Image via BirdsEye
A new iPhone app called BirdsEye could help researchers revolutionize how bird observation is done. The app allows birders instant access to eBird, the largest open-source database of bird sightings in Mexico and North America - a project by the National Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Birders can find out exactly what they're looking at, as well as see a map of confirmed sightings of rare or notable birds, all in a flash while out in the field. With eBird growing by leaps and bounds, and now this new way to get sighting locations on an iPhone, does that mean trouble for birds?Open-source data and citizen science is vastly important to scientific research, especially when it comes to ecology where residents of an area can help scientists keep a close eye on a habitat's health. However, the concern is always - what if the information gets into the wrong hands.
eBird has grown from a small project in 2002, receiving a few thousand sightings a month into the database, to a fully fledged open-source information warehouse receiving over 1.5 million sightings a month. The increases in information has made possible a whole new wave of statistical analysis and ecological studies, as Yale 360 points out. The importance of this in monitoring bird populations in North America can't be understated.
But neither can the threat of poachers. Sometimes we have to pause and ask whether or not some information is better kept in the hands of just the researchers and scientists. All this data - including locations of confirmed sightings of rare birds and directions to the spot they were seen - is available on a $20 iPhone app. Anyone interested in hunting said rare bird can get some great leads. So while very cool and helpful in a positive way, let's just hope the information is used for good, not evil.
There are plans for the app to enable birdwatchers to directly report sightings from their cell phones, which means gathering information about birds in locations where cell phones are plentiful but computers aren't will be much easier.
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