Using eBird with Students
eBird is a free and easy-to-use online data collection project that allows “regular” people to help scientists by sharing bird observations online. By participating in eBird, students develop authentic science skills and contribute to a project that helps inform bird conservation. We hope this page will serve as a tool to help you successfully use eBird with students.
1) Create a class eBird Account.
Become familiar with eBird and citizen science before introducing it to your students. Create an eBird account for your class, assigning a username and password that you can share with students. Access the Quick Start Guide and helpful articles to build your understanding of and comfort with using eBird. Be sure to read the Quick Start Guide carefully to understand exactly what information you will need to know (start time, duration or distance covered) when you submit your count.
2) Introduce your students to “citizen science.”
Explain to students that the data they collect is important to scientists. In order to provide complete and correct data, students need to be able to accurately identify and count birds. The data they collect will be used by professional scientists who need precise and accurate information in order to understand bird abundance and distribution. One seventh grader put it best when she said, “Scientists can’t be everywhere, so kids from all over can record data and send it in.” You may wish to share your own experience as a citizen scientist.
3) Teach bird ID basics.
Teach your students the basics of bird identification, both in the classroom and in the field. Start by teaching students to identify the birds they are most likely to see locally. Here are a few tips and resources for beginning bird watchers.
Consider choosing one or a few “birds of the day” for the students to learn or ask each child to become an expert of one local bird. The Bird ID Cards can help make quizzing kids easy (you can make your own cards for local birds). Bundle these birds into a class field guide. Explore the All About Birds pages for the birds you learn to identify so students can see, hear, and learn details about them.
Be sure to take students outside to practice bird identification skills in the field. Birding really is a skill that gets better with practice!
If you need more support, the BirdSleuth: Most Wanted Birds curriculum has detailed lesson plans and tools to help you teach bird ID step by step.
4) Collect eBird data.
Begin collecting eBird data when you feel confident in your students’ ability to accurately identify and count birds. Remind them why their data are important and need to be reliable, encouraging students to record only data about which they are confident. You may want to create your own guidelines, such as, “at least two students must see and identify a bird in order to count it.” Download and use the Bird Count Tally Sheet or have students collect data in a bird journal or notebook.
If students have counted individually, in pairs, or in groups, summarize your class data before entering it into eBird. This is useful because it will allow you to double-check the accuracy of the data and also compile the data into one master class list (Note: you should not enter multiple lists containing essentially the same data into eBird). Save your master lists so you can demonstrate to students their growing body of data both in print and online.
6) Enter the master checklist into eBird.
Note that the eBird system is “smart.” Based on your location and the time of year, when you go to submit your sightings, the observation submission checklist presents the possible birds in order of how likely it is you saw that bird. This feature is intended to make data submission much easier and faster for you. If you are certain your saw a species that is not listed at the top, you can scroll down to find that species or you can use the menu on the right of the screen to order the species alphabetically or by scientific name.
Improbable data are “flagged,” by the system and you may be asked to submit a photo or description of a bird that is rare. In some cases, a regional editor might contact you to ask if your report could contain a mistake. The regional editor will work with you to determine the validity of the questionable entry.
Share data submission tasks with students. You might let groups of two to three students take turns entering the data into the class eBird account you created. Eventually some or all of your students may become interested in collecting data at home or out of class. Encourage them to create their own eBird accounts. As long as they have an email address, this should be an easy task for them. The class “master counts” can be shared with these individuals by selecting “Share with Others in Your Party” on the final eBird Checklist page.
7) Consider inquiry investigations.
Use what your students have learned and the questions they ask as a springboard to authentic inquiry! When doing a bird count for eBird, you may wish to also collect data about the temperature, precipitation, and other environmental factors that might affect the birds you see. This would allow students to later correlate these variables with their counts. You can enter any details in the “comments” section of each eBird checklist you submit. Students may begin to make predictions or draw conclusions about what they observe. For example, after observing for a while, a student might ask questions such as: Do more chickadees visit when it is snowing? Do birds visit the feeder less when it is raining? Do crows scare away other birds? Our BirdSleuth: Investigating Evidence free download will help you. You might consider having students explore eBird data via your tally sheets and by using the “View and Explore Data” tab in eBird. Students can answer a broad range of questions using eBird data:
- How do our counts compare with eBird counts throughout the county/state?
- How do group sizes of birds vary during the year?
- When do hummingbirds or other migratory birds come back to this area?
Our new self-paced course, Integrating Inquiry for Educators: Developing Student Science Practices, is designed to help educators explore the process of inquiry and scientific investigation, especially as inspired by outdoor observations and citizen-science participation. Our popular Investigating Evidence curriculum is the “textbook” for the course.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should every student have an account? We don’t think so, at least not at first. We recommend that you create a class eBird account and after completing a count come to consensus as a class, and submit that data. If one or more students in your group get excited about eBird, let them create their own account. eBird gives you the ability to share checklists with these students.
What if my students’ data is wrong? Consider these possible responses if you are concerned about a student’s identification of a species:
What makes you think it was that species? Do the field marks match?
Is that species found here at this time of year?
Is that species found in this habitat?
What other species could it have been? What makes you confident that it was that species?
Let’s not enter that bird this time, since we aren’t sure about it. The next time you see that species, point it out to the class so we can figure it out together!
It Happened in Class: Summarizing Bird Counts
This conversation was overheard as Mrs. Toth’s class summarized their bird data for the first time:
Mrs. Toth: What birds did you see when we were outside?
James: I saw three American Crows.
Mrs. Toth: Yes, I actually counted two crws. Are you pretty sure you saw three different birds?
James: Yes. Two were flying together and later I saw another on eperched in a tree in another area. I don’t think they were the same birds.
Mrs. Toth: Did anyone see more than three?
Resana: Katie and I wrote down five on our list. I think we saw the two flying ones that James saw, and we saw three that were perched in trees. I think they were all different birds, too.
Mrs. Toth: We’ll write down five, then. What other birds did you see?
Katie: We also saw two seagulls.
Mrs. Toth: What kind of gulls? Aren’t there several species of gulls around here?
Katie: I don’t know what knid they were. I just wrote down “seagull.”
Mrs. Toth: Did anyone who saw the gulls look them up in a field guide or sketch them?
Mrs. Toth: Well, we can’t count those gulls; we need to know what species they are. Let’s look in our field guides. Next time we see gulls, what should we look for?
Students: The size of the gull…whether it has a ring around its beak…whether it has a red spot on its beak… what color its winds are.
Mrs. Toth: In this area, what are the common gulls we might see?
Terry: The Herring Gull and the Red-billed Gull. It says both are common. But the Herring Gull looks a lot bigger and has a different beak.
Mrs. Toth: Nest time we see gulls, we shoud look for those field marks. Maybe we can figure it out during another count!
Bella: Could we write down “gull” in the notes section, to remind us that we saw them?
Mrs. Toth: That’s a great idea! I’ll add “two unknown gulls” to the notes section.
What other resources are available from BirdSleuth?
Although eBird is easy to use, many educators, especially those new to bird identification and birding, want additional support and guidance. This post will help you begin to use eBird with students in classroom or homeschool environments. Some of the information was taken from our BirdSleuth: Most Wanted Birds kit, a complete curriculum that is available for purchase. It contains lessons, student journal pages, Reference Guide, a set of full color Bird ID Cards, and a DVD with sound files, video files, and PowerPoint presentations.