I'm sure that most birders are aware of the wonderful services offered by Cornell Lab of Ornithology through eBird (learn more about eBird here), one of their many citizen science projects where ordinary birders just like you and me gather data for them to send to scientists for study. But also, some of their citizen projects offer a great wellspring of knowledge for birders all over North America, no, over the entire world. In this article, I plan to give an actual example of how you can be benefitted by using these services, and how to best use them.
One of the many helpful resources offered by eBird is a daily email comprised of bird species that you have never seen before (called a 'needs list'). The way this works follows: When you submit checklists of birds that you have seen to eBird, a list is kept of all the bird species that you have reported for that county. When you subscribe to a needs list, all other eBird checklists for that county are strained and all reports of bird species that yu have not seen are combined into an email and sent to you. This helps you to find new bird species around you, and this is just one extremely helpful resurce that eBird offers. In fact, just this very day, I received a needs alert for a county that I frequently go birding in, and was surprised to find that a nesting pair of osprey is only about twenty miles from where I frequently go birding. I now intend to go find the nest before the young osprey jump nest, and will hopefully be back with photos sometime in the near future.
eBird also offers a daily statewide rare bird email alert, county and state bird lists, bar charts for species frequency, and a species map. You can look at a large list of their services on their website, or by clicking here. However, the one option that I will discuss is the Range and Point maps. With this interactive map, you can enter a species name, a date range (current or past dates), and a location to generate a map of species sightings. But not only is this tool useful as a stand-alone, but there is one easy way to use this tool that you may not know about. If you use Cornell Lab's popular All About Birds.org (an online field guide covering over 700 North American bird species), when you are on a species ID, there is a link right below the range map that allows you to jump straight for the range and point map for that species. Just customize to your location and desired date range, and you're good to go.
I have highlighted in yellow the link that you would click to view this map:
You could then use the map to search for sightings near you. This is very helpful for locating species sighted specifically in your area, and is just one of the many great resources offered by eBird. After all, I wouldn't have a clue that nesting osprey where so close to me without some of these services!