The Bird Conservation Network has created a set of standardized methods for studying the birds of the Chicago Wilderness region. These methods can serve a variety of research purposes while also allowing birders to participate at three different levels of intensity.
Bird monitoring initiatives by citizen scientists have been active in the Chicago region for over two decades. In the past, a lack of standardized protocols and the daunting task of entering reams of data into digitized files has meant that much if not all of the information amassed over the past years remained largely inaccessible and difficult to analyze. In a 1998 effort - spearheaded by Judy Pollock, Alan Anderson, Terry Schilling, Lee Ramsey, and Elizabeth Sanders of the Bird Conservation Network (BCN), with major participation from a group of dedicated birders, scientists, land managers and conservationists including Jerry Garden (Chicago Audubon Society), Jerry Sullivan (Cook County Forest Preserve District), Doug Stotz (Field Museum), Stephen Packard (Audubon - Chicago Region) and Dan Niven (Illinois Natural History Survey) - a standardized protocol for bird monitoring was implemented which transformed monitoring practices and resolved central difficulties. Instant publication and analysis of this data via the world wide web became a reality in 2001 when Cornell Lab of Ornithology's BirdSource teamed up with the BCN and the Field Museum to unveil a new web site. This site came about thanks to the efforts of Debby Moskovits and Doug Stotz (Field Museum), Terry Schilling, Lee Ramsey, Alan Anderson and Suzanne Checchia (BCN volunteers), Steve Kelling and Michael Brutvan (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) and Judy Pollock, Rickie White and Steve Frankel (Audubon-Chicago Region). In 2003, the database moved to a special BCN version of the eBird website, a nationwide side for data entry managed by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon. This move provided easier access to data for research purposes and casual observation, and also allowed monitors to easily enter their sightings at any of the predefined birding hot spots in the Chicagoland area.
By arrangement with the Field Museum and the Bird Conservation Network, the data storage and analysis pages are now hosted on the BCN eBird wesbite, a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.
The eBird database is maintained at Cornell as a repository for bird sightings anywhere within North America. Its purpose is to take information gathered by recreational birders and make it available as a research tool. Anyone can enter bird sightings in eBird simply by going to the website, registering, and finding or creating the locations where your observations were made. Once entered, the records of your sightings remain available to you on the website. This means, of course, that it’s possible to use eBird as your personal record of sightings, and many birders do. Access to the detailed records, however, remains protected by password; the general public can see only the eBird charts and graphs that include aggregate data from many birders.
It’s important to note that there is more than one eBird website. The national website where birders anywhere in the US enter their personal sightings is at www.ebird.org. But there are also several regional eBirds. Ours, covering the greater Chicago region, is at www.ebird.org/bcn. We want to make sure that all the BCN data ends up on BCN eBird and not on the national eBird. All screens on BCN eBird are clearly marked as such at the top. If it doesn’t say “BCN” at the top, you’re in the wrong place. Cornell mixes the data from the national and regional eBirds together for their charts and graphs, but we in the Chicago region only get special access to the BCN eBird data. Data from the national eBird site does now reach us if you enter it accidentally in the wrong place, but this process requires extra work and some data may get overlooked, so please try to always use the BCN eBird site.
Unless you are a BCN volunteer entering data for another person, you should register on eBird. Note that if you have participated in Cornell’s Project Feeder Watch or the Great Backyard Bird Count, you are probably registered already. Be careful not to register twice! If you think you may be registered but can’t remember your user name and password, you can get them from Cornell.
If you will be monitoring at a specific location or locations in the greater Chicago area, we ask that you let us know your BCN eBird user name and password. We keep these on file so that we can help you with data entry, make corrections and solve problems. Your information won’t be available to anyone except BCN staff, but you should still be sure that you don’t use a user name and password that you use elsewhere—like your bank!
Although the requirements for some BCN Survey protocols are more restrictive, there are only two unavoidable requirements for data to be entered on BCN eBird: you must be able to assign each sighting to (1) a specific location and (2) a specific date. Even in some cases where the data doesn’t seem to meet the second requirement, you may be able to make it useful by estimating the date. For example, a list that was gathered in “mid-June” could be assigned to June 15th. Similarly, a list with no start or end times could be entered with reasonable estimates of those times. Examples of data that we can’t enter would be a list gathered on one day but at several different locations without indication of which birds were seen at which location or a list for a location gathered on several different days throughout the year without indication of which birds on which days. When we get lists that can’t be entered we save them in the BCN files.
At the top of the BCN eBird home page, click on the tab called “Submit Observations.” Unless you are already connected to a personal site (for example the one you use all the time and never change), you will now get a Sign-in screen asking for User Name and Password. Enter these and click on Sign In.
If the data comes from a registered BCN eBird user, look up the user name (ID) and password on the “Monitors: ID & Password” list, and enter these. If the monitor isn’t registered or if the location isn’t listed at his/her personal site, use the “BCNreports” site. You can also enter data in one of the BCN hotspots, though we prefer to list it in BCNreports or one of the personal sites because we can view and edit these later. (We can’t view or edit data submitted to a hotspot location.)
Step 1: You will now get a screen named “Identify the location,” and the name for the personal site will appear in the upper right-hand corner: “Hello, (name).” There are five ways of selecting a location. The preferred method is “Select from My Locations,” but this will work only if you or someone else has already established the location on this site. (BCNreports has a large number of locations throughout Greater Chicagoland, listed alphabetically by location name.) Your other choices are (1) to find the location in the Chicago region hotspots (over 250 locations throughout Greater Chicagoland, most of them different from the locations in BCNreports) and (2) to create a new location. Instructions for creating locations will be found below. When you have selected a location, click on “Continue.”
A hotspot is a location that we expect numbers of recreational birders to visit with some regularity. We encourage everyone visiting the location to record the numbers of all birds observed and note the date, start time and end time. So, for instance, if you aren’t a regular monitor or are birding away from your regular monitoring site and you stop by Montrose Point some morning at 6 am, birding until 7:30 and recording everything you saw or heard, we hope that you would take the time to enter these observations on the Montrose Point hotspot. But, as mentioned above, we would prefer that hotspots not be used to record observations made by regular monitors at their regular locations.
Step 2 (Date and Effort): On this screen you select a protocol representing the way in which you covered the area and recorded your observations. BCN uses three different protocols: Timed Observation, Transect, and Point Count. (Timed Observation is listed twice, but the only difference between the two is whether you know and include an estimate of the total area of the location.)
Timed Observation: Let’s say the location I monitor on a regular basis is Swampy Woods Forest Preserve. I try to visit it six or eight times a year, including at least twice during the breeding season (when I’ll use the point count protocol), but this time my visit is made in late November when I expect to find a number of over-wintering species. I enter Swampy Woods at 8 am and walk trails in no particular pattern or order, and I make note of every bird I can identify by sight or sound, being careful not to double-record any birds. I finish my survey at 9:28 am and leave the location. I have a count of everything I identified—14 downy woodpeckers, 3 hairy woodpeckers, 7 white-breasted nuthatches, 27 dark-eyed juncos, etc. I now have the information I need to enter my data on BCN eBird or to send it to the BCN office for a volunteer to enter. Entering the data myself, I identify the location on the Step 1 screen as “Swampy Woods--timed” or just “Swampy Woods.” (The location for Swampy Woods timed will be a point in the center of the forest preserve.) On the Step 2 screen I select “Timed Observation without Area Estimate” (because I’ve never bothered to determine how many acres there are in Swampy Woods). I then enter the date, the start time (8 am) and the duration (1 hr, 30 min). I can also note that there was one observer (me), but I don’t have to do this.
Transect: Now let’s say that I do the same thing on the same November morning except this time, instead of wandering about the location in no particular pattern, I have a regular route along a trail that cuts through the location and that I always follow when doing bird surveys. I also have a good estimate of the length of this route through Swampy Woods: it’s almost exactly 1½ miles. My start and end times are the same. My species count will probably be a little lower than for the timed observation, but it will be easier for me to avoid double-counting species because my route has been more orderly. To enter my data, on the Step 1 screen I select the location called “Swampy Woods--transect” or “Swampy Woods--T1.” (The location for a transect is at its beginning point.) Then on the Step 2 screen I select “Transect” and enter the date, the start time, the duration and 1½ miles for the distance.
Point Count: This is the trickiest—for reasons I’ll explain. OK, now it’s June—breeding season—and time for me to do point counts at Swampy Woods. I’ll get up early and arrive at the forest preserve as close to dawn as I can, let’s say at 6 am. (Counts during the nesting season should be completed before 8:30 am if at all possible.) I have previously gone over my route (the same trail I use for my transect) and identified 15 different points spaced 150 meters apart along the trail. I have also established 15 point “locations” in my personal eBird site: Swampy Woods--P1, Swampy Woods--P2….. These are in addition to my timed or transect “locations,” and the fact that we have to do it this way is our biggest current complaint about eBird. EBird treats each point in a point count as a separate location. At 6 am I enter the forest preserve and walk down the trail to my first point. I arrive there at 6:05 and stand in that spot for 5 minutes looking and listening for any birds and recording each one I can identify. At 6:10 I continue down the trail to my second point, arriving at 6:13. Again I stand for 5 minutes and write down everything I can identify. Then at 6:18 I continue to the third point and so on until I’ve completed all 15. I may also have noted some additional birds before I arrived at point one, several more while I was walking between the points (always making sure that these aren’t the same birds I picked up at one point or another), and perhaps a few after point 15 that I’m sure I hadn’t identified earlier. I’ll record these as “additional observations.” I’ll also put those 35 ring-billed gulls and 2 great blue herons that flew over but never landed into my “additional observations.”
Now, about entering this data. What I’ve got written down (hopefully) is the times I entered and left the forest preserve, the times I arrived at each point, the number of birds identified at each point, and the number of additional species. On the Step 1 screen of my personal site I select Swampy Woods--P1; on the Step 2 screen I select Point Count and enter the date, the start time for P1 (6:05—not the time I entered the forest preserve), and the duration (5 minutes). It is possible to select other duration times but for the purposes of our analysis we prefer that you use 5-minute points. If you mail in forms, and there’s no indication on the forms of a duration we assume it was 5 minutes. Then I continue to Step 3, and enter the birds I identified, after which I have 14—no! 15—more to do. When I’m done recording all the birds I identified at point one, I go back to Step 1, select Swampy Woods--P2, go to Step 2, select Point Count again, enter the date, start time (6:15 am) and duration (5 minutes again), go to Step 3 and enter the birds identified at point two. You’ll note that there is a lot of repeat labor in this process; to avoid some of it, see “Saving some time entering data” just below. Now, I assume you have the idea: You continue to go through all the points until you’re done with point 15. Then, the other bit of data entry: If you have any data in additional observations, you start again, select Swampy Woods timed, select Timed Observation, enter the date, start time (6:00 am) and the duration of the whole morning’s count—which would be 2 hrs, 30 min if I walked out of the forest preserve at 8:32 am. At the end of Step 2, click on Continue.
You can avoid some of the repeated entries and save yourself some time if you enter data from several surveys at the same time. For instance, let’s say you’ve done three point counts at Swampy Woods during the year. Rather than enter each one on BCN eBird as soon as it’s completed, save your data until you’ve completed all three. Then start by entering the observations from point one on the first date and, when you’ve finished that, go to point one on the second date. (When you’ve completed the first entry, you’ll get a screen that gives you the options “Submit another checklist for the same location” and “Submit a checklist for another location.” Choose the first of these.) Then you can enter the second date and start time for point one, and you won’t have to repeat the duration and number of observers. Then enter point one on the third date before going on to point two. You can do the same thing with timed observations and transects if you have data for multiple dates.
Step 3 (What did you see/hear?): Here you must first select Yes or No to two questions: “Are you reporting all the species you identified?” and “Do you want to report age and sex?” You can answer either way and proceed, but you must answer the first of these questions. (If you don’t, you’ll get notified of it later on. The second is already answered “no” for you, but you can change it if you have age and/or sex data from your observations.) Note that “all the species” means all the individual birds of each species. So, if you identified a bunch of red-eyed vireos but can’t remember how many, you answer No to this question and put down 1—or a reasonable estimate. If you identified 23 red-eyed vireos and are going to put down 23, then you answer Yes. Data entry volunteers will find that monitors have usually answered the first question on their forms. If they haven’t, you should make your best judgment and answer it for them.
Below these questions is a list of species. When you first see it, it’s probably a “Most Probable Species” and “Taxonomic” list. You can change Most Probable Species to Rare Species and Taxonomic to Alphabetic by using the buttons. We strongly recommend staying with Most Probable Species, however. This list will be much shorter (and so easier to find the birds you’re looking for) and is selected according to the place (Great Lakes) and time of year: If you look at it in June and November, you’ll see different lists. On taxonomic/alphabetic it’s your choice. Taxonomic, of course, is the order you’ll encounter in most field guides, with ducks first and finches at the end. Alphabetic would have albatrosses first, if there were any in our area.
Possible problem: Suppose you’re going through the Most Probable list and you don’t find one of the species you identified. No problem. Scroll up to the top of the screen, select Rare Species, find your bird, and continue. Afterward you can go back to Most Probable Species if you like. In any case, the data you’ve entered will stay entered as you switch screens.
Another possible problem: Maybe because you entered a count for a bird on the Rare Species list or an unexpected number of birds, you get a message saying you have to confirm a sighting. This also is not a problem. EBird won’t block your entry or ask for documentation. All it wants to do is make sure that you really meant to put that bird down. Just click the box to confirm, and all will be well. (Unless it was a mistake, of course; then correct it.)
Step 4 (Confirmation and Notes): When you’ve continued from Step 3, you’ll get a screen showing all the information you’ve entered, including dates, times, species counts, etc. Check this and click on the Submit button. You’re done with your entry.
BCN monitors can add locations on their personal eBird site. Volunteers entering data for BCN monitors can add locations on the monitor’s personal site or, if the monitor doesn’t have a site and it doesn’t make sense to set one up, on BCNreports. You create a location on the Step 1 screen by clicking on either Find it using Google Maps or Use Latitude/Longitude. The Google Maps option is the simplest and quickest, but other options that work equally well are described below.
Find It Using Google Maps: In order to use this option, you need either (1) a detailed map of the location with points and transect starting places marked or (2) a very good knowledge of the area including where the points and transects are. Click on Find It Using Google Maps. This will give you a map of the Greater Chicagoland area with a set of arrow buttons at top left and, below those, a bar for zooming in and out. Start by using the arrow buttons to get your location as close to the center of the map as you can; then zoom in part way and center again, repeating these processes until you have a satisfactorily detailed view of the location. A hint: If at some point you get a completely dark blue screen, that’s because you’ve zoomed in on a part of Lake Michigan; use the arrow buttons to move in the direction of your location. Once you’ve found your general location and zoomed in, type the location name in the box on the right of the screen, place the cursor in the appropriate spot (exact spot for a point, place where a transect begins, middle of the general location for timed observations), and click. Then click Continue if you want to enter data, or go back if you want to create a new location.
Location names: Choose a name that will be recognizable to other birders in the area and that won’t be easily confused with names for other area locations. Make sure that the name is appropriate for its intended use: Locations to be used for timed observations are labeled “timed”—or can be left without a protocol label; locations for transects should be labeled “T1,” “T2” (if you have more than one transect), etc; locations for point counts should be labeled “P1,” “P2,” etc. To repeat: “Swampy Woods” or “Swampy Woods--timed” is a timed observation location; “Swampy Woods--T1” is a transect location; “Swampy Woods--P4” is a point count location. When entering names, separate the location name (e.g. “Swampy Woods”) from the protocol code (“timed,” “T1,” “P4”) with a double hyphen (--) as in the examples above. This will facilitate the data analysis that we try to do and publish every couple of years.
Lat/long coordinates: Unless you’re using Google maps, you will have to provide latitude & longitude coordinates for each location you create. You can get these by using a GPS unit at the site or by using maps such as those on Topozone. We have GPS units at the BCN office that you can borrow – call 847 965-1150. We explain below how to use Topozone.
Important: When entering coordinates for your locations, you must distinguish between the various coordinate formats. Most GPS units give coordinates in degrees/minutes/seconds; Topozone gives you a choice of several formats. EBird allows you to enter decimal degrees or degrees/minutes/seconds, which are then converted to decimal degrees.** Note that you must enter a minus sign before the longitude because all longitudes are negative in North America.
** You can also enter decimal minutes, rather than seconds, in the degrees/minutes/seconds boxes. Be careful to distinguish between decimal degrees and degrees and decimal minutes.
When you create a new location, eBird will ask you if you want to recommend it as a hotspot. We expect that the answer will usually be “no” because we think we already have most of the frequently-visited birding locations in our area listed as hotspots. However, if you believe that this truly is a frequently birded location and one that we’ve missed, go ahead and recommend it. This will send an email message to the BCN Hotspot Administrator, who will decide whether to approve it as a hotspot. The administrator may email you back seeking additional information about the location before deciding whether to approve it. If it’s approved, the hotspot will show up on the BCN hotspot list where all birders can list their sightings.
Open Topozone at www.topozone.com. Click on the tab “View Maps.” Scroll down to Place Name Search and enter the nearest town, county and state for the location that you are trying to find. Near the top of the next screen, you’ll get a list of one or more places that meet your description. Choose the one you want and click on it. This will bring up a map and a set of controls along the left side. Now you need to find the forest preserve, nature center or other area where your location is. This will be easier if you change to a large map (Click on the Large button in the controls), and you may also want to change the View Scale to 1:100,000 or 1:200,000 (Pull down the View Scale menu and select the scale you want). Use the arrows on the four sides of the map to move around until you’ve found your location. Once you have the location on your map, place the cursor within the location and click. The map will center on your location and a red cross will appear where you’ve clicked. Now go to Coordinate Format, pull down the menu and select DD.DDD (decimal degrees), and also change the View Scale to 1:24,000.
If you are looking for a timed observation location, place the cursor in the middle of the general area (forest preserve or whatever) and click. The coordinates of the spot you’ve selected will appear at the top of the map in decimal degrees. If you want coordinates for a transect, find the point where the transect begins and click there. For point counts, click on the location of each point. The 1:24,000 maps should have enough detail to find all of these locations with enough accuracy for our purposes, but of course you must be familiar with the area, the routes and the points or else have a map that shows where all the locations are. The coordinates you get at the top of the map will look like this: 42.0617N, 87.7583W. To enter this in eBird, you translate it as 42.0617 and –87.7583. Topozone only resolves coordinates to four decimal places. Even for points we don’t need any more: 42.0617 and 42.0618 are less than 10 meters apart.
It’s not difficult to make corrections, additions and deletions from the lists of sightings entered on BCN eBird. You can do this quickly on your personal eBird site or on one that you have a user name and password for. To edit observations in a personal eBird site, select the tab “My eBird” on the home page, then choose Manage My Observations from the selections on the right-hand side of the screen. This will bring up a list of all the sets of observations entered on that site for all locations; the most recent observations are at the top of the list. Find the observation you want to correct, and you’ll see that you have two options at the right of the screen: Edit or Delete. Be very careful about deleting observations. If you make a mistake and delete a set of observations that shouldn’t be deleted, your only option is to re-enter the whole set from the beginning. (There is one case in which you will have to delete and re-enter everything: If the observations have been entered at the wrong location—for instance, if all the sightings for June 15, 2005, at Buggy Woods Forest Preserve have been entered for June 15, 2005, at Swampy Woods Forest Preserve—then the only way to correct this is to delete the observation set for Buggy Woods and start all over again at Swampy Woods. Every other change besides this can be made with the editing tool.)
Click on Edit for the observations you want to correct. The next screen will have two boxes, each with an Edit button. Clicking on the Edit button in the top screen allows you to change the date, time, duration, and in fact every other piece of information except the location. The bottom screen is for editing the observations themselves. You can add species, delete species, or change the numbers.
You can change the name of any location on your eBird site—or on one that you have access to. You can change the coordinates for some, but not all, of the locations. And you can delete some, but not all, locations. On the BCN eBird home page, click on the My eBird tab and select Manage My Locations. This will give you a list of all the locations created for that site. On the right-hand side of the screen, all the locations will have an Edit option; some may also have a Delete option. If there’s a delete option, you can eliminate the location simply by clicking on Delete, but you will have that option only if no observations are entered for the location anywhere. If you want to delete the location and you aren’t given that option, you have some work ahead of you. First, check to see that this is a “personal” location (indicated by a P on the list), not a “shared” one. “Shared” means that someone else or some other list (such as the hotspot list) has a location with the same coordinates. There’s no way to delete a shared location. If it is a personal location, and you still want to delete, you can do so by first deleting all the observations for the location (or moving them to a different location: see above). Once you’ve done that and returned to the Manage My Locations screen, you should now see the Delete option for the location in question.
The other way you can edit a location is by moving it. If you click on Edit for a personal location, you’ll see two choices: Change the Name and Move the Location. Choosing Move the Location gives you a screen where you can enter different coordinates. Of course, if this is a shared location, you will only have the option of changing the name.
To view and explore submitted records, click on the "View and Explore Data" tab after logging in to BCN eBird (see above).
Click on the "Manage my Observations" link to view all records that you have submitted. On this page, you can view, edit, or delete records. Click on "Detailed View" to view a species-by-species account for a particular date. Click "Edit" to correct any errors. Click "Delete" to delete a report. Caution: This will delete all records for a location on that specific date. To delete an individual species, click on the "Edit" link.
Click on the "Summarize my Observations" link for more detailed reports of your records. Here you can view statistics for a defined week, month, or year period. You can choose to view records for one or multiple locations (hold down the "Control" key (Windows) or the "Apple/Command" key (Mac) to select multiple locations). On the next page, a number of options are available including high counts, abundance, frequency, group size, and species totals.
Click on the "Create Maps and Graphs" link to explore all data entered on BCN eBird. Here you can select species and set date ranges to create detailed maps showing all locations where that species (or group of species) was seen.
Click on the "Summarize All eBird Observations" link for more detailed reports of all data entered on BCN eBird. Here you can view statistics for a defined week, month, or year period. You can choose to view records for select locations. On the next page, a number of options are available including high counts, abundance, frequency, group size, and species totals.
If you have questions or need more information contact us at
or phone Judy Pollock (847-962-7868).
Documents or forms that need to be mailed in can be sent to:
Bird Conservation Network
c/o Bird Division
1400 S. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60605
BCN is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization
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