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Using the "Flyover" code in eBird

The "F - Flyover" code (hereafter "F") is available currently in the drop-down list of breeding and behavior codes; these are discussed in full in our Help topic: Breeding and Behavior Codes. "F" is somewhat different from the other options in the Breeding Code list, since it is useful all year round. Below we discuss how to use this code properly.

To enter the code, choose "Add Details" next to any species entry in your checklist. In the menu that appears, there will be a "Breeding Code" option that you can choose, below the text field where you can enter comments. Clicking on the "Breeding Code" tab opens a dropdown menu, with the last entry being "F Flyover"—if you choose that, you're good to go!

When to use the Flyover code

Please use "F" to indicate cases in which flying birds are not interacting with the habitat below; "F" should not be used if birds appear to be foraging as they fly or potentially searching for food or sites at which to land i nthe habitat immediately below. Obviously some birds may fly overhead while moving from one tree to another or briefly flushing, circling, and dropping back in to a puddle. These examples are not the intended use of "F". The following rules help to clarify cases where this code should be used. 

First, it should only include birds that do not stop or land on the ground, in the water, or in vegetation.

Second, use it only when all individuals are seen as flyovers; if just one bird stops or is located feeding on the ground or in vegetation, please do not use this code. Feel free to note these proportions of flying and stopping birds in species comments, however.

Third, please try to consider if the habitat is appropriate for the species. If it is not, and the bird is flying overhead, it is likely a flyover. A field bird like a lark or pipit flying over the forest is likely out of habitat and should be considered a Flyover.

Flyover Code examples

Examples to use and not use "F - Flyover" include:

1. High-migrating raptors, geese, cranes, swallows, swifts, ducks, shorebirds, or other birds that are flying high overhead and obviously migrating are flyovers (i.e., use "F").
2. Passerines in high flight that are not stopping in the habitat are flyovers (use "F"); but if a morning flight location clearly involves birds mostly departing from the forest or bushes, then these are considered to be using the habitat (i.e., do not use "F").
3. A species that is clearly out of habitat, flying overhead, and not using the habitat is a flyover; an example might be a bewildered Northern Pintail flying over a desert valley.
4. Waterbirds seen migrating on seawatches or lakewatches are not flyovers (i.e., do not use "F"); passerines moving up or down the beach and not stopping would be a valid use of "F".
5. Shorebirds obviously commuting up and down a beach or moving about within an estuary are not flyovers. If shorebirds are flying high overhead and not stopping or interacting with the area you are surveying, then it would be valid to use "F".
6. Raptors, swallows, and swifts that are flying overhead and not obvious migrants are not flyovers. Since raptors and aerial insectivores may hunt from great heights, these birds are often using the habitat in ways not obvious to observers on the ground.

When in doubt, please do not use "F", since it is important to restrict it to the birds only that are not using the habitat. This restriction depends upon the judgment of the observer, and if you do not feel comfortable making these judgments, please do not use this code. 

Thanks to those who take the time to diligently report Flyovers. We do hope to make this easier to use in the future. 

Why is this important?

eBird data are used by analysts to produce range maps or occurrence maps of species. These models use habitat associations from the locations with lots of data to infer occurrence in regions with little data. If there are lots of migrating geese recorded from backyards and not denoted as flyovers, geese will appear to the model to be associated with urban habitats. Birds on the ground are the ones using the habitat that can be used to predict their occurrence in other areas. For most flyover birds, other factors are governing their occurrence, such as weather conditions or nearby habitats, but not the habitat on the ground. The set of predictor variables for birds on the ground are so different, that considering these flyovers  separately in models is potentially very important. Having even a subset of observations with appropriately-tagged flyovers can really help the modeling efforts that use eBird data.
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