All About Birds: Definitive Resource or Group Effort?

By Hugh Powell
November 24, 2008
Zone-tailed Hawk All About Birds species accounts Zone-tailed Hawk. Photo by Ned Harris via Birdshare.

The fall migrants are gone, the pond is frozen, and the tree branches once again have more Hairy Woodpeckers than leaves. It was 14 degrees here yesterday: time to dive back in to our website redesign.

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So here’s a question we grapple with in nearly every meeting we hold. Do you want a site that tells you what you want to know, or a meeting place where you share what you want to know? My hunch is it’s probably a mix of the two. For example, we’re pretty sure people turn to our All About Birds species accounts to learn the basics about a species from a source – the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – that knows what it’s talking about.

But do you ever wish you could add a comment, caveat, or correction at the bottom of the page? Or, to be more radical (some might say 21st-century) would you prefer a Wikipedia-style All About Birds, where users can register and then edit the actual species accounts themselves?

Our flickr group, Birdshare, and the comments you leave on this blog are just two examples of great ways our readers can contribute to the site, but there are plenty more. What about favorite birding spots? Years ago, we compiled a list of our own favorites across the country – but this is clearly an area where local knowledge rules. So if you had a place where you could share your birding tips – right down to which rusted mailbox you turn left at, and which diner to stop at for lunch –  would you use it? Or might you prefer for the less well-known spots to stay that way? On the road – chasing that Zone-tailed Hawk, perhaps – would you have faith in somebody’s anonymous recommendations?

For now, our list of favorite spots is here. We’ll be revamping it, expanding it, and making it easier to navigate in the coming redesign. Would you like to be involved?


  • Robinsegg

    Definetly use the favorite birding spots. Not only would it be useful for finding birds in an unfamiliar area, it could allow a forum to discuss the place, by virtue of shared or anticipated experiences. Flickr does an okay(could use improvement in the non-photo aspects of posting) job of allowing this visual contact, but I believe flickr birders are yearning for more.

  • I think I would prefer to NOT have the user input on the species accounts unless it is heavily monitored. I really like the idea that I know that the information I am getting is quality information and not like Wikipedia where I am never really sure if it is correct.

    I do think it would be a good idea to have a place for good birding spots for each species. For example, say I want to find the Florida Scrub Jay. I could go to the Florida Scrub Jay page and there would be a link that directed me to places (provided by the user) where it is likely to be found.

  • I like Greg’s idea, but with a twist: on the individual species pages, link to locations where the species has been spotted recently or in some user-defined timeframe. The nice thing about the eBird maps is it also shows where it a species *isn’t* being seen (i.e. it shows all the locations of checklists with or without the species). To this summary might be added user-submitted information (perhaps driven through an eBird 3.0 site?).

  • Knowing where and when to see birds would be a very interesting addition to the site.

    Sourcing those locations from flickr (geotagged photos) and ebird (accurate counts) wouldn’t be too challenging, and easy to display on the info pages themselves. Displaying the photos with the locations is even more powerful.

    I get most of my birding location tips from geotagged photos on flickr. ;)

  • JW

    I would prefer enhancement to eBird, rather than yet another site to visit. For example, from eBird, I could link to the species account (written by experts, please!). I like the idea of sharing where to find each bird, depending on the season. User input would be great there. Other ideas you’ve mentioned in the past should be incorporated into eBird, not another product. These include: RSS feed lists, ability to attach images (which are also part of the feed), identification tips/similar species.

  • JW – I think integration into ebird would make sense. It’s an existing community of active birders and scientists that would be interested in the information.

    However, allaboutbirds likely hits a different set of users – more amateurs, less technical, mostly interested in information, maybe some information on tracking, usually photos of the bird.

    ebird caters to the active birder, and takes time to figure out – it’s a toolset for a very specific task. Some functionality even requires you to register. I think it’s a different audience.

    allaboutbirds should be simple and intuitive. It’s already a great place for information and has a loyal following (i reference it constantly for my bird id’s on flickr).

    I think integrating geotagged information (photos, sightings, maybe videos, calls) hits the ‘share’ demographic – who wouldn’t want to see their photo or sighting information referenced from allaboutbirds! While it also satisfies those who want allaboutbirds to ‘tell’ them about a particular species – integration of sightings and photographs in the users area = greater education and introduction into ‘what ornithology is’ or ‘what birding is’.

    Make the experience personal – using the flickr/ebird, tell users on allaboutbirds when and where the bird was last spotted in the users region, what population numbers are like, etc. You’ve got the info.. share it!

    allaboutbirds would make a great gateway into project feeder watch, ebird, other initiatives, etc.

  • JW

    Alternatives to eBird have been released in the past year or two that integrate more sharing/blogging features. BirdStack is the one that comes to mind, although there are others. Some claim to be compatible with eBird — which really means downloading the tables and massaging data and field names.

    I’m a semi-serious birder, who wants the best of both worlds! I want to help scientists with my observations as well as share my lists with family and friends. If you know of an “ideal” solution, please let me know!

    I’d hate to see eBird not attract newer and younger birders because it didn’t stay on top of the features they want. I see your point re: audiences, but I would ask that eBird be a little more welcoming to the new. I know I was intimidated by terms I didn’t understand, so avoided it for about a year.

    Part of being more welcoming would be to link to All About Birds and location info, etc. Stuff that could easily be ignored by the advanced but would help new folks ID their sightings — and avoid errors entered into eBird.

  • JW

    What about something simple like, in eBird, a link that says “help me ID my bird.” Clicking there would go the future All About Birds ID tool as well as maybe a forum for uploading mystery photos for the community to assist with. (Yes to tagging/geotagging.)

    If you really want to keep audiences distinct, what about a data entry interface for the more social Web 2.0 birders with all the trimmings where you could opt to include an observation in eBird (and more data points would appear and be required)? The products should be truly integrated, so the data was stored in both places. And share a log-on!

  • eryn

    l luv birds……

  • Hugh

    Thanks for the lively discussion – it’s always great to hear what people who use our sites think. We’re definitely moving toward more integration between All About Birds and eBird. Though there are differences in the casual All About Birds reader and your classic gung-ho birder, we do want to make it easy for anyone to use and benefit from eBird. And, vice versa, we do want to use the incredible data resource of eBird to make All About Birds more informative and more current. So please keep your ideas and comments coming! Thanks – Hugh

  • Jean & Mike

    In species accounts, I’d like to see photos of individuals from different parts of the country as there are often regional variations. I bird in Texas where I can bird all year, and winter plumages and behavior are something that’s weak in a lot of field guides. Also, more photos of juveniles in various states of plumages. This would help me ID birds in spring. Lastly, we really need more complete sound recordings.

  • Laurel Carpenter

    I agree with Greg; species accounts should have a single source with citations, rather than based on user contributions. But other venues for users to add information is a great idea.

  • Jean & Mike

    First, I like having a rich mix of venues for a mix of activities: Birdshare, Round Robin (for participatory topical discussion), eBird (for logging and mining measurements), BNA (providing an unadultered authoritative source of information), etc. That way, each venue has the freedom to use technology to its best advantage for its purpose. Each of these venues have their own tone and group of participants, and I like that.

    I would like to have access to local knowledge about good birding sites, their history (things change all the time and info gets out of date), and what to expect in different in different seasons. Perhaps a blog format would be best. That way, there could be one entry per site, making it easy to find, but with lots of comments where people add their special knowledge, notes, reflections, and answers to other people’s questions. It could also link to preset lists from ebird, e.g. November for the past 5 years, so that birders going to that site know what to expect.

    Lastly, I agree with someone else’s remarks about a more social web 2.0 interface. But not for eBrid. I think you ought to offer a way for people to maintain their personal lists (with the social web 2.0 interface) because that serves a need you don’t yet fulfill. It’d be a huge draw for all kinds of birders. You could get drag-and-drop brid photos that automatically link to All about Birds entries or BNA entries. End-users could then build their own albums. You’d have to figure out how to bridge the personal listing interface to Bird so you could gather more eBrid data.

All About Birds: Definitive Resource or Group Effort?