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School of Environment and Natural Resources


SENR Picks with Chris Tonra

May. 27, 2020
SENR Picks

SENR Picks 
with Chris Tonra


Dr. Chris Tonra

Learn about eBird - a citizen science project and birding tool in this SENR Picks.

eBird - a project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

SENR:  What is eBird or how does it work?

eBird is a citizen science project and birding tool.  It allows birders to catalog all of their sightings, but also asks them to keep track of their effort each time they go birding (e.g. time spent, number of observers, distance travelled).  By doing this it standardizes all of their sightings such that it is much more useful for research.  The data collected is also used to provide tools for birders to inform their activities (e.g. locations and abundances of species, numbers of species being seen at particular locations).  Because of this, eBird has been widely accepted as the go-to location for all birding information, and is becoming almost as indispensable as binoculars.  This widespread use also means that there is an enormous amount of scientific information to be gained. So, win-win!

SENR:  What do you like about eBird?

As a birder I like that it is very user-friendly and provides a record of everything I have seen.  As a scientist, it has become an invaluable tool to track things like how bird populations move, how timing of bird migration has changed in the past decades, and it provides the best maps of species distributions we have ever had.  Some incredibly impactful research has already emerged, such as documenting the variation in how bird populations are responding to to climate change.

SENR:  How does eBird connect to the work you do? 

We use their distribution maps often to inform much of the tracking we do of migratory populations.  Many of those techniques have a lot of uncertainty, and eBird models help us reduce that.

SENR:  Who do you think might like eBird or use eBird?

Anybody who is even casually a bird watcher has a lot to gain from using eBird.  It is a treasure trove of information and a gateway fror beginners to get even more involved.

SENR:  Anything else about eBird you’d like to share?

eBird is becoming somewhat of a social platform to connect birders, if you choose to configure your account that way.  It is also linking to many other monitoring and research efforts to provide information on species, like state-level Breeding Bird Atlases.

Here is a link to one of the really cool products from eBird data, these animated maps of how bird populations move throughout the year (this one for Wood Thrush). These are being done for every North American species!  Researchers can pull information from these models to learn where birds are at specific times of year.

Dr. Tonra is an avian ecologist interested in the behavior and movement ecology, and full annual cycle conservation of birds.  He received an M.Sc. in Wildlife Ecology from Humboldt State University and a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from the University of Maine.  Prior to joining the faculty at The Ohio State University he was a post-doctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, where he researched interactions between salmon and bird populations, and responses to the largest dam removal in history on the Elwha River.  Currently his research focuses on filling knowledge gaps in the annual cycles of declining bird populations to facilitate their conservation.  This work involves utilizing advanced tracking technologies, physiological ecology, and habitat ecology.  In his spare time Chris is an avid birder, gardener, hiker, and kayak angler.

Find out more about some of the research conducted by Dr. Tonra and his lab in this Ohio State News release, "A songbird’s fate hinges on one fragile area" that highlights the findings of a study published in the journal The Condor: Ornithological Applications.

SENR Picks is a periodic update on resources and educational materials focused on environment and natural resource topics highlighted by faculty, staff and students of the School of Environment and Natural Resources.

Posted on May 27, 2020.