Birding checklists are an integral part of the birding experience. ebird.org, as defined in their website, is this massive dataset where birders from all over the world contribute their observations to create rich data sources for basic information on bird abundance and distribution around the world and in real time. The myriad of practical applications drawn from ebird.org data includes keeping track of bird lists, discovering the best hotspots for a specific bird species, and exploring interactive range maps by species or subspecies.
On this post, I’ll show you a 10 steps process to use the power of ebird.org data for you to create insanely useful birding checklists that will go beyond the mere information on what birds to find at a location but also what is the likelihood (in %) of finding them at specific time ranges.
I use this knowledge to create the birding checklists for Icaro Birding in all of our tours. The following example follows the process used to create the birding checklist for a 6 days tour to the Caribbean Coast of Colombia including the almighty Santa Marta mountains. You can easily apply this to any possible destination as long as you have access to a spreadsheet program like Excel or Google Sheets. With that being said, let’s get to work.
10 Steps to create insanely useful Birding Checklists
1. Go to ebird.org and more specifically to explore hotspots
2. Type and find the name of the place you may want to visit, in this case: Via Parque Isla de Salamanca
3. There are 3 options right under the number of species (305 species) in the example, go for Bar Charts
4. This is what it looks like. I have already modified the Date Range so to focus on observations that happened between Dec-Feb in the last 10 years. I want to create a birding checklist for a January tour
5. At the bottom-right of the list, go ahead and click on Download Histogram Data
6. This now creates a .txt file in a location on your computer that you need to open in Excel (or Google sheets) – For Google Sheets go to File – Import
7. The import file options will pop up. We want to have data for each location in a separate tab of the same spreadsheet – for that, we select Replace current sheet and No convert text to numbers and dates, then click Import
8. This is how the imported ebird.org raw data looks like… the beginning of insanely useful birding checklists
Anyone knows somebody at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology?
9. For a reason beyond my understanding, ebird.org data comes in sets of 4 per month (and includes all months) even though I asked for a 10-year range and only from Dec-Feb… Oh boy… hopefully, this post reaches the right people at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology who may shed some light on the matter. Anyhow, now we need to massage the data in order to create insanely useful birding checklists:
- The Sample Size ROW needs to be added up at the end, in column AX. You may need to highlight and style the entire ROW as number in order to make it work ->
It becomes an inch technical but bear with me
- Now, let’s think for a moment on what we have here. Every data point on the right from a bird species name means the times it has shown up as per sample size. In other words, a Brown Pelican 0.66 for Nov with a sample size of 3 means that in 66% of the lists submitted to ebird.org the species appeared (in 2 of them). Since we want to give more weight to observations from a larger Sample Size, we use the SUMPRODUCT formula as shown next
- Since we divided the result of the SUMPRODUCT formula by the SUM of Sample Size we now have a Ponderate weight in % of each bird species 🙂 -> Copy and Paste to every ROW in the spreadsheet and obtain something like this
- I have changed the style of Column AX to % (for all values but Sample Size total). This is it, the way I interpret the results is that for instance, there is a 47.44% chance of seeing the Blue-winged Teal in Via Parque Isla de Salamanca in January – and that is the process to create insanely useful birding checklists
10. What I do after finishing with one location is to open a NEW TAB next to Sheet1 and do the same for the next location. At the end, I compile all results on a clean sheet, (which, is material for a next post) thus having insanely useful birding checklists readily available to Icaro Birding clients. Let me know what you think and please add to the conversation. I am sure some of you do amazing things using the power of ebird.org -> Have a look at the final birding checklists for the Caribbean Coast itinerary after working all the nuances:
And a final word
That is the final birding checklist, it has all possible species for the tour and the % of being seen in January. And just to make it clear, I am not saying that for sure we will have a 47% chance of seeing the Tricolored Heron at Salamanca. What I suggest, (and therefore the color scheme) is that there is a good chance of seeing it. Stay tuned for a follow-up post where we will go through the nuances to get to the final birding checklists. I’ll be more than happy to share the Excel or Google Sheet document with the formulas for your attention, just talk to me and keep Icaro Birding in mind for your future birding adventures. We are kind of nerds when it comes to birding 🙂