How eBird makes me a better birder
There’s unlikely to be any readers of this blog that aren’t already using eBird as a means to catalog their bird sightings. If there are, well, shame on you and get with the program, man. Not only is eBird doing an enormous bit of good for studies of bird population dynamics in a way that a hundred years of CBCs and GBBCs have only scratched at the surface of, but from a personal and completely selfish way, it’s turned into a pretty enjoyable time sink, oops, I mean time-saver.
I say this because ever since the baby was born I’ve been taking care to make a bird list on our evening walks around the neighborhood. Typically I get between 20 and 25 species on these nightly jaunts and I’ve really enjoyed watching the bar chart fill in with what looks for all the world like a legitimate bird abundance chart of the type I used to pour over on trips to NWRs when I was younger. I even find myself cutting over to a certain bird feed station at a certain corner that gets White-breasted Nuthatches or a specific open space where I can find Chipping Sparrows just so I’m sure to pick up extra species on those walks. Keeping these day lists gives meaning to every single little dicky bird that I run across on the walks. It’s fun.
From the time we began walking when Noah was born in mid-May, one of the most predictable species on our walks were the Chimney Swifts that congregated over the neighborhood pond in the evenings hawking insects. In June I’d typically find a half dozen or so. In July that number was augmented by that year’s fledged birds so that I’d have up to 15 Swifts cruising over the water and chattering on every walk. But come mid-July they were all gone. It took me a couple days to realize it, but the data in the eBird didn’t lie. I hadn’t seen a Swift in my neighborhood for about six walks in a row.
We birders are undeniably aware of the wonders of migration, those of us in the middle latitudes depend on it to make our birding year, but often it sneaks up on us. And by the time we’re fully aware of moving birds, actual migration has been going on for weeks, if not months. It’s likely my swifts haven’t gone just yet, they probably joined up with any number of other local neighborhood swifts to stage at one of those old abandoned factory smokestacks in downtown Durham until critical mass is reached and they vamoose to South America en masse. But without the daily tick of my neighborhood list I wouldn’t have given it much thought until long after every swift was gone.
But thanks to eBird, now I know. And I’m a better more observant birder for it.