Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a convenient online system where you can maintain a record of all your bird sightings, and keep track of which species you have seen in any month, year and location? Where you can upload your record shots of unusual species and archive your sound recordings? A place where you can go to, to look up the latest rare sighting or to find out what birds are currently being reported from your favourite sanctuary? A resource you can use to plan your next vacation by finding out what species you can expect to see at what locations? A database where you can look up range maps and seasonality for any species you want?

If you’re a birdwatcher like me, you might have had some of these thoughts – and the exciting news is that such a system now exists! The system I’m talking about is called eBird, which is a global platform for recording bird observations. Using eBird, you can do all that is described above, and more.

Let’s say I’m in Mysore and would like to go birding on the weekend, perhaps to a nearby lake. I look up recent sightings from Mysore and find what people have been seeing of late. Or I go to the hotspot map and look at recent reports from specific lakes in Mysore. From this, I find that Kukkarahalli Lake has had reports of a number of migrants I would very much like to see.

So off I go on Sunday to Kukkarahalli, with binoculars and notebook in hand. Once there, I do what I usually do, which is to enjoy the birds I see, and to write their names down in a notebook, possibly with comments on plumage, behaviour and so on. When I come back home, I upload the list of species, with notes, to my eBird account. Or, I directly record the species and notes in the field using the eBird mobile app for android and iPhone. For good measure, I add my photos from the trip too.

The Painted Storks at Kukkarahalli remind me that I wanted to look up the distribution of the species, so I check out its range map and discover that although it is not so abundant in the eastern part of India, its range extends into southeast Asia. I don’t know whether Painted Storks are seasonal or year-round residents in Mysore, so I look up the seasonality charts, and discover that they occur through the year, but with fluctuating occurrence and abundance (in curious contrast to another ‘resident’, the Black Drongo, which diminishes drastically in the summer!). Before logging out, I copy and paste the link to my eBird list into an email to tell my birding friends what I saw, and I do the same on Facebook and Twitter.

1PaintedStorkRangemap

Range map of Painted Stork on eBird. Once you zoom in, individual locations become visible, and you can see the exact date, location and observer for each record.

 

1PaintedStorkVaidehi

Painted Stork photo embedded in an eBird list. Photo by Vaidehi Gunjal, taken at Tadas Lake, Haveri, Karnataka. You can see Vaidehi’s list here.

 

eBird, the platform I’m using, is built and run by the Cornell Laboratory for Ornithology and the Audubon Society. In India, eBird is managed by the Bird Count India partnership. Since January 2014, when Bird Count India started publicising eBird amongst Indian birders, over 3 million observations of birds have been uploaded from the country. This large and growing database is gradually adding to our collective understanding of Indian birds, including where birds are found and at what times of the year, and also how abundant different species are.

Apart from the maps, seasonality charts, and other output, the information is available for download and use. The convenience of the platform has prompted not just individual birders to use it to document their own birding, but also large coordinated projects like the Mysore City Bird Atlas and the Kerala Bird Atlas, to carry out systematic studies of bird distribution and seasonal changes.

Do join! Getting started is very simple. You can read this guide for beginners, or simply register and upload your bird observations to join the growing community of eBirders in India and help generate more information about Indian birds.