Bird Watching Goes Viral

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by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation 

Bird watchers are a unique breed. The hobby rewards patience, quiet and stillness… but get a group of birders together and it won’t be long before they’re chirping away about the birds they’ve seen, where to find certain species, and other bird-related esoterica.

But modern times call for modern means, and the New Jersey Audubon Society’s new “eBird Regional Portal” gives birders a 21st century tool. It’s a great resource for all birders.

Since ancient days, bird watchers have recorded detailed notes and observations the old-fashioned way. As a result, a wealth of information has been locked away in the margins of battered field guides and in dusty notebooks buried in closets and drawers.

Modern birders may keep notes electronically, but rarely in a way that allows for effective collaboration or sharing. eBird will change all that by harnessing the power of the internet!

eBird is a free “real-time, online checklist program” that was launched as a joint venture between the National Audubon Society and Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology. It’s a central place where anyone can log on and record observations. The incentive is that eBird maintains individual records for each user, including date, location, and checklists of birds observed.

The data can help give each user insight into his or her own information, without the time-consuming number crunching required in the past. For example, a birder can turn his eBird data into charts, graphs and even interactive maps.

All this individual data is integrated with data from around the nation, which in turn is shared with other bird data networks across the globe. This is the real power of eBird, allowing deeper knowledge for casual birders and invaluable insight for conservation biologists, teachers and others.

eBird is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing sources of data on biodiversity, offering information on where to find specific birds, population numbers, migration timetables, and much more. The global network means, for example, that a species like the Red Knot can be tracked in real time as it migrates from South America to the Arctic Circle, stopping at New Jersey’s Delaware Bayshore to feast on horseshoe crab eggs!

Regional portals – like the one maintained by the New Jersey Audubon Society at – takes this wonderful tool two steps further.

  • Quality Control: Unusual data will trigger automated filters developed by regional bird experts, who will review flagged bits of information before they are included in the database. This ensures that the basic data in the system is as reliable as possible;
  • Local Context: While the global data network is eBird’s power, the designers of the system recognized that, as in politics, “all birding is local!” So a user from New Jersey won’t have to wade through data and news from Costa Rica or Romania. The New Jersey Audubon portal means local birders get news, event listings, tips, rare bird alerts and articles focused right here.

eBird is simple enough for beginners, but detailed and insightful enough for scientists and experts. It’s also a great example of using modern technology for the benefit of nature, while retaining the community spirit that is so much a part of birding!

If you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at or contact me at

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