Birders: iNaturalist and eBird

#1

OK…so I’m at a point that I’m sure others have been at/are at and I’d like to hear your thinking. I’m not a serious “birder” by any means, but I’ve become more interested/involved in it the last few years. And part of that is my posting fairly regular eBird lists/submissions.

But now I’ve discovered iNaturalist, and to be honest I find its features far easier/preferable to post my bird sightings than eBird, and thus I’m spending more time on iNat and less on eBird.

In an ideal world, I’d have time/energy to continue with regular/full participation on both. But in a world of limited time/energy, I find myself opting more often than not for iNat. I’m not fully abandoning eBird by any means, but I’ll probably limit my use to posting just more unusual sightings (rather than weekly ‘feeder’ or ‘home’ lists for example), and ultimately that means less data on eBird from me.

Are others working through the same issue? Any idea whether researchers use/will use eBird more that iNat such that I’m detracting from eBird-derived bird research by using it less?

'Any thoughts/opinions appreciated :)

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#2

ebird is great. But I look at it as two fairly different activities. I post a lot of bird photos on iNaturalist, especially in the in-between areas that have no hot spot on ebird. I am not great with bird identification still, so I much prefer to have someone confirm my observation. I greatly respect the people who can keep a 40 species checklist as they hike but to someone like me who isn’t certain of anything they see it’s much preferable to try to get a picture and keep moving and id things later. If I see something that I know hasn’t been spotted in an area I’ll go over to ebird and post it there also. I have thought about trying to write something to export bird observations to ebird but it seems like they want complete checklists with counts but I’m not positive about that. I really like that with inaturalist you can really see exactly where the hotspot actually is much more specifically.

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#3

I started eBird before finding iNat but eBird is still my primary tool for birding. If I needed to have a decent photo or sound file for every bird, I would have very few records. I try to get a few photos so I can have some birds in iNat but many birds are too fast, too far away, or only heard briefly.

I really like both but birds go into eBird and other things that are cool (and I get evidence collected) go into iNat.

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#4

For me the biggest thing was getting over the ‘stigma’ of putting casual non photo records into iNat. Once i got over that, and realized it was fine, I pretty much dropped using Ebird. In my particular case there were also some highly localized, specific issues that were pushing me away from Ebird as well.

I dont think it makes any difference in terms of researchers. Data is actrually easier to get out of iNaturalist, and both feed into GBIF (at least Research Grade from iNat).

The one thing I do wish iNat would implement from Ebird (and many other taxon specific similar sites) is a standard way to track quantity of individuals seen.

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#5

Great question Colin.

I started with eBird before iNaturalist, but like you there a lot of features about iNaturalist that I think are better than eBird.

A lot of birders don’t know about iNaturalist, but I would argue that it’s actually a better site for sharing rare bird sitings than eBird currently is. In iNaturalist, the community can quickly review and discuss identification of individual rare birds. Moreover, it shares the precise location of the observation rather than a “hotspot” location. All this in my opinion makes it better than eBird for sharing rare bird sightings. I think over time it’s conceivable that birders will migrate to iNaturalist for sharing and discussing rare bird sightings.

The strength of eBird is that it records count data and this will undoubtedly be much more valuable data for researchers who are trying to track trends in bird populations over time. Generally if you have count data you should enter it to eBird.

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#6

I will add that at times I think Ebird users are more addicted to the rare bird alerts they can have it sent to them than the actual site itself, which of course is not functionality which iNaturalist has.

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#7

Good point.

#8

Sometimes I use one, sometimes I use both. It depends on which website my goals align better with at the time and how much brain space I’m devoting to bird counts.
Scenario 1: I’m going on a nature walk and am mostly paying attention to birds.
Destination: eBird, 'cause I’m probably using my binocs more than my camera
Scenario 2: I’m going on a nature walk and there’s a balance of birds and non-birds.
Destination: Both.
Scenario 3: I’m going on a nature walk and end up with so much non-bird stuff that my processor is full up with it (I’m actively working on other clades atm, so there’s currently a high chance of this). I don’t have space for counts on top of the other things.
Destination: iNaturalist
Scenario 4: I’m on a new continent.
Destination: eBird, 'cause I’m devoting my processing power to counting and seeing as many lifers as possible. Later on when my fan stops running, I’ll post stuff to iNaturalist. Particularly if that area has a lack of posts.

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#9

I’m an avid user of both platforms, in addition to an ecological modeler, so I thought I would point out some of the primary differences from the perspective of a researcher interested in using the data. tl;dr - iNat = less noisy but less useful data, ebird = more noisy but (potentially) more useful data.

From a science perspective, iNat provides presence-only data with no information about effort. This is the least useful type of ecological data and can’t really be used for any studies of abundance or population trends, and is tricky to use even for questions about simple occurrence/range. The flip side is that the data may have a low error rate (and with some effort you could correct or quantify it for the data of interest because record have some physical, reviewable evidence).

eBird provides count data and, probably more importantly, information on both presence and absence as well as survey effort in complete checklists. This type of data can, in theory, be used to model things like species’ abundance, population trends, and other interesting ecological questions. The major issue with eBird is that the data are very noisy and have unknown, heterogeneous rates of error between users. These error rates are very difficult and often impossible to account for in models.

Personally, I have yet to see a publication using eBird data that adequately accounted for the noise in that data (and several that have results that are essentially nonsense because of this). iNat data would presumably avoid most of these issues, but unfortunately wouldn’t be useful to answer >90% of questions ecologists are interested in.

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#10

I’m a heavy user of both iNat and eBird and I can honestly say there are features I like about both and features missing from both.

eBird Pros:
-Has a checklist function (groups observations into a single visit to a single geographic area)
-Doesn’t require photos for data quality; easier to keep counts of individuals and species
-Super user-friendly app
-Allows users to share checklists (equivalent of sharing observations)

eBird Cons:
-Data verification/assessment is non-transparent; no one knows what the reviewers think of your data, sometimes little transparency in why rarities are confirmed or not.
-Not easy to post photos and annotations on the mobile app
-Very few data querying capabilities (no filters in the “explore” page)

iNat Pros:
-Transparent review process, ability to interact with other users and experts, ability to review others’ observations
-Easy to post photos and data annotations
-Amazingly robust data querying capabilities
-Attractive, sleek website

iNat Cons:
-Observations require to be verifiable otherwise they get lumped with a dog’s breakfast of other “casual” grade observations
-No checklist function; each species or individual organism needs to be submitted separately
-No ability to share observations
-Clunky app (sorry, but it’s still clunky. The website is awesome, though).

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#11

Great questions and great responses all around. I came to iNaturalist after eBird. I struggle(d) with the some of the same questions but in the last few years here are the personal patterns that have emerged around my daily usage of both sites:

I do daily checklists on eBird, sometimes multiple lists at different times of day in the same location and sometimes several lists in several locations. My personal interest in doing these lists is to get a feel over the years for some very specific bird behavior, timing, patterns etc. for my “patch.” and to be able to eventually look back and evaluate trends and changes out of curiosity. Hopefully, I’m helping scientific research in some way too by having clear occurrence and count data.

I also make almost daily observations on iNat of other organisms and include birds when: 1) I want to document a special sighting (special for any number of reasons) with or without photo and 2) if I capture a verifiable photo of the individual. The other factor in deciding to add bird sightings to iNaturalist is that I can search my observations very easily whereas I find eBird lists highly difficult to find without scrolling and searching for a long time. So, if I see something that I have a lot to say about or want to remember and be able to easily locate, I will use iNat.

I do duplicate my observations occasionally and I never make a bird observation on iNat without having submitted it to eBird as well.

The exception to this rule is in places where I have no service because I can take a photo in iNat and it will record my location but with eBird, creating an offline checklist doesn’t always work and then I get frustrated. In such cases, I will just use iNat.

Not being able to add photos with the eBird app is another motivator to post birds to iNat. Aside: I also feel totally unwelcome in posting my low-quality photos to eBird so only really do so if I have captured something interesting or rare (i.e.: proving we had a western tanager, etc.).

If iNat eventually had some way to incorporate eBird style bird checklists complete with counts, easy scrolling breeding bird codes, etc. (to capture the data @fogartyf was explaining) I would probably not have much to do with eBird anymore. I try to add observation fields for my bird obs on iNat but that’s recent. eBird’s advantage is the easy drop-down with no extra steps to record BBCs and numbers. I wish both apps (iNat and eBird) had more annotation accessibility in the app.

I get a million times what I put into iNat back out of it and for me eBird is something I give data to but don’t get much from because I don’t spend much time on the website and they’re very much a one-way street community-wise.

Overall, I think that until iNat can capture the data that eBird does, I’ll continue to use both daily and I hope you consider submitting in both places. iNat is way more engaging and fun for me and I’m constantly pulled into more involvement whereas eBird is a thing I do to be part of a citizen science effort and not much else.

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#12

You hit the nail on the head and explained it well for non-researchers.

I am also in population modeling and ecological statistics. While I haven’t used ebird data in any research yet, I was surprised to hear from other researchers how high the rate of inaccurate identification/ false positives was on eBird. I know some wildlife statisticians interested in trying to correct for this in the models, but as you said it’s tough. I think it would be cool to try build population models that could integrate ebird and inaturalist data in a way that that borrows from the strength of both. (more valid IDs on iNat, better effort and abundance data on ebird). Perhaps using documented misidentification rates on iNaturalist to estimate the undocumented misidentification rates on ebird.

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#13

This is so TRUE! I doubted it when I joined iNaturalist, but I think iNaturalist has been much more powerful in this regard. The iNat community is really awesome.

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#14

@andy71 I’ve been working with some colleagues on possibly doing the things you’ve outlined in the last few sentences, but it is a daunting task! The transferability of identification accuracy between the two platforms with different user bases also probably is a problem, as is the tricky nut of whether users identify species more accurately when they photograph them compared to when they don’t (I suspect this may be true).

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#15

These are both really great points about eBird (and might reflect on the birding community in general). eBird has always been “for experts, by experts” and will likely never have the open community that iNat has.

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#16

Great discussion. I use both platforms/apps too. I would love to see iNat -> eBird integration, so that whenever I upload an observation of a bird on iNat and the ID is confirmed, it’s added as an incidental observation on eBird, with the corresponding timestamp / location.

Like someone else said, if iNat made it easier to compile lists of observations (based on local species distribution), whether or not they include a photo, I’d probably start using eBird much less.

A related thread on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ReaderMeter/status/1113925137714302976

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#17

Wow…great and so helpful discussion, particularly from some of you “power users” and those who have some perspective on how the data is actually being used from both. This is really helping me understand both platforms more thoroughly.

'Just want to make sure it’s clear that I was intended to be critical of eBird; I listened to a podcast recently in which one of their data staff was walking through all the ways eBird was improving data management, plugging into projects. I guess I’m most just feeling a little guilty for getting as much content into eBird as I once did, and trying to find a way to tackle that going forward…

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#18

While bulk iNat data may be presence-only data that’s not very useful for answering most ecological questions, keep in mind that there are projects inside iNat that contain more structured data. eBird has been much better than iNat at standardising and promoting the collection of structured data.

However, it’s still possible on iNat. I’ve been doing it for years with my undergraduate students (eg https://inaturalist.org/projects/search?utf8=✓&q=ecol202). iNat only gets clunky in cases where none of the sort for species were found. In that case we use an observation with no ID and the observation field Taxon sought but not found added.

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#19

I use eBird and iNaturalist daily, and while there are certainly critiques for both platforms, I find that using both offers a great balance between more valuable (from a modeling sense) citizen science data i.e. eBird and a broader and more engaging community i.e. iNaturalist. For all of the reasons @fogartyf outlined above, eBird’s presence & absence checklist data is superior to iNaturalist’s comparatively simple presence data. That being said, the support of the iNaturalist team, both from users/identifiers and from curators and the creators of iNaturalist far outshines the support offered by eBird.

For my bird observations, I will upload complete checklists to eBird whenever possible, utilizing both hotspots and many personal locations, and will post bird observations to iNaturalist when I am able to get an ID’able photo. The gray area between eBird and iNaturalist can be very confusing for people, and I certainly understand the ‘safety net’ of identifying through iNaturalist, however it’s worth keeping in mind that you can always use the “dabbling duck sp.” or “Sharp-shinned/Cooper’s Hawk” type entries for birds you are unsure of.

Long story short, I feel that my bird observations will be more valuable in the future when they are entered in eBird, and when time allows I will add bird photos to iNaturalist.

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#20

I do applied ecological inventory work (as in working for a government entity not publishing papers) and for that sort of ecology work I do use inat a lot both for collecting data and seeing what others have seen in an area. Also getting a feel for plant range and such. I do also sometimes use ebird to get a feel for bird habitat value of wetlands people visit a lot. But since it’s hot spot based less small wetlands are represented.

I’ve barely used ebird because I’m not a big birder. Something like it for plant inventory could be interesting. But mostly I can use inat for that.

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