The fascinating visualizations that the eBird Science team has made available to you with the help of more than 300,000 eBirders around the world offer a bird’s eye view of bird movements. It is easy to get lost watching warblers and flycatchers roam across continents – it’s an experience like no other. “I just love watching the animations and learning where birds spend the winter and how they move around my area. I could do this for hours. “Says Lucas Foerster, an eBird reviewer in Ontario, Canada.
This year, for the first time, the eBird Science team built models depicting movement, distribution, and abundance patterns for 179 species whose breeding range is outside the United States and Canada, and expanded an expanded group of species from America. The team has created 6 million additional eBird checklists from 3.5 million additional locations and refined state-of-the-art statistical models and machine learning techniques to visualize distribution and frequency patterns for 807 species.
- 807 species – 197 more species than 2019
- 179 species whose breeding area is outside the USA and Canada
- Global road inventory
- Improved water data
- 6 million more checklists
- 3.5 million additional locations
- Checklists from 311,692 eBirders
A global look
Dr. Alice Boyle, associate professor at Kansas State University, says she is very excited to see the status and trending results for more tropical species this year. The eBird status and trending models reveal patterns that Boyle says, “We usually can’t see them and are hard to study in the field, which is incredibly useful for hypothesizing.”
Dr. Alex Lees, Associate Professor at Manchester Metropolitan University, says, “The new iteration of the eBird Status and Trends data products represents a fundamental change in our understanding of how birds are distributed in space and time. As someone who has worked on combating the ubiquitous abode of many tropical species, it is incredibly exciting to see the first steps towards dynamic models of species distribution in the tropics of the Old World. “
Sparkling violet © Claudia Brasileiro /Macaulay Library
One of the new species modeled this year is the Sparkling Violetear, a hummingbird found in South America. “The numerous animation visualizations show some really spectacular movements in the Andes,” says Luke Seitz, eBird Status and Trends Reviewer at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “The northern populations are stationary, while the southern populations move down the Andes in the summer months. The ability to visualize such movement patterns on a large spatial scale significantly improves our understanding of the biology of species, ”says Seitz.
Relative abundance of Sparkling Violetear shows up and down movements in the Andes in South America. The relative frequency is shown as a color gradient from yellow (low frequency) to dark purple (high frequency) for each week of the year. Light gray areas indicate the absence of species (or a very rare occurrence). Dark gray areas indicate areas where no predictions could be made due to lack of data.
Outside America, the new eBird status and trend products help us to visualize unprecedented movement patterns. Some Shining Bronze Cuckoos reside in parts of Australia year-round, but other populations migrate from Western Australia to Indonesia, while other populations migrate from New Zealand to New Britain and the Solomon Islands stop on the east coast of Australia. “These animations show the strong migration signal of Shining Bronze Cuckoos in South Australia and also show how these birds rely on multiple countries in our region,” said Mat Gilfedder, an eBird reviewer in Australia and a member of the eBird Australia team. Gilfedder adds that eBirders can document what subspecies they see to identify the migratory New Zealand birds at layovers in Australia to help paint, as the New Zealand Shining Bronze Cuckoo subspecies has a green crown while birds in Australia a brown crown will have a more complete picture of their migration route.
Movement and abundance patterns of Shining Bronze Cuckoo en route from Australia to Indonesia and from New Zealand to the Solomon Islands. The relative frequency is shown as a color gradient from yellow (low frequency) to dark purple (high frequency) for each week of the year. Light gray areas indicate the absence of species (or a very rare occurrence). Dark gray areas indicate areas where no predictions could be made due to lack of data.
Rat cuckoos, also known as “rain birds”, migrate across the ocean from Africa to India and back again after the rain. They arrive in Africa as the rainy season brings an abundance of caterpillars and when the rain subsides they migrate to India in time for the rain. The visualizations of eBird status and trends highlight continental movements and underline the importance of ensuring the protection of habitats in different countries. The first models outside America also underline the need for additional checklists. Some areas within a species range do not have enough data to be modeled with certainty. Therefore, areas in West Africa are not shown for the rat cuckoo.
Estimated relative frequency of rat cuckoos animated to show movements from India and Africa. The relative frequency is shown as a color gradient from yellow (low frequency) to dark purple (high frequency) for each week of the year. Light gray areas indicate the absence of species (or a very rare occurrence). Dark gray areas indicate areas where no predictions could be made due to lack of data.
Better models for research and nature conservation
Daniel Fink, a research fellow and one of the developers of the models at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, says, “One of the unique things about eBird Science Status and Trends data products is that we analyze patterns of distribution and frequency over a wide range of spatial resolution at weekly intervals during the whole year. “The results are visualized in map format, but Fink says,” The results are more than just maps, it’s a statistical process that is broken down into map visualizations. ” Another aspect that makes the visualizations unique is the amount of work that goes into reviewing and reviewing the results to make sure what we see is valid, says Fink. A team of global bird experts reviews the results every year by flagging models that don’t look right and giving those that look as expected an A grade.
In order to improve the visualizations and better understand the effects of humans on birds, the team included a global road network and an improved global water body dataset from NASA in its analyzes this year. Tom Auer, Research Associate at Cornell Lab of Ornithology, says, “The road data improves the fit of the models and shows that bird frequencies near roads are low for species that do not respond well to road disturbances. But there is an abundance of researched information here that examines what types of roads may be more or less linked to the abundance of birds. “In short, says Auer:” There is a lot to learn. “
Sprague’s Pipit is one of the species where adding the road data shows fewer individuals near roads. Although previous research to identify the causes of the decline in Sprague pipits has shown ambiguous results about the effects of roads, the new eBird Science models show that roads may affect pipits after all. In Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, tiny lines dissolve otherwise coherent discoveries from Sprague’s Pipits. These tiny lines are streets, which suggests Sprague’s Pipits might avoid areas near streets. With this knowledge, researchers can study the effects more thoroughly to better understand how road density affects Sprague’s Pipits and other declining grassland birds.
These new status and trend data products show how your bird watching can help scientists develop new research questions to improve our understanding of their biology and conservation.
Boyle and her graduate student Dylan Smith use eBird data to study grassland birds. Boyle and Smith noted that few of the Grasshopper Sparrows they examined returned to the same breeding area year after year. Instead, these birds moved upwards of 50 miles between breeding seasons, unlike many other songbirds who often return to the same breeding site year after year. Confused about what they were seeing, they used raw eBird data and checked the animations on eBird’s status and trends to develop research questions to explain why Grasshopper Sparrows would move so much between breeding seasons. “We find that Grasshopper Sparrows don’t return to the same location every year and that where they breed appears to depend on the amount of rainfall in the region from the previous year,” says Boyle.
EBird Status and Trends data products provide unlimited opportunities to guide research questions and provide information on conservation and on-site policy making. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service turned to estimates of the frequency of eBird status and trends to define zones of low risk for wind energy development. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needed a better understanding of where bald eagles were most likely to be found year round to reduce potential collision risks from wind energy projects. EBird Status and Trends data products provided the most complete and accurate picture to aid in policy making at the federal level.
eBird at its best
Checklists from 311,692 eBirders were used in the new data products eBird Status and Trends. “EBird is the cool part,” says Fink, “it’s a super effective way of collecting data across space and time that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.” And for eBirders, it’s a feeling of excitement. “It’s really great to know that my observations are in there,” says Foerster.
As eBirders submit more sightings around the world, the eBird Science team can model movement, distribution, and abundance patterns of more and more species from more and more regions. Thank you for sharing your sightings with eBird. Together we create a better understanding of birds around the world.
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