eBird Unites Tech and Nature
On a beautiful Sunday in January, twenty-two bird nerds from all over Vermont and New Hampshire forwent the sunshine to learn the ins and outs of eBird, a web and phone-based app that allows birders to contribute their observations to science. In a world where we can use an app to make a hotel reservation, track fitness regimes, and even find a date, tech has addressed the needs of even the intentionally unplugged, those who would rather look at feathered friends than screens. Yet eBird workshop participants arrived with field guides and phones in hand, ready to merge the old with the new.
Hosted by the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, a Norwich-based non-profit, the eBird workshop was run by VCE scientists (and birdwatchers) Kent McFarland, John Lloyd, and Jason Hill. Launched in 2003 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird is now the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project, with 100 million bird sightings contributed annually. Soon after its launch, eBird created regional web portals that allowed users to interface with regional data and to feel more ownership over the project.
Vermont eBird was the guinea pig for the state portals and VCE scientists, then a part of Vermont Institute of Natural Science, were in on the ground floor. VCE continues to manage the portal in collaboration with Vermont Audubon and various local Audubon chapters, Vermont Fish and Wildlife, the North Branch Nature Center, and of course, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Now in its 15th year, Vermont eBird participants have cumulatively submitted 260,000 complete checklists, documenting all 385 bird species ever reported in Vermont. This makes Vermont eBird the largest community-driven biodiversity dataset ever compiled in the state.
Following VCE’s workshop, Vermont eBird can now count twenty-two more tech-savvy birders among their ranks. Workshop participants left energetic and ready to submit their data so that it is most useful to scientists like those at VCE
Alice Grau, from Addison County, said, “I loved the workshop, really enjoyed getting a glimpse of what eBird can do. I have a way to get serious about birding this year, one of my goals.”
Given the interest in the workshop and the positive feedback of participants, VCE plans on holding similar workshops in the future. Any workshops or video resources by VCE will be posted on the Vermont eBird website www.ebird.org/vt/news.