Bird watching is one of the fastest growing hobbies in the world. The US Fish and Wildlife service, for example, estimates that some 51.3 million Americans watch birds. It’s not hard to see why the hobby is so popular: it gets you outdoors, you don’t need a lot of equipment, and it’s fun to spot the less common birds.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society want to harness that enthusiasm to aid global conservation efforts. Their program, eBird, provides a standardized checklist for “birders,” as they are called, to enter their observations. A birder simply registers at the site, and then enters when, where, and how they went birding, and fills out a checklist of all the birds seen and heard. The site also doubles as a journal, allowing birders to keep a history of their observations online. eBird is extremely popular: in March 2012, participants reported more than 3.1 million bird observations across North America.
There are also tools to compare your totals to other eBirders around the world. For example, you can keep tabs on your yard totals, your patch totals, and measure up against the top 100 eBirders in your region. Apparently, I have some catching up to do: the top birder in my area has completed more than 600 checklists.
If heading outside right this minute, doesn’t appeal, you can spend time on the eBird site checking out the range and point maps, bar charts, line graphs, and a real-time submission map, all on the explore data page.