Two (online) birds in the hand
  • Last updated:
  • 22 Apr 2019

It is a sad but true fact that several members of the Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions and National Environmental Research Program Chief Investigators have a pathological love of birds. A tell-tale symptom of this is a love of data about birds – lists of birds, counts of birds, graphs of counts of birds, lists of lists of birds. You get the idea. So it was only logical that we have entered into a partnership with the fastest growing and most exciting citizen science endeavour in Australia – Eremaea eBird.

Eremaea eBird is an online bird atlasing system. It was launched in 2003 by Australian birders Richard and Margaret Alcorn and at the time it was the world’s first such system. The word ‘Eremaea’ comes from the name of the Australia’s great central desert bioregion.

Eremaea Birds enabled birdwatchers, for the first time, to enter lists of birds they had seen anywhere around the world. This was heaven for many Australian birdwatchers and ten years later there were thousands of regular Eremaea users and over 3.8 million records.

Eremaea was founded on the principle that bird data should be freely shared (something that is dear to the heart of the Environmental Decisions Group (EDG) and fundamental for transparent environmental decision making.

North American eBird launched

In addition to this exciting Australian initiative, eBird was launched in North America in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society (it went global in 2010). eBird’s vision, similar to that of Eremaea, is to allow birdwatchers to submit geographically tagged lists of bird observations and to make all data freely available. eBird had a small team of local Australian reviewers and had around 1000 observers contributing records in Australia.

With such a similar shared vision it made sense to combine efforts, and so eBird has teamed up with Eremaea and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions to launch the new Eremaea eBird portal. This beautiful partnership brings together a huge band of active citizen-science birdwatchers and secures the long term future for free bird data here in Australia.

Eremaea eBird also provides major new opportunities for understanding the distribution and abundance of birds across our continent and advancing their conservation. Data is rigorously checked for quality and continually open to public scrutiny and improvement owing to the open access model.

Eremaea eBird data is automatically shared with BirdLife Australia’s Atlas programme, as well as online biodiversity data portals including the Atlas of Living Australia and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

EDG researchers are contributing to stories to the Eremaea eBird web oage and we look forward to combining this growing data source with BirdLife Australia’s Atlas data to solve conservation problems in Australia. Ongoing projects include:

  • understanding changes in urban bird communities
  • building an Australian Bird Index
  • monitoring threatened species and understanding bird invasions.

More info: Richard Fuller r.fuller@uq.edu.au

Richard Fuller, Hugh Possingham and Ayesha Tulloch are researchers with the Environmental Decisions Group. Mat Gilfedder is a keen nature photographer  and all four have been involved in the establishment of Eremaea eBird. Needless to say, all four are also bird tragics.

How to get started

Eremaea eBird is simple to use. A birdwatcher simply enters when, where, and how they went birding, then fills out a checklist of all birds seen and heard at the visited sites. This can be done live in the field via a smart phone app (BirdLog), or when back at the desk after a birding trip.

eBird provides various options for data gathering including point counts, transects and area searches. If no-one has previously visited the location at which you are birdwatching, you can easily create a new one via an interactive map. Automated data quality filters developed by regional bird experts check all submissions before they enter the database.

Local experts then personally review unusual records that are flagged by the filters, contacting observers to verify details. If you see something unusual, it is a great idea to write field notes on the spot, and obtain a photograph if possible.

Eremaea eBird encourages users to participate by providing tools that maintain personal bird records and enable users to visualise data with interactive maps, graphs, and bar charts. All these features are available in English, Spanish, and French.

So there’s no excuse – spend an hour in your back yard or visit your local park today and instantly tell the world about the birds you see!

Submissions to Eremaea eBird are growing rapidly with more than 7000 checklists currently being submitted per month.

eBird Australia

Image 1: Bird nuts in action at Oxley Creek Commons in Brisbane’s outer suburbs (the ‘nut’ in the broad-brimmed hat is Hugh Possingham). Birdwatchers have been listing birds in this location over many years. Eremaea eBird will now make the fruits of these efforts available to everyone at the touch of a button. (Photo by David Salt)

Image 2, 3 and 4: Powerful owl, bush stone-curlew and red-backed fairy wren. Now, thanks to Eremaea eBird, the sharing of information on ‘what bird is found where’ is there for everyone to see. (The owl and the curlew photos are courtesy of Mat Gilfedder, the fairy wren is courtesy of Richard Fuller.)

Article by Richard Fuller, Hugh Possingham, Mat Gilfedder and Ayesha Tulloch