Birding’s pandemic popularity: a new hobby expanding data collection for science

When a freelance photographer recently saw himself with extra time on his hands and no humans to photograph, he turned his lens to nature.
Many recently joined birding apps after the hobby became increasingly popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. An influx of people who are tracking what they see digitally is creating new data sources that can be useful to scientists and environmentalists for monitoring bird populations and habitats. Technology, including birding apps and social media groups to connect with other people, was a huge reason why people get involved in bird watching.

“I was obsessed with eBird. I would go on it several times a day since it was also the way I used to find birds,” said Giffen of one popular app.

One of the world’s largest databases for bird observations, eBird Apps, can assist hobbyists in identifying various species of animals and plants. This form of crowdsourced data gathering can also help bolster broader knowledge of how environmental changes affect multiple species. eBird announced that they surpassed one billion bird observations in May 2021. The number of submissions from Canada to the app increased by 34 percent in 2020, according to eBird data.

Increasing the amount of reliable information coming from birders is important when making attempts to track bird populations, said W. Douglas Robinson, a professor of wildlife science at Oregon State University. Robinson and other scientists compared data on the number of bird sightings in one Oregon natural area gathered by eBird users versus professional ornithologists. His team concluded that the app’s counting data showed significantly lower numbers of birds than what was gathered by scientists. This could be due to several factors, including the fact that birders have traditionally focused on the different species they could see, rather than counting absolute numbers.

Garth Riley, another Toronto-area resident, is a reviewer for eBird, a volunteer tasked with checking user submissions to the app. His job as a reviewer has become more time-consuming with more Canadians getting involved in birding, but he is happy to see more data coming in.

Source: CBC,