Some people are very happy being backyard birders. They keep the bird feeders in their yard full, and in return they can sit back with a cup of coffee and enjoy the show in a comfy chair. I’m very fond of this kind of birding myself! But I also like to get out into the wild and look for other birds, ones that are unlikely to visit my feeders or even my backyard pond. Like many birders, I have a list of birds that I’d simply love to see, like painted buntings and hooded mergansers. Fortunately, today’s technology makes it easier than ever to track down a bird species and figure out where you’re most likely to see it. The really terrific website eBird.org has some great tools for finding out what’s been seen in your area (or an area you’re planning to visit), so you can plan trips accordingly.
I used this tool recently to try to track down a pretty cool bird that I knew often winters in Florida, the Long-Billed Curlew (Numenius americanus). Here’s how it works. Visit eBird’s website and click the tab at the top that says Explore Data. From there, click the link for Range and Point Maps. At the top left corner of the page, you’ll see a box labeled “Species”. Start typing your species name (common names are fine), and some options will pop up. When you see the one you want, click on it to select.
Next, click on the drop-down list next to “Date”. It defaults to “Year-Round, All Years”, but I wanted to narrow my search to the last few months of the current year, so I changed the selections accordingly and clicked the “Set Date Range” button.
At this point, the map will be starting to fill in with areas of purple, indicating spottings. There’s just one field left, and that’s “Location”. You can search as specifically or generally as you want – enter a street address or a whole state or country. I wanted to keep things within a fairly close distance, so I narrowed it to my city.
Once you’ve entered these search parameters, the map will narrow down the results. I had to zoom out a little bit to find any sightings, but soon I found some. The larger the mark on the map, the more recent the sighting.
The last step was to click on each spot and see how recent and/or frequent the sightings were. On my second click, I hit the jackpot!
Wow! Not only has the long-billed curlew been spotted at this location, it’s been there consistently for weeks now, and reported by multiple people. This made it a good bet that we’d be able to spot it there as well. Not only that, but this park happens to be one of our absolute favorites, so it was no hardship to grab the binoculars and camera and head out for a bit of birding at the beach. We had a good idea of where to start looking, and sure enough, on the sandy flats behind North Beach, there it was… the long-billed curlew! (You can learn more about this crazy-looking bird by clicking here.)
A few things to remember if you decide to try to locate some species for yourself using eBird:
- All of these sightings are submitted by volunteer birders (it’s a citizen science project), so the results are only as complete and accurate as the submissions themselves. There are no guarantees, but it’s a good place to start.
- Since the site depends on the submissions of citizen scientists, why not do your part? Set up an account and start reporting your own bird sightings, whether they’re out in the field or right in your own backyard. Your data helps other birders and biological scientists alike, so start reporting!
Of course, if this all seems like too much work, and you’d just rather sit back and check out those gorgeous songbirds on your feeder, or take a hike in the woods and see what crosses your path, that’s great too. Birding is a hobby to be enjoyed in dozens of different ways, and that’s part of what makes it so wonderful.