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Keep track of your yard list with eBird!

Every day I try to spend at least 15 minutes watching and counting birds in my yard. It's amazing to see how things change from day to day, and at different times of the day. If I go out at dawn I can see and hear most of the local residents that inhabit the California oak savannah and chaparral slopes near my house. I usually hear Red-shouldered Hawk, but rarely encounter other raptors at this time. But if I go out at noon and watch the sky while having lunch, I often see many raptors, including local Red-tailed Hawks, an occasional Merlin, Golden Eagle, or soaring accipiters. In late afternoon things become quiet, and it's hard to find many birds away from the feeders. At dusk, Barn and Great Horned Owls signal the coming night, while Golden-crowned Sparrows chink from nearby hedgerows.

The daily rhythm of birdlife in my yard is something to observe, and it becomes even more interesting during migration, when the local residents are augmented with birds from all over the West–and a few from the East! I'm always amazed at the rarities one can find by sitting in one place and carefully observing for a period of time. It's no surprise that many 'mega-rarities' fly by the Cape May Hawk Watch–it's got someone looking up counting birds all day long! While your yard might not attract the 'Megas' that Cape May does, it can tell us something important about the ebb and flow of birds in your area. 

Prairie_Falcon_Carmel_Valley_CA_10-20-2010-4This Prairie Falcon was an unexpected surprise over my Carmel Valley, CA, yard on 20 October 2010.

Imagine if thousands of birders from all around the country watched birds in their yard every day, and we then synthesized these observations into a single database to see what broad patterns might emerge. That is, in fact, exactly what's happening right now at eBird. We've just launched new tools that allow you to create your 'Yard' as a location, and then see how it compares with others in the region or around the world. So far in 2011 we've had over 3,000 yards registered in the ABA area alone, and I'm currently tied for third with Louisiana's Van Remsen!

On the same day, I had a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that returned to my yard from the previous winter–a great California yard bird!

But maybe you live in an area where you can't expect to compare species totals with more 'birdy' yards from around the country. There are still ways to have fun with this. The first is to restrict the region to county, and then see how your yard stacks up against other yards nearby. The second is to see how you rank in terms of 'complete checklists submitted'–something that is very important to eBird, and becoming increasingly important to birders. The twin goals of this friendly competition are for birders to have fun, but also to bring more data into eBird; specifically, to increase the volume of repeated samples from the same location.  

By entering the birds you see every day in your yard into eBird, you're helping us learn more about the fine-scale occurrence of birds in your region. Using powerful new modeling techniques, we can then scale-up these data to gain a better understanding of bird distribution and abundance at the continental scale. Learn more about that process here, and by all means, get out from behind the computer and go do some eBirding!

Screen shot 2011-01-19 at 11.02.38 AM

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Brian Sullivan

Brian Sullivan

Brian L. Sullivan conducts fieldwork on birds throughout North America and beyond. He is Project Leader for eBird and the Avian Knowledge Network and Photographic Editor for Birds of North America Online. Sullivan has written and consulted on various publications on North American birds. Among his numerous articles are several that have appeared recently in Birding magazine—on such topics as molt in migrating raptors, Harlan's and Krider's hawks, thrush identification, birding in hurricanes, and of course eBird. Sullivan lives in central coastal California, and birds everywhere.
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