Up The Road: While Birding And Ebirding

Jan 3, 2018


We head up the road this week to get outdoors during prime time for winter bird migration. And, in the process, participate—hands-on—in research that will help birds survive in these increasingly crazy days of climate change. It’s all about data—keeping track of how many birds of a particular species show up, where, and when, and then continuing to track those birds over time.


If you’re fortunate enough to have extra time with the kids or grandkids near the turning of the year, when winter bird migrations begin to peak, so much the better. New digital technologies make it not just feasible but fun to take everyone along on some pretty amazing field biology adventures just up the road. Even if you barely know what you’re doing, when it comes to bird identification, you can still organize educational family outings. Once the kids realize they can use their phones—better yet, that they need their phones—they’ll take to birding nature walks like a duck to water. A phrase they’ll soon understand.

Birders of all stripes love Ebird because they can keep all their bird lists there—yes, even their life lists—and easily share them. Upload bird photos and songs from the field. And instantly find out more about birds they’re observing by exploring Ebird’s bird maps, charts, and graphs. Within the app itself birders can search bird photos and sounds for an instant assist; look at other birders’ lists and observations for a given area or region; explore interactive bird range maps; and find birding “hotspots,” places where lots of individual birds or bird species are likely. Ebird even has bar charts you can use to find out which species you can expect to find at various times in a particular place.


Kids can quickly become serious birdwatchers.
Credit Beverly Skinner, USFWS

But Ebird is even better for birds. With bird ID lists and other data uploaded by citizen-scientists like you and me, researchers generate those population maps, charts, and graphs that tell them, year to year, how well local birds—California quail, say—are doing. And also how migrating bird populations are doing—their numbers, where they’re hanging out, when they arrive, and when they leave. It helps conservationists assist and protect birds if they know how their migrating behavior, range, and habitat needs are changing.  

 Now’s a good time to start Ebirding, and to start making your first citizen-science contributions. Jump-start your birding learning curve by participating in major events. Nothing like a little competition and pressure to stir the gray matter. The big deal every December is the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count, usually all over but the shouting by Christmas. In mid-February comes the Great Backyard Bird Count, which creates a global snapshot of where the birds are and how they’re doing. And don’t hesitate to improve your birding skills at major bird events such as the north state’s Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway (January 24-28 in 2018).

Or take it slow and easy by starting close to home and slowly expanding your own range. Here in Northern California you won’t need to go far to find some birding hot spots. The northern Sacramento Valley area in particular offers lots of possibilities, especially in wet years. Gray Lodge Wildlife Area west of Gridley offers a variety of habitat in the middle of endless ag land habitat, attracting considerable bird diversity. As the Fish and Wildlife folks say, “More than million waterfowl can’t be wrong.” The valley’s national wildlife refuges are worth the road trip too, some of the smaller spots strung out like beads along the Sacramento River. Destinations in their own right: The Sacramento, Delevan, and Colusa National Wildlife Refuges between Willows and Williams.

Until next time, bird up!