Real-time online observatory powered by 120 000 volunteer bird watchers

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LIVE Euro Bird Portal

After launching a demo viewer in 2015, a new interactive bird observation viewer is up and running, mapping the movements of 105 bird species around Europe on a daily basis.

The LIVE EuroBirdPortal (EBP) viewer is the culmination of efforts to integrate and analyse disparate data from online bird-watching portals in Europe. It is the main result of the project LIFE EuroBirdPortal, coordinated by the Forest Sciences Centre of Catalonia (CTFC). Ornithologists, policymakers and casual bird watchers are using it to see the patterns of bird distribution updated on a daily basis – from 2010 until the current week – across almost the whole of the EU.

Barn swallow, Common cuckoo or Spoonbill? Track the latest bird movements now.
Bringing this vast wealth of data online is a long step from the traditional bird-watching records, done for years by dedicated people making careful notes on note pads. Thanks to its scale, the EBP viewer brings support to urgently-needed research on the distribution of birds, and to species protection under the EU Birds Directive.

Early application

Now this huge resource is active, research and conservation work can begin in earnest. The EBP project has already taken steps to support species and authorities, including:

  • species protection: guidance for the European Commission on using the data to support the EU Birds Directive, which forbids hunting of species during migration and breeding periods. The EBP and the local online portals help authorities determine the start of these spring migration and breeding periods.
  • animal and human health: the project is in contact with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to see how they can support EFSA’s surveillance of avian flu, based on the real-time location and distribution of target species.

96% of the EU at 10x10km resolution

Thanks to collaboration with 81 partner organisations from 29 countries, and the work of over 120 000 observers, the EBP is collecting around 45 million bird records every year, and this number grows by 20% annually. This makes it the largest citizen science data flow in Europe.
It was complex to create an automated data flow from 20 different online portals. “Connecting the different data sources was one of the main challenges of the project”, explained project coordinator Gabriel Gargallo from the Catalan Ornithological Institute. “We had to establish a common data-sharing standard that could get the most out of the biological signal of the data, while keeping the structure as simple as possible.”
Now up to 5 000 people every day check the data, from specialised birdwatchers to the general public. “Never before were bird movements shown so nicely!”, said Mr Gargallo. “It’s a real motivation to the 120 000 birdwatchers who regularly share their observations with us.”
Having this level of data can help ornithologists to get a quicker, more complete picture of patterns such as:

  • movements across the continent, winter distribution, bottlenecks and stop-over places;
  • short-term prediction maps for threats such as invasive or non-native species; and
  • long-term changes in distribution in the context of climate change and other factors.

Ringing data

Bird sightings recorded from national portals can also be combined with data from other sources such as bird rings. Bird ringing is the practice of placing small identification rings on individual birds so that they can be tracked repeatedly. Combining data from different bird monitoring practices can generate deeper insights.
For example, data on the Common redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) shows that those originating from northwestern countries migrate almost exclusively through Iberia while some of those originating from northern or central Europe also migrate through Italy. Differing population origins result in different migration paths from its winter location in central Africa and the Arabian Peninsula to Europe.
EBP case studies using data from ringing recoveries

What’s next?

The future EBP points to ever-stronger data being gathered. The EBP and EURING, the body which coordinates bird ringing in Europe, signed a cooperation agreement in April 2019 to strengthen their partnership and find ways to conduct joint research on migrations and movements of European bird populations.

“Thanks to the LIFE EBP project, we now have better data which is more representative for the whole of Europe,” summarised Mr Gabriel, “and we’re in a much better position to accomplish our main goals: to produce sound seasonal distribution maps and conservation and management applications that need the latest information.”

See also

LIFE and birds: 40 years of the EU Birds Directive
European Bird Census Council
World Migratory Bird Day – 11 May

Video: Introducing the EuroBirdPortal

Introducing EuroBirdPortal

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