Lockdown Birding

In spring 2020, the UW Quantitative Ecology lab launched a community science project to learn more about how changes in human behavior during COVID-19 lockdowns affected birds in suburban and urban areas in the Pacific Northwest. Volunteers signed up to conduct weekly surveys of birds in their neighborhood from April 1 through June 30. We are thrilled that just shy of 900 people signed up to participate in the 2020 data collection blitz, and we hope many of our volunteers will participate in our program again in 2021 and 2022. By collecting additional data on birds as lockdowns ease and human activity ramps back up to pre-pandemic levels, we will be able to learn more about how dynamic components of urban habitat, such traffic volume and air pollution, influence the presence, availability, and perceptibility of birds.

If you are one of our volunteers, thank you for your continued dedication to this project. We are so grateful for the support and enthusiasm of our volunteers!  We couldn’t do this without you. You can read our 2020 end-of-year report here.

Scroll down to learn more about our survey protocol, and click here to access the 2020 FAQ page. Resources for beginning birders are available here.

If you have any further questions, please contact our project coordinator (Olivia Sanderfoot) at oliviavs at uw.edu.

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 community 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 community 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.