When eBird came out with their "Top 100" feature, I was pretty angry. I didn't want anyone to be able to view how many birds I had on my year list, life list, county or state list. I think it is a pointless feature on a great citizen science tool. I don't post to eBird to be able to compare myself with others, or to have others compare themselves with me. I list my sightings on eBird because my data is a valuable resource for scientists to collect and analyze. It's also a great tool for novice birders (such as myself) to look up distributions, first and last dates of a particular species, hotspot reports, etc. With all the great features that eBird has to offer, I think that the "Top 100" function has no place on the website.
When eBird first came up with the "Top 100," I was mad. I didn't want others to be able to look at my stats, and I didn't want to look at anyone else's stats. To throw everyone off my scent, I changed my name to "Manny Ramirez." I'm sure that I didn't fool anyone with the name change, and that my point was completely missed.
After changing my name (taking on the identity of a steroid fueled baseball player turned birder), I decided that that wasn't enough. I started to protest eBird by not entering my lists. I told myself that as long as they were doing the "Top 100," I wasn't going to take part in their project. I mean, what kind of science cares about comparing one birder to another? I stopped entering my lists in April 2009, and haven't entered regularly since.
So why do I care so much? After all, listing and competition could get people excited about birding, and conservation issues, it fuels the economy through tourism dollars, it helps fund our state and national parks, and it gives people a hobby. I see all those points, and I agree with them. However, I've seen competitive birding turn the nicest 70 year old men into complete spiteful, arrogant jerkoffs. I've heard stories of birders not reporting a rare bird because they don't want their competition to see it. I (just like most everyone else, I'm sure) have been yelled at by self-righteous competitive birders over an ID call. Listen, I don't care if you bird competitively, I just don't want any part of it. I just don't bird competitively; I bird to learn more about myself and the world I live in. I don't want to be a part of a trivial numbers game because it doesn't matter to me. I know, I know, I realize that I have some deep seeded emotional issues, and I've been scarred by the local birding Gods. It's just not my thing. It seems to me that the "Top 100" feature is a kind of progress chart to keep tabs on whether or not you're keeping up with the birding Joneses. If that's not what it's supposed to be used for, I'd like to know its functional value.
I've been thinking a lot lately about the value of eBird. There aren't enough field biologists, or enough funding dollars to collect the data that eBird has collected over the years. Not only do they do a great job collecting all the data, but they make it easily accessible to the general public. The website has to be the greatest citizen science project that has ever been created. I realize that I couldn't collect as good of data over a lifetime that eBird probably collects during a ten second period on any given day. The minute that a species declines, expands its range, etc. eBird will be the first to know about it. I can't praise the website, or its creators, enough.
Now that I've confused you with two contradictory messages, I'll get to the point of this post. Here it is: I am a selfish jerk. eBird is the greatest collection of avian data that will ever be known to man, and for the past two years I have been boycotting it because I care about other people looking at a my meaningless life list. I missed out on some great citizen science opportunities because I wanted to stick it to people that are doing great things for the world. eBird is important, and if others are using the "Top 100" feature to compare themselves with me, it is them that are using the website for the wrong reasons. I still feel that the feature is pointless, and it should be taken off the site, but it will no longer keep me from listing on eBird.
<3 Manny Ramirez
Labels: commentary, eBird