Thursday, March 29, 2018

Talking to eBird (#799)

The month of March gave south Florida its coldest temperatures of the year, dipping into the high thirties (~3 degrees Celcius) with one of our several cold (or should I say "cool?") fronts. Rain threatened with their approach but precipitation was sparse...

Gray Sky before sunrise 20180316

...and clear skies followed for several days after the passage of each front:

Red in the morning 20180316

As a teenager working towards a Boy Scout merit badge I started keeping daily logs of bird sightings. I still have my old records, and I enjoy re-living some of the sightings. 

The habit of carrying a pencil and a pocket-sized spiral notebook did not persist for very long, and even the notes I made about first or unusual bird sightings became more and more sketchy, finally deteriorating to date, name of bird and place-- the latter sometimes ambiguous. 

I assumed I would always remember the exact location of "Charlie's Woods," "up at Camp" and "down the river," but now they do not exist. These are the entries for my first ten weeks of birding (Don't the rubber-stamped dates lend an air of authenticity?): 


Stopping to take notes interfered with the joy of birding, and diverted my attention away from the sky and surroundings, possibly depriving me of exciting sightings.

Fast forward to the electronic revolution and the age of eBird. After moving to Florida I readily adapted to using this Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology iPhone application to report my sightings. Yet there remained a certain nuisance factor, as I still had to stop and occupy both hands to punch in and update sightings. 

After all, with snakes and fire ants to contend with, I was already looking down half the time just to walk from place to place. Then I found out that I could use the iPhone speech recognition feature. The eBird filter should be set to species expected locally. This will limit the matches to a single species or a select few.

Start eBird 20161115

eBird app menu

eBird report

Talking to the eBird app requires one to adopt a spartan language style. Use as few syllables as necessary. Speak distinctly, sounding every consonant. If you don't, your "Osprey" becomes "odd spray." Better to say "OHspray."  

Osprey 20160404

Say "Mottled Duck" too fast and it comes out "Matilda,"  or fail to pronounce the "TT" results in "modeled," neither of which matches a species in the eBird database. Ths Mottled Duck is in the company of a Black-necked Stilt (for which "black, hyphen, neck" will suffice for eBird):

Mottled Duck and Black-necked Stilt 03-20170421

A White Ibis must be called a "hWyte ibis" lest it become "what I best." 

White Ibis 20161228

Never use plurals, as they will be translated to possessives such as dove's and sparrow's. Goose matches many species while geese does not. Keep it short and simple. "Egyptian" is all you need to say to call up the Egyptian Goose:

Egyptian Geese courting 20130131

"European" is enough to auto-complete the Starling...

European Starling 01-20170601

...and "Loggerhead" matches the only bird in our local list. The local filter produces the Shrike but ignores the rare Loggerhead Kingbird (and Turtle):

Loggerhead Shrike on Red Maple 20161117

There is no such bird as a bluejay, so say "Blue, Jay:"

Blue Jay 02-20171219

Make sure the syllables are run together where appropriate, so that your "kingfisher" does not summon an unrecognized "King Fisher." Only the Belted Kingfisher is selected in south Florida, while you may need to choose from a list of kingfishers in south Texas or Latin America:

Belted Kingfisher female 20180208

Say "hyphen" when there is one in a bird's name -- it's a "red, hyphen, bell" if you want to report a Red-bellied Woodpecker in Florida (the filter in the western US  would turn up a sapsucker!):

Red-bellied Woodpecker 20091226

Truncating the names actually improves accuracy. For example, "boat, hyphen, tail" is enough for Boat-tailed Grackle:

Boat-tailed Grackle 3-20091129

"Tricolored" will match the Heron by that first name, if you do not improperly add a hyphen:

Tricolored Heron 01-20170605

Don't worry if "Mourning Dove" comes out "Morning Dove," as eBird will automatically spell-check it and enter it properly:

Mourning Doves DPP Processed 20130322

The eBird app's artificial intelligence (AI) also automatically drops the "e" in  "Downey" Woodpecker: 

Downy Woodpecker male 20170223

However, eBird seems to ignore a British flair, and refuses to match your Gray Catbird, which Apple's AI  insists on spelling as "grey," so simply say "catbird," (but not "cat, bird") to enter it correctly:

Gray Catbird 2-20151018

Similarly, to keep the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher from defaulting to unacceptable "grey," simply say "blue, hyphen, letter G."

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 02-20180130

The correct species will pop up if you leave off "Heron" and just say "Great, Blue"...

Great Blue Heron 03-20170207

 ...or "Little, Blue:"

Little Blue Heron 02-20180112

"Red hyphen shoulder" is enough for the Red-shouldered Hawk: 

Red-shouldered Hawks 02-20150222

I could go on and on, but if you haven't used speech recognition with the eBird app, try it and you may like it! This feature also simplifies addition of species comments and other observations about weather and habitat.

Oh, and some bird names, notably "vireo" for me, will never be properly recognized, although "white hyphen letter E" will match with the White-eyed Vireo...

White-eyed Vireo 02-20171018

...and "red hyphen letter R" brings up the Red-eyed Vireo:

Red-eyed Vireo HDR 20160917

If all else fails, go back to punching in the full name or its four-letter banding code, but watch where you step!

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Our World Tuesday by Lady Fi

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Linking to ALL SEASONS by Jesh


Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display



  1. What a nice series!
    Have a good Easter weekend.

  2. Wow - quite a collection of beautiful birds. And the first two landscape pics are so peaceful looking.

  3. It seems to me that the old-fashioned pencil and notebook were more efficient than the gizmo. "Bird-hyphen-watching" seems ponderous if you have to remember all the different ways the ap wants you to enter the names.
    Nevertheless, it made for a fascinating blog post! Maybe you really can win 'em all!
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  4. You description of the ebird technology made me laugh almost as much as the pronunciation of some of my local areas on the Sat nav. Where would we be without technology.

  5. LOL, nice shot of "Matilda" and love those early handwritten notes (and that you kept them all these years).

  6. Marvelous photos and good tips. I argue with voice recognition in my car and on my phone and on my iPad... or should I say, I fight with robots!

  7. Lovely shots of birds and sky!

  8. Hello, gorgeous views and landscapes. The birds are all wonderful, I love the pretty Stilt. Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. I appreciate your visit and comment. Happy Saturday, enjoy your weekend. Happy Easter to you and your family.

  9. That was a fun tutorial!
    Wonderful photos!
    Have a great weekend!
    Happy Easter!

  10. Wonderful landscape - and great bird shots!

  11. How wonderful that you kept those boy scout journals! Great to look back on! Your photos are incredible...every post looks like a photo book! Love it!

  12. Waddya know?! I've actually begun to enjoy bird shots...perhaps your entertaining text helped in that regard. The pronunciation issues you describe are also applicable to Googling and other apps. Happy holiday!

  13. So the boy scouts is where you started birding? The first two landscapes are gorgeous! The two mourning doves are so pretty! And I particularly like the Egyptian goose! Have a great Easter weekend, Ken and hope to see you back at All Seasons:)

  14. Wonderful post! I absolutely LOVE the tricolored heron. One day I hope to see one in person. Happy Easter.

  15. Hi! I'm back from my cruise to Jamaica and wanted to stop by and thank you for visiting I'd Rather B Birdin' in my absence. Have a great day! Hope to see you soon. I use ebird daily.

  16. Beautiful photos and I enjoyed my intro to the app and voice recognition

  17. Superb photos as usual! :-)

  18. Many thanks Ken for sharing this feisty kingfisher:) And you were the first at All Seasons -yay! Yes, it is nice to see deer and turkeys, and not to forget grey squirrels on a regular basis, but wished I saw more birds (but then I would have to buy a better lens:) ) - but I regularly see big birds with big wings circling. Is that the reason why I don't see small birds? Even the blue jays have gone away, after many trees had to be but because on beetle infestation! Enjoy your week!

  19. Your photos are just fabulous! It's awesome that technology makes things easier, or tries to, for just about everything we do. I'm so glad you figured out the right things to say!

  20. The weather has certainly been wonky this winter in NC as well!
    I always enjoy your photos. Thanks for sharing at

  21. I am still laughing ... and I shared this with my husband, who can relate to the challenges of speaking to voice recognition software in our car - it does not seem to recognize his accent and we are constantly entertained by what it comes back with! And as a method to display your considerable collection of bird photos - very clever!


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