eBird Hotspots, Cool Spots, and Notspots

From “eBird Hotspots, Cool Spots, and Notspots” by Joe Roller, 2016. The Lark Bunting 52(4):2–3. ©2016 by Denver Field Ornithologists.  Reprinted with permission.

As eBird becomes more widely used (if you’ve been on a DFO field trip in the last few years, your sightings have been entered into it), it’s helpful to know how this web-site is revolutionizing birding.  A basic feature is the eBird “Hotspot.”   There are over 1,400 of them in Colorado and hundreds of thousands around the world!

What is an eBird Hotspot? Hotspot is actually a misnomer. One is better described as “a public birding location created by eBird users, where birders aggregate their checklists to paint a robust picture of the avifauna there.”  That’s a mouthful!   “Hotspot” is shorthand for all that.

Does a hotspot have to be “hot,” that is, full of great birds? The answer is no, although many are quite birdy. A lot of hotspots are small parks or ponds repeatedly checked by birders. As far as rarities and variety go, they may be lukewarm or even cool.  But information about the ebb and flow of common birds slowly accumulates in “The Big eBird Computer” at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, providing scientists with valuable data.

Must a hotspot be a “spot”? No, some “spots” are a mile or two in length, segments of hiking trails, highways, or rivers. Some are entire state parks.  Someday the website’s hotspot teardrop markers may be replaced by circles or polygons.

Can your backyard be a hotspot? No, it must be public and enduring––you may move to Hawaii. I’d call your yard a “notspot.” But it can be set up as a Personal Location, where you can keep your own checklists. Your data for species, numbers, arrival dates, breeding behaviors, etc. will still enter the universal eBird database.

Must there be safe, public parking? Yes. Roadside parking is OK if it is safe.  Can any eBirder suggest a new hotspot? Yes, just click the small box that appears on each eBird checklist. Each suggestion is reviewed to be sure it fits the definition and is not a duplicate. For example, don’t suggest “Chatfield SP” as a new hotspot. There are a few there already.

It’s best if you use eBird for a few months and get a feel for hotspots before suggesting your own. There are over 1,400 hotspots just in Colorado and hundreds of thousands around the world! Get out there and explore them!  Some hotspots have data from thousands of birding visits. For example the eBird hotspot for Cherry Creek SP has data for 322 bird species on 3,600 checklists!

At the other extreme, a new hotspot named “Mitchell Gulch trail” has only one checklist and six species so far. Over time, birders’ data will accumulate.  Where are hotspots near me? First, go to the map showing all hotspots on earth.  In the oval bubble in the upper right corner, type “Colorado.” The map is a blur, but as you zoom down to your favorite county, individual hotspots appear as distinct little teardrops. There are enough teardrops to soak all the hankies at a big wedding.

Click on a teardrop such as the bright red teardrop for Cherry Creek SP.  A lot of information pops up––the number of bird species seen there over years, the number of checklists for the park, highest numbers of individuals, bar graphs, field notes from recent visits, and more.

You can click on any eBird Hotspot to see what has been recorded there recently or what was seen in a particular month in the past. Try it out!  Not on the eBird bandwagon yet? Visit their website to join and submit your first checklist. You’ll be an “eBirder”!

While some eBird Hotspots are “hotter” than others, they are all incredibly “cool,” in that they allow us to share our bird observations at common locations.  The sightings from our birding hobby are now going into a powerful and permanent research database used by ornithologists all over the world. That’s hot!