Ruff by Hans Norelius/Macaulay Library (ML144437371)
Data quality in eBird is critically important, and eBird's data quality process ensures that your data are useful for the millions of people that use eBird's resources each year. From automated data filters to a global team of bird experts, eBird's data quality approach ensures that every single record gets evaluated. This focus on maintaining high data quality is essential in making eBird one of the most valuable global datasets on bird distribution and abundance.
eBird review essentials
We hope you read the below article in full, but here are our key 5 review takeaways:
1. Data quality is essential to provide valuable information on eBird
Whether you're using data to find birds, conduct research, conserve birds, or teach others, a strong foundation of data quality is critical. Understanding and taking part in the data quality process is one of the most important parts of being an eBirder. Document your unusual sightings, respond to reviewer notes, and help make eBird what it is!
2. Document sightings to avoid the need for an email
If you write descriptions of the field marks you observe, and add images or sound recordings to your checklist, you will almost never need to receive or respond to review emails! We'd all be happier with fewer emails in our lives, right?
3. Read and respond to the review emails you receive—they're from some of the most skilled and knowledgeable birders in the world!
eBird reviewers are often some of the more skilled and knowledgeable birders in the world—and they're there to talk to you! When you get a note from the person who wrote the field guide for your area, it's a great chance to explore what they've reached out about and learn with them about the specific sighting.
4. Review happens for specific observations and for entire checklists
Most eBird review happens at the level of a single report: usually a rare species or a high count. However, occasionally there will be concerns about an entire checklist (e.g., a 200 mile traveling count, or a list of birds reported at the incorrect location), and a reviewer may reach out about that.
5. Remember that these are volunteers—don't take review personally, and be respectful
Every person who reaches out about one of your sightings is volunteering their time to help you and help ensure that eBird's database of bird records is as useful as possible. This isn't singling you out personally: it's just following up on records that are unusual for that location and date, and looking for more information.
The entire eBird review process is focused on getting documentation for unusual sightings, ensuring that the information in eBird can be objectively documented to continue to be valuable for decades and centuries to come. If you sufficiently document your sightings when you submit them, then you're already done with the review process!
"Bright golden-yellow songbird with black earpatch, dark bill, and mixed black-and-gold on the wings and upperparts." All you need to describe this sighting! Golden Tanager by Rob Felix/Macaulay Library (ML120954231)
Documenting sightings isn't as intimidating as it might sound. All we're looking for is a description of what you saw: what were the field marks; how did you count the birds; how did you eliminate similar species. Do you have a camera, or a smartphone? A quick photo through your binoculars or scope, or a brief audio recording with your phone can be all that's needed to clinch an identification.
eBird automated observation flagging
Automated eBird filters are the foundation of the eBird review process. They provide an automated first check on every observation submitted to eBird through the combination of species, count, location, and date. An eBird filter is a list of species with the expected counts of that species for specific time periods throughout the year. These filters are applied to specific geographic areas: counties, states, provinces, countries, and ecological regions, and are managed by the volunteer reviewer(s) for the region.
Example eBird checklist filter. Species set at zero year-round (e.g., Common Raven) are flagged on any date, but Barn Swallow is flagged only in winter or when the counts exceed the numbers on the filter (e.g., any count above 100 would be flagged on between Aug 1 and Sep 30).
Any report that exceeds expected totals for a given species at a location on a given date is 'flagged' for review. Species that are set at an expected value of zero appear as 'Rare' when you're entering sightings in eBird. These filters are tweaked and updated regularly (sometimes even weekly in some regions), allowing flexibility in what sightings are unusual in a region over time. If a filter is updated to include new expected counts, all records within that region are passed through the filter again regardless of when the records were submitted.
When you see a record flagged on the checklist, this will be evaluated by a volunteer expert reviewer—just add documentation and you're good to go!
IMPORTANT! When you see a prompt that you've reported something unusual, DO NOT immediately remove a species or lower a count that you're confident about. Instead, provide the required details to support the report, such as photos, notes on the species' identification, or details on how you made the high count and the circumstances of the observation.
Records are flagged for one of the following reasons:
- Rarity—a species that is rare or unusual in the region
- Out of season—a species is reported outside its normal date range in a region
- High count—species count exceeds what one might expect to find in a typical day's birding in the region on a particular date
Once flagged, a record does not appear publicly until a volunteer reviewer has manually evaluated it.
eBird volunteer reviewers
eBird reviewers are birding experts who volunteer their time to manage the filters and review records. Reviewers are selected due to their bird expertise, eBird knowledge, and excitement to share both of those things with others. It is very important to remember that reviewers are volunteers, and we are incredibly grateful for the hard work they do. eBird would not exist without this team.
Records that are flagged by the filter process appear in a queue for that region, as shown here.
Fig. 3. Example review queue.
Reviewers evaluate each record and determine whether it has enough supporting information to verify that report in the public dataset ('Accepted'—will appear throughout eBird), or whether there isn't enough support ('Unconfirmed'—only appears on the list totals of the eBirder who reported it).
If the sighting is already documented with notes or media, this can just take a handful of seconds per record. If it's a first record for the country and the only information written was "Seen well," there will be a followup note asking for more details. There also may be other concerns about a record, such as taxonomy, or documentation that has already been added, but is misidentified.
The review queue has a default sort of "most recent," prioritizing the newest reports to maximize the efficiency for verifying today's data on rare and unusual sightings. In some cases, this results in older records waiting a while to be reviewed. We ask for your patience in this: a sighting will never be leave the review queue until it has been acted on, but for older records or historical data, this can take longer. Rest assured, it'll be reviewed in time.
If you feel that the review team in your area could be improved, and that you have sufficient bird expertise, eBird knowledge, and excitement to share both of those things with others, please email us (email@example.com), and we’ll explore how you can best contribute.
All reviewers follow our Review Guidelines document, found below.
eBird checklist-level review
In addition to reviewing specific observations, eBird's volunteer reviewers work to ensure that the eBird's checklist-level information is correct. By default, checklists are marked as 'Public.' Public checklists appear throughout eBird, and the sightings on those checklists go through the observation review process detailed above. Two scenarios can result in a checklist automatically being marked as 'Not Public': any checklist entered at the Country-level, State-level, or County-level when using "Select an entire city, county, state, or country" from eBird data entry on the web; and any checklist with a traveling distance longer than 80.47 km (50.0 miles). 'Not Public' checklists are not shown in any public eBird outputs, but still count for your listing totals.
In addition to those two automated reasons for checklists, reviewers can mark specific checklists as 'Not Public' for any of the below scenarios:
- Location issue
- This is often a checklist that was not plotted correctly (e.g., putting a checklist for your home at a location 5km away on the map). Very long distance counts or locations plotted that are very imprecise can also be tagged in this way. Check out our tips for using eBird locations.
- List-building checklist
- Multi-party checklist
- If two groups of people cover different parts of a park, and submit all the birds they see on one list, that is not appropriate. An eBird checklist should consist of birds seen by a group of people staying generally within earshot of each other.
- Duplicated submission
- Two checklists by the same person for the same bird at the same time are duplicated data. This does not include shared checklists: those are 100% fine, and encouraged! This just means that you can't enter the same exact bird twice, both at 12:00, at the same place, in your account.
- Imprecise date
- eBird checklists need to be from a single calendar date: if they span multiple dates, they should be hidden by the observer.
- Protocol issue
- This is usually used for advanced eBird protocols, where there are specific requirements that need to be followed.
- Checklist issue
- This rare reason is used for issues that are not otherwise covered above or have multiple issues, such as checklists with issues with Location, Date, Protocol etc.
eBird Review Code of Conduct
eBirders and reviewers are expected to always treat each other with mutual respect, regardless of their position on a bird record. If behavior towards a reviewer is inappropriate, an eBird account may be set to personal-only. If behavior from a reviewer is inappropriate, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will investigate the concerns.
eBird accounts may be set to personal-only if:
- Abusive or threatening language is used in the course of correspondence with a reviewer.
- Offensive, threatening, abusive, or profane comments are included in eBird checklists, including checklist comments, sound recordings or photographs.
- Falsified documentation is provided to support a record, or sightings are fabricated in eBird.
- An eBird user submits large volumes of problematic data and is unreceptive to reviewer recommendations to improve.
- An eBird user is systematically unresponsive to reviewers.
In all cases of violations of the code of conduct, Team eBird will review the records and correspondence. Accounts that are set to personal-use-only will have data removed from all public displays (including all bird observations, photos and sounds).
eBird Review FAQs
Pink Cockatoo by Nicholas Bourke/Macaulay Library (ML172833451)
How can I document my birds better? eBird has several articles to help with information on how to document your birds. Please consult the following:
How can I tell if a record has been reviewed? If you can find it on the eBird Species Map, it is 'Accepted' and visible publicly. If you cannot find it, it may be: 1) blocked by another marker on the map (be sure to look in satellite mode, where you can zoom in farther); 2) still awaiting review; 3) reviewed and marked as 'Unconfirmed.' Note that there are several reasons to treat a record as not public that do not relate to the ID of the bird, including imprecise location. Plotting your location correctly is of paramount importance (see more on location specificity).
Do reviewers have to send an email about every record? We strongly recommend that reviewers give everyone a chance to defend their records and that reviewers send everyone an email. If you consistently respond to review requests with a positive demeanor, you are sure to be given a chance to provide extra information for rarities or high counts.
Does eBird follow records committee decisions? Our reviewer guidelines recommend following Records Committees for species on the review list for a given area, but do not require it. We recommend that eBird editors make preliminary judgments for rarities in real time, since eBird review proceeds much faster than review by records committees.
Can reviewers change records? It is not possible for reviewers to change any records that you contribute: a review action only determines whether something appears in public outputs, or just your personal sightings. If you add a sighting of a bird, it'll always be there until you change it.
Why is this species flagged in my area? Our reviewers use a number of considerations to set the common/rare species lists. Sometimes regular species that are hard to identify, or species that are found only at one or two sites within a region, will be flagged so that potential errors are more easily caught. Your records from expected sites for species will be easily processed.
Why were expected subspecies or 'spuhs' flagged? Since the eBird filters also define the checklist entry list, editors sometimes must strike a balance between showing the most often used options and every conceivable option for the area. If you have a 'spuh,' a hybrid, or slash combo that you feel should be added to the filter, write "Please add to filter" in the species comments along with your observation. Reviewers see these comments, so you are giving them information about what additions may be needed on the regional checklists.
How can I help with eBird review? We are always looking for more reviewers to further improve eBird's data quality, especially in the global tropics. If you have expertise with birds in your region and are passionate about eBird's data quality, please get in touch with us at email@example.com and describe your experience with birding, eBird, and where you'd be interested in helping out.