About the Alerts
This exciting new feature lets you know about rare birds being reported to eBird. There are three ways for you to access the information, all available through "View and Explore Data" which takes you to the eBird Alerts page. When you visit this page, you have the option of subscribing to the available alerts (currently a list of one, but this will grow). If you click subscribe, you can set your preference to receive the report hourly or daily. If you sign up for hourly reports, you will receive one email on the hour summarizing all alert birds reported over the past hour. Daily reports summarize all reports from the day and will come to you at about the same time of day as when you sign up for them. You can also simply view the Alerts on the website, which shows a listing of the rarities reported over the past seven days.
Since most Alerts will be drawing on your eBird data, you are required to log in to see them.
About ABA Alerts
The first available eBird Alert is called the "ABA Rarities Alert". The ABA Area and ABA Codes are described below, but the basic process is that an alert will be sent to you as soon as an "ABA Rarity" is reported. These are defined as birds having ABA Codes 3, 4, or 5 on the ABA Checklist (see below for an explanation) and will make sure to let you know about any US or Canadian mega-rarity from the caliber of Code 3 birds like Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, Garganey, Rufous-backed Robin, up to even rarer (Code 4 or 5) birds like Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese, Little Stint, Bermuda Petrel, Redwing, or Greater Sand-Plover. With these alerts, you'll be sure to hear quickly about hot birds turning up nationwide!
These alerts will not let you know about regional rarities. For example, even if a Brandt's Cormorant in Kansas is a first record for any state away from the immediate Pacific Coast, this won't appear on the ABA Rarities alert since it is an expected bird in California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.
Fig. 1: When you view your ABA Alerts you get this screen, showing the species, count, date of report, location (with map link), state, county, observer, review status of record (confirmed or unconfirmed), and observer's comments. Each report to eBird is listed separately, so duplicate reports (especially from shared checklists) are possible.
Fig. 2: When you receive an ABA Alert email, you get the same information in the text of the email, including a link which will take you to a map of the sighting. Note that the species comments here provide helpful indications of the age of the bird, documentary photos, behavior, and a more specific location.
In this case, be forewarned that we cannot vouch for the identification of birds that are listed "Unconfirmed". Our volunteer eBird editors work hard to review records, request documentation, and validate reports in a timely fashion, but sometimes it takes days to get a response from an observer. For "confirmed" birds, we generally can trust the identification, but for "unconfirmed", you may have to judge for yourself whether you think an error is possible. Of course, this is where detailed species comments can be helpful for establishing a correct ID. "Unconfirmed" records reported by multiple observers, especially from different birding parties, are more likely to be correct.
ABA Area? ABA Codes?
The American Birding Association (ABA) maintains a checklist for the ABA Area. The ABA Area includes the 49 continental United States, Canada, the French islands of St. Pierre et Miquelon, and adjacent waters to a distance of 200 nautical miles from land or half the distance to a neighboring country, whichever is less. Greenland, Bermuda and Hawaii are NOT included.
Along with its checklist of the ABA Area, now in its seventh edition, the ABA has published ABA Codes. These codes are meant to describe how difficult a given bird is to find in the ABA Area, so that easy to find birds (e.g., American Crow, Northern Pintail, Red-tailed Hawk) are Code 1, locally distributed and harder to find birds are code 2 (e.g., Yellow-billed Loon, Red-faced Cormorant, Zone-tailed Hawk), and rarities are code 3, 4, or 5, in order of increasing difficulty.
For more information on the ABA Codes, including the complete list of species and their associated codes, please see our ABA Codes page under About eBird. Please also consider purchasing the 7th edition of the ABA Checklist for a more complete discussion of the ABA Birding Codes, as well as much information on the history of rare species in the ABA Area. Contact ABA Sales for more information.
A few ABA Codes are currently conservative (i.e., the species are pretty common, but still rated with a code 3). If you subscribe, you can expect to hear about a lot of Clay-colored Thrushes from south Texas (that species has now successfully colonized south Texas) as well as a lot of Little Gulls and Black-headed Gulls from the Northeast and Great Lakes (both of these species have been rare but regular in those areas for some time). But in among these will be news of true rarities: like the Ivory Gull on Cape Cod right now, the Red-throated Pipit in San Diego, or Pink-footed Geese in the Northeast. One bird to beware of is Graylag Goose (ABA Code 5). Although accepted for the ABA Area based on a single vagrant record, the regular recent eBird reports refer exclusively to escapees and feral birds.
eBird Species Comments now public
A few months ago we published a story about species comments and our plans to make these a more public part of eBird output; this would be worth reviewing. The motivation for this shift was because even if eBird could steer you to the park where a rare warbler was being seen, the park might be so big that the bird would be impossible to find without a more detailed description of where the bird is. For this reason, we have encouraged eBirders to provide added detail in these species comments. Helpful things to include are: 1) directions to the bird that would be helpful for other eBirders; 2) descriptions of rare or hard to identify birds or links to photos, to inspire confidence in your report and to aid our reviewers; 3) asterisks to begin any rarity report to set them off, facilitate searching of excel downloads, and indicate that you knew you had something good; 4) and of course, to make sure that the comments are appropriate and inoffensive!
(If you aren't sure what we mean by "species comments", try clicking yes for the radio button on the question that asks "Do you want to provide species comments...." at the top of the checklist page under the "Are you reporting all species" question when you submit your next checklist!)
These ABA Alerts are the first way that we are exposing this information, so we encourage you to make sure to use these comments when you see national level rarities. Once the regional alerts are activated, the list of possible species that would trigger an alert will be significantly increased. Develop good habits of using species comments now (for notable species at least), and your observations will have increased utility to birders and researchers.