvania has stewardship responsibility for conservation priority species like Wood Thrush, Louisiana Waterthrush, Golden-winged Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, and Henslow's Sparrow. So, field observation of these species assist the PGC and its partners in efforts to monitor and manage these species and their habitats. Government agencies, conservation organizations, and researchers can better understand what areas are most critical for these species and other conservation priority species with the quantitative list data eBird provides.
Another great benefit is that this rich database will inform us about the state's Important Bird Areas, which have high conservation value areas. Check out Pennsylvania Audubon's website for more informa-tion on the IBA program http://pa.audubon.org/. An observer may not need to know that a given loca-tion is within an IBA. The data are entered automatically into that site's database if the field trip location allows this precision. eBird checklists also will allow better understanding of what birds use our state game lands, which were purchased with wildlife in mind as well as state parks, state forest lands, wild areas, natural areas, or any other location in public or private hands. eBird is an easy way to enter data for a private reserve or property of a cooperating land owner that otherwise might get little attention by birders.
Lastly, one of the great benefits of eBird is that it allows researchers to explore a vast amount of geospa-tially-delineated data through time. It allows the study of bird migration, distribution, populations, and the changes in all of these dynamics. The opportunities are huge, especially if data are submitted for a wide variety of locations and through out the season. Even data of common species are valuable to study the changes in our landscape and environment. Scientific papers have been published using eBird data. More are certain to follow.