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All About: eBird Alerts

What are eBird Alerts?

Under the Explore Data tab, you will see a section on the right side of the page labeled "Species You Need." This section holds both the Target Species tool and the Alerts tool, the second of which is covered here. There are several different options for eBird Alerts that you can sign up for: an overall "ABA Rarities" alert; a Rare Bird Alert for a specified region; or an alert for species that you have not seen in a region, a Needs Alert. Each of these alert types is detailed below. 

For every alert, you have the option to subscribe hourly, daily, or just to visit the Alerts page and click to see the results from the past seven days. Since most Alerts will be drawing on your eBird data, you are required to log in to see them.

There are three ways for you to access the Alerts information, all available through "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 . 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.


ABA Rarities Alert

The first available eBird Alert is called the "ABA Rarities Alert". This lets you view a list of all the national-level rarities recently reported in North America and Canada. These rarities 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, Fieldfare, 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 or longer 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. 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.


Rare Bird Alerts

This Alert notifies you about any unusual bird that has been reported in your region of interest, and provides a link to the location and to the checklist so you can get more information about the sighting, and make the critical call as to whether it's worth calling in sick to work! You can choose to receive Rare Bird Alerts on either the county, state, or country level, and get notices for all rare birds in that region! Read on for details on how the rarities are determined.

How it works
The Rare Bird Alert works in conjunction with the regional eBird checklist filters. Every time a record is entered in eBird, the location and date of the sighting is run against a list of expected maximum counts for each species in the area. If the number of birds in the sighting exceeds those expected counts, you receive the eBird confirmation message (always a sign that you have found a good bird!), asking you to confirm your entry. An Oleaginous Hemispingus at eBird HQ in Sapsucker Woods would definitely show up on these reports. These records are then confirmed by our volunteer expert reviewers, and these steps are critical to our data quality process. These checklist filters define what constitutes a "rare bird" in a region by highlighting any species (or subspecies) with the count limit set to zero, and those are the reports featured in the Rare Bird Alerts! These Alerts include not only out-of-range birds, but also unseasonal sightings. So a Curve-billed Thrasher showing up in Vermont obviously would be considered a rarity, but so would a January report of Red-eyed Vireo from the same area. As with other alerts, rarity records that have not been reviewed by an eBird editor are labeled as "UNCONFIRMED". Once records have been reviewed and approved, they are labeled as "CONFIRMED".

eBird checklist filters 
Please be aware that our Rare Bird Alerts rely on the quality of the checklist filter running behind it. Although eBird is a global project, these checklist filters are still fairly coarse in many areas outside North America, and these coarse filters could miss some reports of rarities. The United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Chile, Argentina, and Costa Rica as well as the United Kingdom, France, Portugal, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific, and scattered other countries and regions have refined, detailed filters. But for many other countries the filters are in need of refinement from experts, including most of Africa and Asia, parts of Europe, and even some areas in the New World (Guyana, Colombia, and a few others). If you are willing to help develop filters in these parts of the world, we would welcome your help (please get in touch at ebird@cornell.edu.). Also, if you think a bird should show up on the Rare Bird Alert and it isn't, drop us a line so we can modify the filter accordingly!



Needs Alerts

This final Alert is also the most personalized, using the lists that you have in eBird to build your custom list of birds that you "need" for any specific region. The word "need" is used loosely here to mean a species that you have not seen in that region, whether it be county, state/province, or country. Needs Alerts are powerful in that they can both show the species that you need for that region all-time, or for this year alone. They cover species that might be omitted from the previous alerts, if those species are common ones that wouldn't trip the Rare Bird Alert. Combining this with the previous alerts is a great way to paint a complete picture of both the rarities that occur in an area, as well as what species you might be personally interested in seeing. 

As seen in the image one paragraph above, you can choose whether to show the Needs Alert for "This year only", or for all years. The default is having this box unchecked, showing all years.

The above two images show the display for both the all-years alert (Needs Alert), and the year-specific one (Year Needs Alert). 

Subscribing and Unsubscribing to Alerts


One of the most frequently asked questions by users is "How do I unsubscribe from alerts?" I'll cover that here as well as how to subscribe to alerts – which I see being just as important!  First off, the way to deal with anything alert-related is to go to the Alerts page. This page can also be accessed from the bottom of any Alert email that you receive, where it says "Manage your eBird alert subscriptions:" The top image to the right shows what your Alerts page will looks like if you are not subscribed to any Alerts, where the bottom one is a user with three Alert subscriptions. If your Alerts page looks like the top one, with the large yellow arrow, then there is no reason that you should be receiving Alert emails from that account – and the most likely explanation is that you have multiple accounts signed up for Alerts. Check any previous accounts that you're aware of, and if you still can't get to the root of the problem, email us. To unsubscribe from an Alert that you are signed up for, just hit the Unsubscribe button that is clearly shown in the above image.

When you search for any Alert, you have the option to subscribe at that moment, by hitting "Subscribe" instead of "View." If you choose to subscribe at this point, you will be subscribed to daily emails for the Alert you chose. If you View instead, then you are shown the list of birds currently in that Alert, and offered the chance to subscribe again, by clicking the large green "Subscribe to this alert" button. This will open the dialogue box shown to the right here, and you can choose the frequency of the alert. Once you've subscribed, just kick back and let the bird sightings roll in! 

NOTE: A few things to remember. First, we do have to limit how many Alerts a single eBirder can subscribe to. The maximum is 25, but you can always shift around which ones you subscribe to. Remember that you can always view Alerts online as well, so don't need to subscribe to all of them. Also, some people have issues with times of delivery of daily alerts shifting. You can always unsubscribe and resubscribe at a certain time or shift from daily alerts to hourly ones.
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