How the birdwatching pandemic expands scientific data collection
When a freelance photographer recently saw that he had extra time on his hands and no one could shoot, he turned his lens to nature.
Maxwell Giffen, a 29-year-old Toronto resident, is one of many who have recently joined the bird watching app, as this hobby has become more and more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The influx of people like Giffen, they are tracking what they see digitally, and they are creating new data sources that are useful for scientists and environmentalists to monitor bird populations and habitats .
Giffen said that technology including bird watching apps and social media groups is an important reason for his involvement in bird watching.
“I am fascinated by eBird. I use it several times a day because this is how I used to find birds,” Giffen said of a popular app.
Apps such as eBird are one of the largest bird observation databases in the world and can help enthusiasts identify various animal and plant species, simplifying a previously time-consuming and challenging process.
This form of crowdsourcing data collection, called citizen science by analysts, also helps to deepen the understanding of how ecological changes affect multiple species.
In May 2021, eBird announced that since its launch nearly 20 years ago, their bird observations have exceeded one billion times. In Canada, the number of submissions for the app has increased by 34% in 2020. According to eBird data, Highlighting the growing popularity of the app during the pandemic.
How crowdsourced data can help scientists
W. Douglas Robinson, professor of wildlife science at Oregon State University, is also an avid user of bird watching apps. He is involved in a long-term project aimed at making high-quality estimates of how many birds there are in Oregon and how their populations change over time.
He said in an interview that it is important to increase the amount of reliable information from birds when trying to track bird populations.
As part of the research, Robinson and other scientists compared bird sighting data collected by eBird users and professional ornithologists in a natural area in Oregon.
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In a study Published in February, His team concluded that the app’s counting data showed that the number of birds was significantly lower than the number collected by scientists.
He said this may be due to a variety of factors, including traditional birdwatchers focusing on the different species they can see instead of counting absolute numbers.
But as new birdwatchers learn more about how the data they collect is used by scientists, he hopes that user contributions will become richer in detail and accuracy.
“This is about calling on the entire community to advance human knowledge,” Robinson said.
How birds can help
Thousands of people around the world are now participating in scattered projects to record their observations. In Canada alone, the number of people submitting data to eBird increased by nearly 30% between 2019 and 2020, reaching more than 28,000. According to the team of researchers who built the app.
A tawny warbler, a species originally from Asia and Europe, surprised birdwatchers in April after it appeared in Mississauga, Ontario. Giffen said that this is only the second time Canada has recorded the species, and he was one of the people present at the time.
“That’s when it clicks, bird watching is a big deal,” he said. It is unclear what exactly caused this rare sighting.
Garth Riley, another resident of the Toronto area, has been keen on bird watching for more than 30 years. He is an auditor of eBird, and eBird is a volunteer who is responsible for checking applications submitted by users.
He witnessed the recent bird watching data boom. “[Because] Many of them are newbies… we [also] There are many interesting reports of rare birds, but they don’t actually exist. ”
Like Robinson, he warned that if users are not thorough when submitting observations, this may create data gaps.
With more and more Canadians participating in bird watching, his job as an examiner has become more and more time-consuming, but he is happy to see more data coming in.
“The whole thing about citizen scientists is that this is a huge opportunity to learn more,” Riley said. “Most people who are interested in birds and outdoor activities want to work hard to protect it.”