Category “Citizen Science Projects”

MigrantWatch and eBird

Wednesday, 8 January, 2014

Over the past year, we at MigrantWatch have had a series of discussions with the people who run the global bird listing platform eBird. The motivation for these discussions was this question:

How can we make it more enjoyable and easy to share bird sightings, and at the same time make the contributed information as valuable as possible for research and conservation?

MW plus eBirdMigrantWatch has limitations in both of these respects. One of the main aspects of sharing bird sightings is having a user-friendly and feature-rich web platform. We haven’t done all that badly in this regard, and take the opportunity to thank Pavithra Sankaran (web design) and Anush Shetty (web development), and a list of many others, for all the volunteer effort put into making the MigrantWatch website and database. But at the same time, it is a huge task to maintain and further develop the site so that it best suits the needs of all of us birders.

A second limitation is the kind of information that MigrantWatch asks for. We collect “presence-only” information, which means MigrantWatchers upload the date and location of sightings of migrants. This says when a species was seen, but, crucially, doesn’t say when a species was not seen. So, for example, it’s difficult or impossible to tell why there are no reports of Grey Wagtail from Indore in August 2013: is it because no-one was looking for them, or because they truly weren’t there? One solution to this problem is to collect complete birding lists of all species seen on a trip. This says: “X went birding at this location on this date and saw a number of species, but not Grey Wagtail”.

Also, in addition to regular queries about migrants, we get a lot of questions from participants related to non-migratory birds too. Clearly, migrants are not the only birds of interest!

For the above reasons, we are forging a closer relationship with eBird. The main reasons are that (a) eBird is a very easy-to-use and feature-rich site for maintaining your birding records, and (b) it focuses on encouraging birders to upload complete lists of the birds they saw during a particular trip. More details in the following points.

  • It is a mature platform, used by tens of thousands of birders across the world to maintain their birding lists. It currently holds more than 150 million records of birds globally. This means it is a safe and reliable platform for our bird lists.
  • It has many features to make it easier to upload your species lists, including species with uncertain identification. It also has features to explore your own lists, and you can download your lists into an excel file for use offline.
  • Another nice feature of eBird is that your day’s list is available at a unique URL, which means that you can share and email your list with your friends as soon as it is entered into the system. An example of such a list is here:
  • You can also embed photos, videos or sound files to accompany each sighting: these are particularly useful as supporting information for the identification of difficult or unusual species.
  • There are multiple ways to use eBird: through the website (; this is the preferred way) or using a smartphone app.
  • All information on eBird is available to explore through maps, charts and tables. The data on eBird is also ported up to the Avian Knowledge Network and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, through which anyone can explore and download all the data.

Do try out eBird is you haven’t already, and let us know what you think.

From now on, we recommend the following:

  • If you have a complete list from a birding trip: upload to eBird only
  • If you have a partial list, with migrants and non-migrants: upload to eBird only
  • If you want to report individual sightings of migrants, first or last of season, or general sightings: upload to MigrantWatch or eBird, not both
  • For any individual sightings of Pied Cuckoo: upload to MigrantWatch or eBird, not both

We will integrate the information coming into both sources (eBird and MigrantWatch) into our monthly email round-up and in future reports. So even if you switch completely over to eBird, you will still be contributing to MigrantWatch!

What will happen to your existing sightings in MigrantWatch?

For the time being, these sightings are safe in the MigrantWatch database, which of course will continue to grow. At some point in the future we may consult you about whether you would like to import your sightings into eBird, which we can help you do. Either way, the main thing is to continue to go birding, note your bird sightings, and share them on a free and open platform!

We look forward to hearing your feedback on these changes.

Asian Waterbird Count, Jan 2014

Wednesday, 8 January, 2014

The Asian Waterbird Count started in 1987, and many birders (of a particular generation!) were initiated into bird counting and monitoring through this project. In the early years, the AWC was very popular in India, but it then went through a bit of a slump. In the past year or two, however, it is gaining momentum again, and we encourage you to take part.

Here is more background information about the AWC. To take part you simply visit a wetland and count the birds you see there. So that there is some consistency in dates, the AWC recommends that you carry out your counts between Saturday 11 Jan, and Sunday 26 Jan 2014, although counts from any date in January are welcome.

Before you plan your counts, please contact the AWC Coordinator for your state, who will be able to provide more guidance. You can take a look at the AWC India Data Entry Form as well: scroll down the page to find the link to the excel file.

The main webpage of the AWC is here, and linked here is the text of a message sent by AWC coordinator Taej Mundkur.

If you do take part in the AWC this year (which we strongly recommend!), do drop us an email or leave a comment below.

MigrantWatch: A five-year journey

Tuesday, 12 March, 2013

Since 2007 MigrantWatch has brought together hundreds of birders across India to pool their observations of migratory birds. Over the years, our enthusiastic participants have collectively contributed more than 20,000 records of nearly 250 bird species. The idea of collecting all this information in one place is to document patterns of bird migration in the Indian subcontinent.

To mark the completion of 5 years of MigrantWatch, we have put together a brief summary of the migration patterns that are emerging. We hope you will enjoy it, and will tell your other birding friends about it too.

You can download a soft copy of the summary here [PDF, 2.9 MB; right-click to save it]. We have also printed a set of copies, and if you would like a hardcopy of the summary, just mail your postal address to us at, and we will be happy to send you a copy.

A big ‘Thank You!’ to all participants and contributors, and we look forward to working with you for the next five years!

MigrantWatch 5-years summary report 2013-03-cover

Events: Great Backyard Bird Count and Big Bird Day

Thursday, 7 March, 2013

More than 200 birders from all across India participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count held between 15th and 18th February. This year’s event (which until last year had been largely a North American affair) was conducted globally for the first time. Indian birdwatchers put up a wonderful show. A summary of the first Indian edition of the Great Backyard Bird Count can be viewed here.

Another event – the Big Bird Day – was celebrated on 24th February. Coordinated by Delhibird, more than 300 individuals and teams birded at various locations across India and recorded all birds they could see on that Sunday. More details are available here.

Take care: we share the air

Thursday, 9 December, 2010

by MigrantWatch Admin

Watching birds often starts as a relaxing pastime and sometimes progresses into contributing to the science of ornithology. But in Israel, enthusiasts who look for migratory birds go a step further – they save lives.

Israel’s airspace is stretched to the limit, on the one hand by the national air force, which is one of the world’s biggest and on the other by heavy commercial air traffic. Twice a year, this airspace is also packed with some 500 million migratory birds, which use this narrow bottleneck of land at the junction of Europe, Asia and Africa to move between their winter and summer homes. The bird densities recorded during this period are the highest anywhere in the world.

This swarm of flying objects – natural and manmade – obviously leads to a high risk of mid-air collisions, accidents and even fatalities. The picture here shows a migrating Common Crane that crashed into a military helicopter in Israel. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons.)

But a novel initiative by scientists at the Tel Aviv University and the Israeli air force has, over the years, dramatically reduced financial losses and the loss of lives resulting from bird hits. This is achieved through a network of volunteer birdwatchers who provide constant updates over the phone to a central information repository on numbers, altitude and direction of movement of migrating bird flocks. This, combined with radar sensors, satellites, and military drones gives the air force an incredibly detailed picture of bird movements, thereby giving their pilots a chance to plan their own routes accordingly.

Not surprisingly, pilots quickly learn this motto: “Take care. We share the air.”

More reading

Note: In India, airports try to minimise the risk of bird strikes during take-off and landing by habitat management, removal of food sources (for scavenging birds) and by scaring birds away. See this link for some summary information about bird strikes in India.

The rainbird and the 2009 monsoon

Tuesday, 6 October, 2009

In several cultures and folklores across India, the Pied Cuckoo is believed to herald the onset of the southwest monsoon. In May 2009, MigrantWatch started a Pied Cuckoo Campaign, in which birders from all over India were asked to report first sightings of this species. Does the Pied Cuckoo arrive before the monsoon sets in in different parts of the country? Does the monsoon arrive at a consistent interval after the first Pied Cuckoo is seen? These are some of the questions the campaign set out to address.

The campaign was taken up enthusiastically by MigrantWatch participants, with over 100 Pied Cuckoo entries to the database for 2009, and additional records from previous years. (All data collected during this campaign can be accessed on the MigrantWatch website after you login to your account.)


So did the Pied Cuckoo announce the arrival of the monsoon in different parts of India in 2009? Here are two visual depictions of the arrival of the cuckoo and the monsoon.

The 2009 monsoon
The monsoon set in nine days early on the Kerala coast (on 23 May instead of the normal 1 June) and made a good start. A cyclone in the Bay of Bengal disturbed the normal pattern just after it set in. By 25 May the southwest monsoon had moved over entire Kerala and Tamil Nadu, parts of coastal Karnataka, northeastern states, and most parts of West Bengal. Despite an early beginning, the monsoon progressed slowly after the beginning of June.

About the map and graph
The map shows ‘isolines’ (connecting locations with similar monsoon arrival dates) that depict the approximate advance of the 2009 monsoon (redrawn from this map from IMD, Pune) and the first arrival dates of the Pied Cuckoo as reported by MigrantWatch participants from locations across India.

pc-monsoon2009-scatter-300x254-corrThe graph shows a scatterplot of monsoon arrival dates on the X-axis (horizontal) and first sightings of the pied cuckoo on the Y-axis (vertical). Each point corresponds to a location for which a Pied Cuckoo sighting was reported. The solid black line shows where one would expect the points to fall if each first sighting of was on exactly the day that the monsoon arrived at that location. The dashed black line indicates first sightings preceding the monsoon by five days, and the dotted black line 30 days.

Monsoon arrival dates were extracted from the isolines shown on the IMD Pune map.

For both the map and the scatter plot:

  • Only sightings before 15 July 2009 have been used.
  • Only the earliest sighting was used for locations with multiple sightings.
  • Because there is a resident population of Pied Cuckoos in southern India, we excluded all sightings south of 15°N latitude; but we made an exception for Rishi Valley, Andhra Pradesh (13.6°N), where the species is known to not be resident.<1>

What can we infer about Pied Cuckoo migration? Might the unusual monsoon this year have altered the typical pattern? Please do write down your interpretations as comments to this Blog. If you would like to look at all sightings of Pied Cuckoo in the 2009 season, you can download them here in excel, open document format, or as a comma-delimited text file. Please also read the notes accompanying these sightings.

1. It is still not clear where exactly in southern India this species is resident and where migrant. The various handbooks and field guides on Indian birds differ on this. You can help to resolve this issue by entering General Sightings of Pied Cuckoo from any time of the year into the MigrantWatch database.

This post was edited on 20 October 2009 to remove an erroneous May record of a Pied Cuckoo from Rajasthan. This record has been removed from the figures as well as the accompanying data files.