Wednesday, August 9, 2017

eBird basics: The species comments box

For every entry that one makes in eBird, one has the option to provide comments.  You can put whatever you want in the comment section, but for flagged reports, details that describe the bird and eliminate other species, or how you documented a high count, are needed. Why should I add such information? This provides the information up front and saves the local reviewer time, effort, and, possibly, annoyance. Observers may also come to pay closer attention to details on uncommon and rare species, subsequently increasing observer skills, and providing valuable information that's archived for people 10 or 20+ years down the road.

Each species, subspecies, and undetermined entry has a comments box that is accessed by clicking on the "Add Details" button to the right of the species (or other entry) name (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. The "Add Details" button that leads to the species-comments box (see below).

Clicking on that button leads to opening what eBird calls the "Details" box (Fig. 2).  It is intended as a place to put comments on the species (etc.) that one is reporting.

Figure 2. The opened species-comment box. Other useful features shown in this figure include the "Show Rarities" box (check it if the species you wish to report is not on the checklist) and the "Add species" link if that species still does not show after checking the "Show Rarities" box.
One can add most anything to this box that one wishes; it sees a lot of use.  Such comments, are varied and "include things like "Life bird #263;" "bird was visiting the right-most feeder in the back yard;" "I would not have seen it if it weren't for the ball game being pre-empted;" or "in a tree."

As I wrote, one can put nearly whatever one wishes in that box.  What eBird reviewers wish, however, is that more eBirders would use that box to provide details on how that bird or those birds were identified or at how the reported number was arrived?  For species that the local filter considers rare, provide details on features that were noted that enable identification, with the amount of detail proportional to the level of rarity.  Perhaps more importantly, provide notes on what features were noted that rule out other, similar-appearing species.  [See an article about just such.]  For entries that are flagged due to a high number, a simple comment on how the number was derived is what we want:  "counted 1x1," "counted by 10s," or "estimate" usually suffice.

For minor rarities or slightly out-of-season birds, a sentence or sentence fragment listing the aspects of the bird seen/heard may be all that is needed (e.g., "red, crested bird with black mask," "large bird of prey... white head and tail, dark brown body," or "long, slow, wolf whistle coming from above ground").  Indeed, for most entries that the relevant eBird filter flags, causing you to have to confirm your entry, such examples are often all that the local reviewer would need to allow the report into the public database.  For rarer events or trickier IDs, more details on the bird or birds' identification would be needed (Fig. 3).  If one has a photo or photos and if one is entering the data via the eBird app, then providing the comment "photo" or "I have photos" is fine as a place-holder, but not as a final comment.  If one has photos, please upload them using the "Media" tab (Fig 2).

Figure 3. Reviewer-useful comments on a species that is only slightly rare, but is a somewhat-tricky subspecies identification.
For even rarer occurrences, be prepared to provide quite a lot of information in this box, preferably with a photo or photos and/or audio files added to the species entry via the "Media" tab (Fig 2; also see this Eastern Meadowlark example).

Particularly if one is reporting a checklist using the eBird app, putting the comment in that you have a photo or photos is fine, as long as one soon thereafter uploads the photo into the checklist.

So, why do this?  The easiest answer to that question is that it will save time in the long run.  Any flagged entry is liable to be queried by the local reviewer.  Why wait?  Why have to go through the query-response cycle (or the query-response-query-response, etc. cycle)?  Providing the information up front saves that local reviewer time, effort, and, possibly, annoyance.  It is a good thing to do in the care and feeding of your local eBird reviewer.

Finally, some observers question why a particular report is flagged and use the comments box to post it.  This is fine.  However, some of us have spent a LOT of time fine-tuning the filters that govern what is flagged and where, and being rude about that query is not at all helpful.  Instead of terse comments such as "not rare," something like "Could you explain why this entry is flagged?"  Except in a few filters in Colorado and Wyoming that have not seen a lot of work in recent years, there is good rationale behind the various filter limits.  We suggest that you check previous posts on this blog, as your question may have been answered there.

Tony Leukering, Scott Somershoe, Steve Mlodinow, and Kathy Mihm Dunning