By RANDY ZELLERS | Arkansas Game & Fish Commission
LITTLE ROCK — Birders and other wildlife-watching enthusiasts have a great new way to participate in outdoor recreation, thanks to the creation of a special Natural State-specific online gateway to Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s eBird birdwatching system.
According to Karen Rowe, AGFC nongame bird program coordinator, the eBird tool has been available for years, but the new portal gives birders a more customized way to learn more about and participate in birding.
“eBird was initiated to help the public get more enjoyment out of their bird-watching efforts,” Rowe said. “The online database enables you to keep your list of species safe and be able to store different checklists. People who simply enjoy watching birds around their homes can enter the species and number of birds they see on a daily walk or viewing period in the backyard, and the list will keep count. You’ll have a fascinating list and be able to see the list grow and notice how it may change by the season or over time.”
In addition to keeping those lists, users to the Arkansas eBird portal can submit their favorite photos to be displayed for other users of the tool.
“We update the images on the portal regularly, and we’re also planning some fun challenges for users to add even more interest and get our birding enthusiasts more engaged in their hobby and the agency,” Rowe said. “We know most of our birders participate around the house, and especially since COVID, many have stayed within their own backyards and neighborhoods. The portal lets us add stories and links to showcase some great areas of interest around the state, including wildlife-viewing areas, auto tours and important bird areas they will really find worth the trip.”
According to Kirsten Bartlow, AGFC watchable wildlife program coordinator, recent research has shown that bird-watching and other nonconsumptive outdoors pursuits are increasingly popular in Arkansas, and participants are hungry for knowledge.
“We recently contracted with Virginia Tech to conduct a survey of wildlife viewers in Arkansas,” Bartlow said. “Most wildlife viewers surveyed said they identified as beginner, novice or intermediate in their skill level. This portal is an excellent way to connect them with all the resources the AGFC has available. This is a great first step in working more closely with people who may not be as familiar with the agency because they don’t necessarily hunt or fish.”
The real power of the tool, Rowe says, is that all eBird participants have the ability to share their sightings and be part of an international citizen science community.
“The platform also was built to create a citizen science program where everyday bird observations could be used in conservation efforts,” Rowe said. “Sightings logged into the system can be used to help obtain figures on bird abundance, species diversity and distribution. This information can be used by federal and state agencies planning habitat improvement projects, administering conservation grants and purchasing land or easements for conservation.”
Rowe also stresses that the portal is a great tool for hunters and anglers to enjoy. Many deer hunters spend hours immersed in nature, watching a downy woodpecker hopping up and down a tree trunk or listening to the scolding chirps of a tufted titmouse upset at the intruder near their nest tree.
“Most deer and duck hunters enjoy watching nongame birds during long sits or lulls in the action,” Rowe said. “I often say they’re just birders until a deer or duck finally shows up. This new tool may be a great way for them to have some added enjoyment in the woods, too.”
Visit www.agfc.com/en/explore-outdoors/wildlife-viewing for more information on Arkansas eBird and wildlife-viewing opportunities in Arkansas. A direct link to the portal also is available at https://ebird.org/ar/home.
“I encourage everyone to visit the portal and read through the instructions on eBird to see how they can customize their list to fit their wildlife watching needs,” Rowe said. “It’s a great way to get engaged in the outdoors, whether you’re at home or want to strike out and explore new areas.”