Bird Board

eBird Rare Bird Alert, Not

Just got today's eBird Florida Rarities Report. Here are the first birds on the list:

White-faced Whistling-Duck (2 Broward)
Trumpeter Swan (2 Broward)
Ruddy Shelduck (2 Broward)
Ringed Teal (2 Broward)
White-cheeked Pintail (2 Broward)
Red-crested Pochard (4 Broward)
Redhead (2 Broward)
Common Pochard (2 Broward)

I'm told that the good thing about eBird is that it allows for citizen science. Can someone please tell me how continuously reporting a bunch of exotic, domestic, captive ducks from the same pond is advancing scientific knowledge? If these are going to be continuously reported, then can they be flagged as something other than a legitimate rarity? They have no place on any rare bird list. What next, monitoring Chickens in Little Havana?


about 1 year ago

Perhaps the name should be changed to "eBird Flagged Bird Alert."

about 1 year ago

That is actually a very accurate and acceptable proposal! I believe the eBird ABA Rare Bird Alert does have some qualifier, like birds that are ABA Code 3 or higher, for inclusion on the report.

Brian Rapoza
about 1 year ago

I agree that these exotic waterfowl have no place on any rare bird alert (you'll never see them on my South Florida Rare Bird Update). What I don't know is if Team eBird at Cornell would be willing and able to develop a process by which local eBird reviewers could exclude these sightings from rare bird alerts without excluding them from the database itself. I'd be interested in hearing the pros and cons of this idea.

Kurt d.
about 1 year ago

You guys are harsh. Those are great birds for Broward.

Rock Jetty
about 1 year ago

Okay Vince,
You know, part of me wished you stayed away from eBird, because nothing really pleases you. No offense, that's just the way you are :)

Now, given the millions of eBird records, how you use them for, say biological resource management, depends on the question you are asking. For Everglades National Park, for example, eBird has allowed us to add species and re-categorize them (I'm not going into specifics but trust me, it has helped A LOT). If you want first appearance records, high counts, last appearance, etc. - you can pull that out for any particular species. In other words, you are not going to use ALL the data, just what you need.

Some of the birds you mentioned have actually appeared here and there in natural areas - Ringed Teal in Cutler Wetlands is a perfect example. I wondered what they said about Egyptian Geese when they first appeared - now look at how their population has exploded and could potentially create issues.

That said, if it is someone's private pond, one just has to do a little research and dismiss it. If, as a reviewer, you start removing species on the account that someone thinks they are worthless, where does it end? Hmmm, that sounds familiar.

You are trying to use eBird to target rarities for your personal ABA list. That's fine, but that's not what eBird was invented for, and certainly not to replace Rare Bird listserves. I believe those are still needed. eBird was not designed to cater to serious ABA listers' needs. They have tried their best to bring in a larger audience and have done so successfully.

Let me give you an example of how I used eBird recently. I was going to bird in south Texas. I ran a "target species" query for any life birds I needed in that region and that would be present in the month of July, based on my life list. Viola! A got a list with a probability of encounter based on frequency of observations and I would reference the "Hotspot" map to decide where I was going to go. It payed off.

My advice: don't worry about the waterfowl, just target the birds you need and move on. If anybody is new to eBird and needs help, I would be glad to offer a workshop.


about 1 year ago

I am one of 4, and only 4, monitors for the FLRBA, and we depend on reports coming in from birders to alert us to the rarities found in Florida so we can put them on the listserve. My point is that, since most birders are not using the listserves or the Bird Board anymore, our job has become much harder having to scroll through all the lists of static in order to find the true rarities. We have a very specific list of what is considered a rarity in Florida. The only birds not on that list that are reported as rarities are birds that are not on the Florida list either, such as Pacific Golden Plover last year. I would rather birders who live by eBird would just take the few seconds to report a rarity on the Bird Boar or contact me or one of the other FLRBA monitors when they find a rarity, and not rely solely on eBird. My gripe with eBird isn't that people use it. It's that it has now replaced the other reporting forums for birds, but it just doesn't do the same job. Brian is a HUGE help because he actually takes the time to go through all the clutter to do his Rare Bird Update, but this is only for South Florida. The FLRBA includes all of Florida. If someone finds a genuine rarity, all we ask is that it's reported as such, without the filler. Species name, location with directions, date. That's all. No need to tell us how many collared doves or starlings were also seen. Believe it or not, it's the rarities that get people excited about birding. You're not going to see lines of cars waiting to get into Hugenot Park to see an exotic, non-countable duck. (reference to the Greater Sand-Plover at Jax).

Rock Jetty
about 1 year ago

"I am one of 4, and only 4, monitors for the FLRBA" - What happened to the rest of you?

Okay, so, as Brian suggested earlier, one solution I see would be to create a filtering process where reviewers can exclude certain species for an "ABA rare bird" report while keeping those same species rare for Florida (or whatever region).

In other words, here's an example:
if a Mandarin Duck is seen in association with several Wood Duck in the L-31W spreader canal, perhaps that sighting does not get included in an "ABA rare bird" list (for your benefit) but still gets flagged.

I use to be a reviewer for eBird (still am in fact, but I need to be better at it since others have picked up my slack) and I have to tell you that, as part of their email group, every day I see emails from reviewers all over the world discussing issues and ways to make eBird just that much better.

I'm sure the "rare bird alert" topic has come up here and there; I'll look through the emails. Perhaps I can chime in and bring these issues you mentioned up.

As for the birders who just report to eBird? Perhaps you can continue to ask birders to take the time to send a report to a listserv or one of the "Final Four". Don't know what else to tell you.


Mike V
about 1 year ago

The same interface used for submitting observations should be integrated into the rare bird alert system.

Every bird species observed for an area would be the default:

For this example, setting the parameters for a Florida Rare Bird Alert would require a user to go through a checklist of the 541 extant species currently on eBird for Florida.

The user then defines what rare birds (any birds really) they would like to know about. Whether the user wants to know about these birds or those birds, this system works great.

I would even pay a few dollars a month to use the service I'm describing.

This wouldn't be a perfect system, but close enough for me. To make an example of the much maligned waterfowl at that one pond: If I wanted to chase a wild, vagrant White-cheeked Pintail, I would have to leave it on my alerts list. I would still have to see all the reports of emancipated captives, but that's a very particular situation.

I'm not knowledge about programming, but all this seems like it would be simple.

Margie Wilkinson
about 1 year ago

One thing about ebird that bothers me is the erroneous ID's that remain on the record. One example is the 3 Bahama Mockingbirds (one adult and 2 fledglings) reported on 8/23 in Lee County which still remains. Apparently the observers didn't realize this would be enough of a rarity to warrant a photo. Aren't these sightings supposed to be monitored and shouldn't Cornell be concerned? One has to wonder how many such errors occur in the country or abroad for that matter. This may have been just a mistake in reporting rather than in sighting but who knows?

Rock Jetty
about 1 year ago

Hi Margie,
A few points to address your questions:
I did a species search for Bahama Mockingbird for all years in Florida - no sign of a sighting in Lee County. You mentioned 8/23, that was two days ago. Please realize there may be a dozen or so observations that come in every day for a reviewer (in Lee County for example) to go over and that reviewer may or may not get to them on the same day. Verification is not instant and sometimes observations get backed up (it happened to me a lot).
If a sighting cannot get confirmed, it will not be accepted, simple as that. A reviewer will more than likely ask the observer for some sort of confirmation (always in a nice way) - a photo, at the very least a thorough description. You'd be surprised but there are some birders out there that get upset when we ask them to confirm some of their rare sightings.
Not everyone who enters observation is an "expert" birder. That's why there is a quality assurance/quality control process.
Cornell will not be concerned about this. Data is never, ever, 100% error-proof the first, or even second time around. Eventually errors get addressed. Take it from someone who is experienced with data collection and entry.
If I was a betting man I would say that the observer may have incorrectly identified this species.

about 1 year ago

There are several different ways to search the eBird data base and some searches can produce birds or lists that were not validated by a regional editor or are awaiting review. These birds can show up on alerts, hotspot searches and recent activity searches. If you wish to know whether or not a particular bird is in the eBird public output tool (i.e., validated), do a species search using location filters; county, hotspot or state.

Margie, if you're seeing the mockingbirds in an alert format, Raul's points probably apply. As he says, even searching by species may be incomplete information. Some birds may be in a reviewer's queue (reviewer may be traveling, etc.), in queue waiting for further documentation from the observer or awaiting a record committee's final review.

The above is a basic overview and for more details, it's best to check the eBird website.

Susan Epps
about 1 year ago

Years ago I used to visit a friend at John Knox Village in Pompano Beach. They had a pond with several species of exotic waterfowl.
Birds and the bees. Though the original birds were pinioned, they were breeding and the young were free-flying. I sent Bruce Anderson photos of baby apparent Fulvous Whistling Ducks. I say apparent because a Fulvous and a black-bellied were always together acting like a pair with the ducklings following them. The black-bellied could have been another female enjoying the young or the babies could have been hybrids. I don't know since my visits ended before the birds were fully grown.
So I think the reports of exotics from a pond in Broward are important because there may be youngsters in the future.
I lost everything in Katrina in Mississippi so I no longer have notes or photos. It was before 2001.
I first saw a flock of Egyptian Geese on a golf course in Broward in 1999. Again, I lost notes and photos but I remember there were at least a dozen of them.

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