16 Dec 2011

WorldBirds database is building the bigger picture from birder’s notes

By nick.langley

WorldBirds, the birdwatching database set up by BirdLife to record the observations of professional and citizen scientists all over the world, has passed the three million records milestone.  Most birders keep notes on what they have seen, and these notes can be extremely valuable for conservation at all levels, from local site protection to national and international policy-making. It is impossible for conservation organisations to visit all areas for all species, and what may seem like an unimportant sighting of a common species can be used to build up a bigger picture by the WorldBirds project.  WorldBirds is used not only to compile bird watching data, but to provide Birdlife Partners with a tool for monitoring Important Bird Areas, and to record data collected during formal structured surveys, such as the Wintering Birds Atlas, Breeding Birds Atlas and Bird Population Monitoring (or Common Bird Monitoring).   Broadly accessible and with a strong community structure, this global initiative by BirdLife International, the RSPB  (BirdLife in the UK) and Audubon (BirdLife in the USA) is establishing a vast database of bird and environmental information generated by birdwatchers and professionals.  Currently around 160 countries are involved, and over time more will be brought on-line as BirdLife Partners implement new systems, leading to better coverage. Some of these databases will be developed independently, but many will be based on a core system, developed with the intention of bringing on-line as many countries as possible quickly and with minimal expense.   “We installed the first system eight years ago, and the rest followed”, said  Loraiza Davies, International Data Officer at BirdLife and the RSPB. “Collectively we have involved over 16,000 regular users worldwide, who have provided data from more than 200,000 site visits, and over three million individual records.”  “If you add in all the other databases that link to WorldBirds, there are many millions more records”, explained Ian Fisher, Manager of the WorldBirds project at the RSPB. “The three million mark is for the core model systems only, most of which are in countries where there is little data available for conservation.”  Birdwatchers and conservationists from all over the world use the database to find the species present at a specific location, or the last locations where species of interest have been recorded.  “Recent analysis of WorldBird’s data has revealed that our databases can act as an early warning system of the change in species  populations”, said Loraiza Davies. “In many countries there are birdwatchers or birds enthusiasts tapping data in almost every day. In other places people are making more official use of WorldBirds, mainly using the system to report on structured surveys organised by the Birdlife Partner.  “In Portugal, they are using the WorldBird approach to record not only marine birds but also other marine species such as cetaceans (whales and dolphins), which once developed can be implemented by other countries as well. In Turkey,  conservationists are analysing the data to see coverage of species of interest, and designing surveys to study the gaps where they have not been reported, because people have not visited.”  Worldbirds provides each country with its own system linked to the map portal at www.worldbirds.org. This portal allows you to choose a country and submit your bird observations, so making a valuable contribution to bird conservation on a local, national and international scale.