Your birdwatching could now protect your favourite species
If you are a nature lover, you are probably familiar with web portals such as Observado, Ornitho, Portugal Aves eBird or BirdTrack. These apps have quickly evolved over the last ten years and are a great tool to help citizens collect their observations of birds and other animal groups. Most of Europe is already covered by at least one of these platforms.
Wouldn't it be great if all the data gathered could be analysed together to better understand bird movements across regions, countries and even continents? This is the idea behind the recently-launched Euro Bird Portal (EBP), a project focusing on migratory bird species launched by the European Bird Census Council (EBCC) and supported by BirdLife International. The EBCC has already signed agreements with 29 institutions from 21 European countries, including 15 European BirdLife Partners.
A screenshot from the EBP website. Left: Where the Common Crane has been recorded in the selected week and the two weeks before that. Right: The maximum count of the species recorded in 30x30 sq km zones (seen here as a grid).
The partner institutions – biodiversity data centres and ornithological institutions from different countries – bring with them a wealth of experience in collecting high quality monitoring data from thousands of volunteer birdwatchers and turning this information into sound science. BirdLife European partners are also embracing the idea, and the potential uses that this data could have for BirdLife’s conservation objectives is enormous.
Left: Where the Red-backed Shrike has been recorded in the selected week and the two weeks before that in 2011. Right: Identical data from the same week 2 years later, showing the delayed arrival of the species in 2011 compared to 2013.
EBP, which is currently in its beta version, is not just another bird observation platform. It is a hub where all the data collected can be evaluated to produce dynamic maps showing bird movements across the continent. This new tool will help European ornithologists understand when, how and why birds migrate. With this information, we will be able to closer to tackling the impacts of climate change, understanding how the spread of invasive or non-native species can affect bird species, better plan the location of the next big infrastructure project, such as windfarms, motorways, harbours, and even understand the distribution patterns of bird-related diseases such as avian flu.
These maps show the specific 30x30 sq km zone where the Red-backed Shrike was recorded or not from 2011 and 2013 during the same week.
The online data gathering portals run by EBP partners collect about 30 million bird recordings every year from more than 100,000 active observers. This is the largest and most dynamic citizen science biodiversity data flow in Europe. It benefits from already successful initiatives, such as eBird, which has 7,000 registered users in Europe, yielding 5 million of observations so far; BirdTrack, with around 15,000 submissions a day and has 24,000 registered users, or Observado (which covers birds, molluscs, insects and plants, has 6,000 users and 11 million observations record (10 million are of birds).
So, next time you take a walk in the park or visit your most beloved bit of the countryside and see an interesting bird, don’t just think about whipping out your camera to record the image for yourself. What about using your smartphone and recording your sightings, knowing that with this simple action you will stay at the forefront of modern ornithology, helping us to unravel some of today’s most challenging questions?