Lockdown Birding

Effects of Social Distancing on Bird Communities

On April 1st, the UW Quantitative Ecology lab launched a community science project to learn more about the impact of social distancing on bird activity in the Pacific Northwest. You can read more about this project and our research objectives on eBird Northwest: https://ebird.org/pnw/news/impact-of-social-distancing-on-bird-activity

We will be using this webpage to provide more information about our survey protocol for our volunteers and answer frequently asked questions (see our FAQ page). As of 7:00 p.m. on April 20th, we had 714 volunteers signed up to help us collect data on bird observations in the Pacific Northwest in 2020 and 2021. We are grateful for the support and enthusiasm of our volunteers. We couldn’t do this without you! If you have any further questions, please contact our lab at sefsqel@uw.edu and our project coordinator (Olivia Sanderfoot) will be in touch with you within 72 hours.

If you are new to birding, please see our page for new birders for extra resources (which also includes a list of commonly mis-identified species in our region).

Survey Protocol:

WHERE: You get to pick your site! We suggest choosing your backyard or a local green space that you can easily walk to.
WHEN: At least once a week (though more often if you’d like), head to that site and conduct a 10-minute stationary point count. Record all the birds you see or hear during those ten minutes.
PLATFORM: We are collecting data via eBird, a citizen science app. You can submit checklists on eBird using a web browser or the mobile app. Before you submit your checklist, add the phrase “social distancing survey” to the COMMENT field. Note that if you forget to do this, you can always go back and edit your checklists!

Please do not report species that you are not confident you observed. If you are unsure of a species identification, please use broader groups such as “sparrow sp.” or “hummingbird sp.” when possible. If you can’t narrow down the bird to a group, please use “bird sp.”


Submitting Checklists:

We are collecting data via eBird, a citizen science app. You can submit observations using a mobile app or on the web, though we recommend the mobile app:

  • When you open the app on your mobile device, you will be prompted to make an account and sign in.
  • Once you’ve signed in, you should see a large green button that says, “Start Checklist.” Click on it. This starts your checklist. Note that this also starts the stopwatch for your ten-minute point count.
  • The app will keep track of the time you start your observations, as well as the total duration of your survey, your GPS coordinates, and any species you record. To record a species, use the search bar at the top to look up any bird you observe. When the species pops up in the list below, press the plus sign next to the listing. You’ll then be prompted to record the number of individuals of that species you saw. Once that’s entered, press “Done” in the upper righthand corner.  You should record all the birds you see and hear during those ten minutes — this is very important.
  • When you’re ready to stop your point count (as close to the ten-minute mark as possible, though it’s okay if you’re over by a few seconds) and submit the whole checklist, press “Stop” in the lower righthand corner. You’ll be asked if you want to “Stop track” or “Keep birding.” You want to stop. You should not add any more birds to your checklist.
  • Next, fill out the additional information, such as location and number of observers. Add the phrase “social distancing survey” to the comments. Do not forget to answer “yes” to the question, “Is this a complete survey of the birds you were able to identify?” Once you’ve done that, you can press “continue”, review, and submit!

Later this spring, we’ll be able to download all the checklists submitted by birders in the PNW and find the surveys for this project by searching for “social distancing survey” in the comment field.

Please do not report species that you are not confident you observed. If you are unsure of a species identification, please use broader groups such as “sparrow sp.” or “hummingbird sp.” when possible. If you can’t narrow down the bird to a group, please use “bird sp.”

For more information about getting started with eBird, check out this how-to guide from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. For additional support, please consult the eBird Help Center.