Big Data has made it into the bird-watching world. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird app allows scientists and citizens to record sightings to a form a vast, real-time map of bird populations and species across the globe. Far from being a niche product, the app is hugely successful in the birding world: Users logged more than 5.6 million observations in May alone, with the number increasing every month.
Unlike traditional methods of tallying birds, eBird makes sharing and recording sightings with scientists easy. Its instantaneous aspect addressed the day-to-day distribution of creatures that are, by definition, highly mobile. EBird has already proven its scientific mettle: ornithologists now know that the US has two genetically distinct groups of orchard orioles, and that the population of Eastern meadowlarks is in decline, suggesting that meadow ecosystems themselves are in trouble.