eBird and the TBRC

"I entered my sighting in eBird. Why would I need to do anything additional for the TBRC? Don't they look at eBird!?"

eBird has changed & improved not only how folks track their own bird sightings but how groups charged with record-keeping (like Bird Records Committees) find and collect documentation for unusual sightings. Indeed, it is eBird and other online platforms that are more often than not the place where both the TBRC and the general birding public first learn about rare bird sightings. The TBRC can and does mine data out of eBird but there are several reasons why we think having the observer also make an explicit effort to send their data to the TBRC is the way to go. We will plead our case below!


Your eBird sighting might not be seen by the TBRC

With 100s if not 1000s of eBird checklists entered in Texas each and every day, it is easy for a checklist submission to be missed. The TBRC Secretary has alerts set up for all Review Species in Texas and is also a reviewer for eBird for all of Texas and tries to maintain regular contact with all the other eBird reviewers in the state. Still, the alert system isn't perfect and both the TBRC Secretary as well as all the Texas reviewers have regular periods of time through the year (days & weeks at a time) where tracking sightings and reviewing eBird submissions are not anywhere close to priority#1 for them. With 1000s of eBirders out there, it is hopefully easy to see where data can be missed when it is up to less than a handful of volunteers to make sense of it all.

Additionally, the current eBird alert system only works for sightings that are entered within 7 days. For sightings entered after 7 days, 1) there is no eBird alert generated and 2) the eBird reviewer may think that in fact the alert was generated and not think about dealing with the sighting beyond what is needed for eBird.

In a few instances, there are situations where your sighting is in fact seen by the TBRC and eBird reviewers but the significance of your sighting is missed or glossed over. Perhaps you are the first one to see a 2nd individual where only a single individual had been seen before. Or perhaps it is an invasion/irruption year for the species in question and you have found a new/different individual that is very close to a known location/sighting but is in fact completely separate/new. In cases like this, your sighting shows up in the alerts that the TBRC Secretary sees and to local eBird reviewers who both mistakenly think it is nothing new and miss it.

TBRC and eBird documentation standards might differ

A commonly used description used in eBird checklists for long-staying rarities is often something very close to "continuing bird". Or, for bird sightings that are not of long-staying individuals but are for sightings where something is seen by only a single observer or only a small number of folks (and perhaps with no photos), there may only be a handful of words entered into the eBird checklist to describe what was seen. For these cases and rightfully so, the ebird reviewer may feel that what was provided in eBird along with his/her knowledge about the observer(s) is enough to confirm the sighting. At the same time, these exceedingly brief notes are not what a bird records committee will see as particularly strong documentation. Bird Records Committees tend to have a more stringent & conservative approach, often looking at the documentation from a perspective of weeks or months or years after the sighting, and they may also not be familiar with the observer(s)'s experience-level to have that factor in at all. So, there are plenty of confirmed eBird sightings that have rightfully been confirmed but could still be improved to help that record/sighting stand the test of time from a documentation perspective.

Photos - loss of image quality and EXIF data between original image and image retrieved from eBird

With the technology of today's digital cameras, a great picture is often worth more than a thousand words. The TBRC can and does use photos that folks attach to checklists but we often prefer to have those photos sent directly to us - for two main reasons.

The first is that the resolution of the original image you upload is typically better (larger file size) than the same resolution you will get when that same image is exported/downloaded from eBird (even for your own photos). It makes sense for platforms that accept photos like eBird to compress them a little to save storage space but this compression results in at least some resolution loss. Much of the time, this loss of resolution may have little effect on a TBRC vote on the record, but for more cryptic species and those images where the subject/bird was a long ways off, there is the potential for the loss of resolution to make a difference in the voting process, at least in theory. Having every pixel available to us can only help.

The second and perhaps the most compelling reason from the TBRC's point of view is the complete stripping/loss of EXIF data. EXIF data are attributes stored as part of the image file that describe, among other things, when the photo was taken and with what sort of equipment and settings. Additionally, if GPS is enabled on the camera/phone, EXIF data also include the location where the photo was taken. As you might imagine, the most useful details associated with EXIF data for Bird Records Committees involve the date/time-stamp of the photo as well as the GPS information (if enabled). Looking at this EXIF data has become a regular part of Bird Records Committees' documentation review process to verify that written details and photographic details align. There have been cases when EXIF data have revealed both accidental and purposeful (fraudulent) differences with written details that help with the review process. Sometimes date/time-stamps are incorrect for valid reasons (date was never set on the camera or is an hour off, etc.) but looking at that piece of information along with other aspects is usually useful to the TBRC. Regardless of if you included EXIF data in your upload to eBird or not, anyone extracting/downloading the photo (even your own sighting) no longer has that information as it is no longer part of the photo. So, where at all possible, the TBRC prefers photos with EXIF data, which we can't get by downloading your images from eBird.

Audio can't be downloaded from eBird

Only a small percentage of eBird checklists have audio attached. At the current time, there is no easy way to download audio from eBird. The observer must supply that audio clip directly to the TBRC.


So, while we realize that a lot of good data is in eBird (and the TBRC does in fact use it when we need to), we also feel there are many cases where a separate submission to the TBRC is more than warranted from a long-term documentation point-of-view. We hope you'll consider submitting directly to the TBRC (you can do so via on-line submission forms on this page) when you do see a Review Species, even if it is one that has been seen by many other folks. If you still opt to only enter in eBird, please consider adding enough details (resist "continuing bird" where you can!) in your documentation so that your checklist may be of some documentation value to both you and others years after the fact.