What is eBird data being used for?

Tue, 02/07/2017 - 16:55 -- jeremiahbender

This week's citizen science talk at CCBER featured a presentation from Claire Runge, PhD, about some of the diverse ways in which eBird data is being used. Dr. Runge recived her PhD from the University of Queensland on conserving migratory species and is based here in Santa Barbara at NCEAS. With her wide-spanning conservation work having national and global policy implications, we were lucky enough to hear her passion for both science and birds last night. Thanks again Dr. Runge, very informative talk!


One of the largest biodiversity data resources in existence, eBird is a citizen science program that provides real-time information about bird abundance and distributions. Jointly coordinated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audobon Society, eBIrd successfully amasses both professional and recreational bird watcher observations into accessible archives stored in a secure facility. The amount of data collected is enormous, with over 9.5 million observations in just May of 2015! This treasure trove of bird data is being used by scientists like Claire Runge to form some very unique conservation programs.


One such project in California is BirdReturns, which uses eBird data to predict when and where migratory birds will be in the Sacramento Valley so farmers can create pop-up habitats by flooding their rice fields. As the California wetlands that historically supported birds on the Pacific Flyway migration route are now 95% destroyed, these pop-up habitats are crucial for the millions of waterfowl migrating each winter. The graph above right uses data from the 2014 BirdReturns Pilot Project and illustates the increased number of Waterfowl present in BirdReturns habitat as opposed to the control. Funded by The Nature Conservancy and with such partners as the California Rice Commission, BirdReturns combines citizen science data and economic incentives into an innovative and successful conservation project. 

                              Credit for above graphs (a),(b),(c): Ayesha I.T. Tulloch and Judit K. Szabo, Retrieved from link below

Another rather surprising application of citizen science data is analyzing the behaviour not of birds, but of the volunteers themselves. Ayesha I.T. Tulloch and Judit K. Szabo coauthored "A behavioural ecology approach to understand volunteer surveying for citizen science datasets", a 2012 article published in Emu-Austral Ornithology. The authors studied volunteer behaviour using bird surveys conducted in south-western Australia in order to understand and correct biases in volunteer's data collection. The volunteers were assessed by what habitat they selected to survey and were catergorized by behavioural types. Site-faithful volunteers tended to survey the same sites, produce high species detection rates, and were often locals, whereas roaming volunteers were often tourists and seemed to seek out special habitats and threatened species. By using citizen science to study human behaviour, future surveys can be designed to achieve better spatial representedness by accounting for volunteer bias.


Do you want more citizen science info? Come join us for the next talk on Monday February 27th and find out how the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is planning to implement Citizen Science from their director of education, Frederique Lavopierre. Presentations begin at 6pm in Harder South, Room 1013.  

Do you want to get involved with citizen science and learn about birds? 

Check out these resources:





Interested in the full article about citizen science data and volunteer behaviour? Check it out here:


Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 12:30