At a time when 40% of the Earth’s 10,000 bird species are in decline, according to the State of the World’s Birds 2018 report, the still-developing eBird Project helps to remake traditional conservation.
The way eBird works is simple: Cornell collects millions of sightings from birdwatchers using the eBird app that records the location of every species spotted. It computes where birds are over the course of the year, how they move with the seasons and which species are thriving and which are struggling.
Compared with the cumbersome practice of banding birds one by one to track their travels, eBird data produce a far more comprehensive picture for hundreds of species at a time. The targeted approach is also much less expensive than alternatives: The Central Valley «pop-up» wetlands — created by paying farmers small fees to keep fields wet for a few weeks — costs 85 per cent less than buying land outright, according to the Nature Conservancy.
«We might only need to protect birds, or restrict, or change the way people use certain landscapes for maybe just a few weeks during the year,» said Amanda Rodewald, Garvin professor of ornithology and director of conservation science at Cornell. «We now have the opportunity to dramatically transform how we approach conservation.»
More than 400,000 birders have sent in 34 million lists of species in the United States and dozens of other countries in recent years. That makes this the largest citizen-science effort to date. Birders have reported seeing almost every species on Earth.
As the data have poured in, the research started to reveal important, concrete findings about how birds are adjusting to changing climates.
They show how species such as the American bald eagle, a major conservation success story, can be found in every state as its numbers and habitat expand. They show how other birds, such as some hummingbirds and warblers, struggle to adapt to warming trends, which are trimming breeding seasons and reducing their numbers.
Last fall, Cornell launched the stunning animated maps, which bring the migration to life by converting somewhat dry data into video illustrations that show routes birds take over the course of a year.
It’s possible to watch the huge sandhill crane work its way from Alaska and Canada across the West and Midwest to Texas and Florida. The path of the ruby-throated hummingbird is shown shifting in a cloud of pixels from Canada down through the eastern United States to Central America. Another animated map shows the yellow warbler moving from the far north to Central America, passing through every state on its massive migration.
«People really get excited over the animations,» Cornell research associate Frank La Sorte said of the maps that so far include about 100 species. «We look at them as science, but people are seeing the beauty in it. That’s really helping to generate excitement.»
This is the time of year when birdwatchers are getting out binoculars and hiking boots to immerse themselves in the spring migration. And Cornell hopes to boost eBird contributors with the Global Big Day, the annual count scheduled for May 4. About 30,000 birders around the world are expected to join the 24-hour push that tracks the yearly numbers for species.
One who’ll be out birding for the count is Holly Merker, an environmental educator from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, one of eBird’s top contributors. «Why wouldn’t everybody be doing this?» she said. «It can make a real difference.»
The Washington Post