Citizens Powering World’s Largest Bird Census

Reference article on Science Daily
A recent 2021 study innovatively combines citizen science observations and detailed computer algorithms to estimate just how many birds make up the populations of over 9700 different bird species, including emus and penguins! Four bird species have an estimated global population of over a billion: The House Sparrow (1.6 billion), the European Starling (1.3 billion), Ring-billed Gull (1.2 billion) and Barn Swallow (1.1 billion), while around 12% of bird species have an estimated global population of less than 5000. These include species such as the Chinese Crested Tern, Noisy Scrub-bird, and Invisible Rail. Species’ population sizes can vary greatly! Within Australia, some birds, such as the Rainbow Lorikeet, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, and Laughing Kookaburra, number in the millions while other native Australian birds such as the Black-breasted Buttonquail have only around 100 members remaining. 

The compiled dataset includes records for 92% of currently living bird species. The remaining 8% were excluded for their extreme rarity but even with those exceptions, this study has amassed a jaw-dropping number of observations! Overall, this study incorporated sightings reported to the eBird dataset, an online site that allows citizens to report sightings of birds in their area, from over 600,000 citizen scientists with almost a billion bird sightings logged on eBird. 

Birdwatching, also known as birding, is a popular hobby that dates back to the late 18th century. Citizen scientist apps and websites such as eBird have not only made it easier for avid birders to keep track of all the species they’ve seen, but it’s made birdwatching an accessible way to engage with science. Birding is truly a hobby that can be picked up anywhere and at any time! Amateur birders can pick a handful of birds common in their area to start with and slowly build their bird encyclopedia from there. 

In Newfoundland, Canada, it’s always a cacophonous show of seabirds like the flightless puffins and soaring gannets and murres swooping, roosting, and diving; a birder’s paradise! The racket they make could rival the sound of the crashing North Atlantic waves! Every year, from late July to mid-August, giant flocks of over 34 different species of shorebirds migrate from their arctic breeding grounds and converge on Fundy’s rich mudflats to double their weight and prepare for the next leg of their journey. Almost the entire global population of Semipalmated Sandpiper passes through these mudflats en route to their wintering grounds.

Want to get a good look of the birds that call the North Atlantic coast their home? Check out the Good Stock Library’s Collection to explore beautiful footage of birds in Newfoundland, Canada and all across the world!

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