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All About: Hotspots

Hotspots are an integral part of the way that eBirders submit observations. Many of the locations that you go birding at are classified as "eBird Hotspots."  They are visible during the checklist submission process as the red placemarks shown above when you are using the map to choose where you went birding. This article outlines what eBird Hotspots are, when and how you should use them, how to view and explore these Hotspots, and more!

Quick Links

What is an eBird Hotspot?
What locations are appropriate hotspots?
When should I use an eBird Hotspot?
How are Hotspots named?
What is the Hotspot Explorer?
Can I help with hotspot management?
 

What is an eBird Hotspot?

Hotspots are public birding locations created by eBird users. Using Hotspots, multiple birders can enter data into the same shared location, creating aggregated results available through "View and Explore Data". A "Hotspot" does not necessarily have to be an outstanding location for birds or birding – the goal is to have a set of public locations that people regularly visit for birding, somewhat regardless of how amazing they are for birds. If you have a small urban park that you check regularly, but you only ever see a few species there – we still want to know, and would like to have it as a hotspot! The key is that it is a public location that many birders can use, so places like your yard don't really qualify.  

When you suggest a location as a hotspot, it must first be approved by a hotspot administrator before it becomes available to the public. The idea is to avoid creating duplicate hotspots, and to make sure that the location is indeed a hotspot (e.g., Point Loma) and not a personal location (e.g., My Backyard). This process can be lengthy and involved, and our volunteer hotspot administrators sometimes can take weeks to approve requests. To help speed this process up, it is important that you try to ensure that the hotspot you suggest does not already exist. If it does already exist, please merge your personal location with the existing hotspot. Note: hotspots do take 24 hours to process through our system, so even if our editors have approved a hotspot, it may not show up until the next day.

What locations are appropriate hotspots?

Hotspots can be any public birding location, but you should think about scale when making a suggestion. As a general rule of thumb is that the smaller or more spatially refined the location, the better. This way we can know exactly where you saw the birds and we're able to analyze landscape variables associated with the location. This becomes hard if you are reporting from large geographic areas (e.g., Yosemite National Park!). Instead try suggesting a more refined location like "Yosemite NP--Glacier Point". We try to avoid the inclusion of large-scale hotspots in the database (e.g., long traveling counts like cruises) that don't really represent specific locations.

When should I use an eBird Hotspot?

Although hotspots are used to aggregate results in popular birding locations, you should not ALWAYS use a hotspot while eBirding. If you went birding in a location that is accurately represented by a hotspot, then you should use that hotspot. If you were birding adjacent to a hotspot, or somehow birding in a way that isn't accurately represented by that hotspot, then you should NOT use that hotspot. You can create a new location, and either suggest it as a public hotspot or keep it as a personal location. The more specifically named the hotspot is, the more the birding included in your checklist should be restricted to the named location. If it is named "Intersection of 1st Ave x Broadway Blvd" use it for birding done at that intersection. Don't use it for a 5 mile walk passing through that intersection; instead use the one named "Broadway Blvd" for that longer birding experience. If there isn't a hotspot that accurately portrays where you went birding, but there should be, then you should suggest it as a hotspot!

How are Hotspots named?

There are different naming conventions for hotspots, based on the type of hotspot represented. All of these are outlined below, and should be taken into account when submitting your hotspot suggestion. If you see hotspots with a confusing name that you believe should be changed, please contact your local hotspot reviewer if you know who they are, or email us.

1. Single Locations

Single locations are places that do not need modifiers and are generally well known or large scale birding localities (e.g., Pt. Reyes or Cape May Pt.).  Naming for single locations should follow typical grammatical structure, and use the  following abbreviations (except in Australia, where no abbreviations are used):

  • State Park – SP
  • National Wildlife Refuge – NWR
  • National Park – NP
  • Parque Nacional – PN (Latin America)
  • Road – Rd.

2. Sub-locations

Sub-locations are smaller scale birding locations found within a larger primary location. These sub-locations are meant to allow more specific data entry for locations found within a larger area of interest. For example, one might bird Kruger NP in South Africa. But within Kruger NP there are several major birding locations including Skukuza Camp and Satara-Tshokwane Road, or the whole southern section of the park. Sub-locations should always follow the primary location separated by a double dash (--). These would be listed as follows:

  • Kruger NP--Skukuza Camp
  • Kruger NP--Satara-Tshokwane Road
  • Kruger NP--southern section

3. Locations needing additional modifiers

Occasionally to clarify matters locations require additional modifiers, typically county designations. For example, there might be ten different lakes called “Blue Lake” in California, each with its own set of associated sub-locations. We need to add both sub-location and the county modifier to make it clear to the user which location to choose. County modifiers should always follow the primary location name and the sub-location name (if present), and should always appear in parentheses.

  • Blue Lake--Vista Overlook (Placer Co.)
  • Blue Lake--Boat Launch (Monterey Co.)
  • Blue Lake (San Diego Co.)

4. Stakeout Rarities

At times there is a rare bird that many people go to look for. Instead of creating dozens of separate locations to represent this location, we recommend suggesting this as a hotspot.  These should be clearly labeled using the format below. Note the LACK of capitalization in the word “stakeout”, which will bring it to the end of the location lists in eBird. This will allow users to clearly understand that these sites are not traditional hotspots, but that they still provide the advantages of aggregating observations from a single site. We recommend this practice for any and all widely twitched rarities. 

Examples:

  • stakeout Western Tanager Attitash Ave., Merrimac (2008)
  • stakeout Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, Talcottville (2012)

We've recommended the year to help users and in case the same town ever happens to host two of the same rarity! If spanning multiple years, you can go with "(2011-12)"
 

What is the Hotspot Explorer?

The Hotspot Explorer is the best and easiest way to view hotspotsThis is a wonderfully interactive and visual way to explore hotspots worldwide, and is integrated with many other aspects of the eBird Explore Data content. 

When you first arrive at the map, you see a broad grid representing species diversity. The hottest areas are bright red. Click on any grid cell to see the diversity value. Zoom in to see finer grid cells, and zoom in further to view individual hotspots (also coded by diversity). You can restrict month/year range at the top of the page to refine what information the Hotspot Explorer returns. NOTE: The grid cells show overall diversity for that grid cell, including personal locations (not the diversity at hotspots); it is possible to have a grid cell with 100 species but no hotspots.

When you zoom in further, the colors of any given hotspot marker illustrate how many species have been seen at that hotspot – the "warmer" the color, the more species. ​When you click on a hotspot, you see the number of species and checklists that have been reported, and are also presented with links to submit data from that hotspot and view more details about the location, as shown here.  The links in this pop-up can take you to other Explore Data options – Bar Charts, High Counts, or even to give directions to that site. 
 
When you click the "View Details" option on a hotspot pop-up, you get a new page specific to that location with data summaries and more information relevant to eBirders (e.g., Top 10 eBirders for the hotspot including your ranking, recent checklists). The most recent sightings list is a full species list for the hotspot. You can expand this to see the images, audio files, and comments by clicking the "Show All Details". "Recent Visits" gives you quick links to the latest checklists submitted from the hotspot. You can also link directly to the Bar Charts or High Counts for a hotspot from this page, using the tabs at the top of the page. It is important to note that the default view is "Last Seen", showing the last record of each species that has ever been seen at this hotspot. This is a constantly changing list, and just because your sighting isn't showing up there doesn't mean that it isn't in the database – someone has likely just observed the species more recently than you have. Looking in Recent Visits may show your checklist if it was submitted recently enough.

You can search for a hotspot by name using the search bar on the upper left. Now you can type and find "Cape May" or "Abra Patricia" or "Cley" or "Lake Nakuru" and see all the options available for that location. You can also quickly zoom into an area of interest by using the location search box on the upper right.

In addition to the very best hotspots, see if you can also find some areas that aren't as well covered. Can you make it into the Top 10 for all time? For a single month?

NOTE: If you have birded a location that is not a hotspot, and you would like it to become one, please review this article on how to suggest a hotspot from your Manage My Locations page in eBird.

Can I help with hotspot management?

If you are interested in helping administer hotspots in your state or county, or have an urgent hotspot request that requires immediate attention please email us.

ebirdhelp@gmail.com
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