Monday, June 07, 2010

eBird goes Global

As of a few days ago, eBird is now accepting checklists from anywhere on earth. It was previously limited to the New World plus Antarctica and (for some reason) New Zealand. The new global functions are definitely still in beta mode, of course. The checklists and abundance filters for Old World regions are very course and not very regional; as a result you are presented with an extremely long list to scroll through even in places like the UK and central Europe where the diversity of the avifauna is pretty low by global standards. At this point the review and quality control are quite limited, hence many boo-boos will be slipping through until it gets more shaken out. And there is still a clear American focus, with names such as Gray Heron instead of Grey Heron and no languages but English, Spanish, and French. Obviously there's a ways to go yet before it really begins to provide the same level of access and quality for the Old World as it now does for the New.... BUT you can enter data from anywhere, for any species now! Wooo hoo!

I don't mean to criticize the work that has been done so far; not at all! This is a massive undertaking, and these are the first publicly available fruits of this labor. It is a great step forward. I just want users who go there to check it out to know that what they find now is more limited and less user-friendly than what the finished products will surely be. Better, cleaner, and more powerful functions are doubtless coming along in the near future.

For now I expect these new functions are mostly being used by Americans who have travelled to Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania, and Australia to complete our personal datasets. When I last checked yesterday, for example, most of the data for the UK and all the data for the Czech Republic were checklists from me that I had entered in the last couple of days. I'm sure this will change. I don't know if Team eBird actually have ambitions of becoming a resource for birders around the world, or if they are thinking more of being a resource for Americans who have traveled the world.

I know I have readers from around the world; how about some of you check it out and see if you think it might be something that would be useful and interesting to birders in your home nations? I should say that in the places where it is fully implemented, like the U.S., the default checklists you are provided are much more finely tuned to location and season and far more representative of the actual common species you find in routine birding. Eventually I'd expect the same in at least the more well-birded parts of the Old World, like Europe, Australia, and the Pacific Rim. Worth noting that one of the ways that this regional precision is obtained in the U.S. is by a small army of volunteer regional editors with local expertise who fine-tune the automated filters and default checklists as well as review reports of unusual species and high counts. I'm sure the eBird crew would be very eager to hear from people that might be interested in filling similar roles in all the newly-added territories!


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