How to list all of your habitat codes in the eBird Comments box

10 June 2017

Even though the original habitat codes for each route have already been saved (from the years before we switched to eBird), it would be useful to make this information available in eBird too.

Furthermore, if you are a new participant and have identified new stops every 0.5 mile, then it is important to list all habitat codes for your stops in the first year you run the route.   In subsequent years, only changes in habitat codes need to be listed.

To list all habitat codes for a route, just add an entry to the Comments box like this:

habitat=MM,SP,BB,BB,MM,BO,BB(O),OO,BB,OO,MB,HH,BM,BM(W),B(O)B(O),OS,OO,OB(OW),HO,MM;
This list includes 20 items separated by commas and ending with a semicolon.   Each item consists of two letters -- the primary habitat codes directly to the left and right within 50 m (yards) of each stop -- see the instructions for habitat codes.

Any (optional) secondary (or tertiary) habitat codes are placed in parentheses following the corresponding primary habitat code.

Some general reminders about the Comments box

The draconian instructions about standardized punctuation make it far easier for anyone to download and analyze our surveys.   Provided the format of the punctuation is exactly standardized, a simple computer program can parse the Comments box to recover all the pertinent information.   Otherwise, it would be hell on wheels to make a computer figure out everybody's individual preferences for formatting!   So, with that thought in mind ...

Remember that habitat code B trumps all others.   Habitat code B includes any form of frequent human activity (a building, golf course, barnyard, mowed lawn, athletic field).   It is always the primary code, even if an occupied building (or lawn or barnyard or golf course and so forth) occupies less that half of the 50 yards directly to the left or right of a stop.

Also recall that semicolons separate the different types of entries in the Comments box (and are not used otherwise in the Comments box).   Use commas to separate items within any one kind of entry -- for instance, two or more names in observers=... or temperature, wind, and cloudiness in weather=...

There are three entries that should always be included in the Comments box:

observers=...; weather=...; vehicles=...;
Other entries should be included when appropriate:
others=...; habitat@...=...; habitat=...; notes=...;
Here is an example of a typical Comments box (feel free to copy and paste):
observers=Haven Wiley; others=Minna Wiley; weather=60 F, overcast early, becoming sunny, wind calm; vehicles=38; habitat@19L=M; notes=light rain stopped just before route began; numbers of NOMO and INBU low this year; no OVEN, no BLGR
This Comments box does not include a list of all habitat codes.   It only includes an entry to show that the habitat code at stop 19 on the left had changed to M (it might previously have been P but now hardwoods occupy more than 50% of the canopy).   A list of all habitats could be added to this Comments box.

The order of the entries in a Comments box is not important (although it helps if the first entry is observers=...').   No semicolon is needed at the end of the Comments box.

Why do we collect habitat codes?

The main reason is to characterize the overall distribution of habitats along an entire route.   For intance, what proportion of the route has hardwood forest (H) and what proportion is dominated by human activities (B)?   The 40 primary codes for each route (20 on each side of the route) can allow an estimate of these proportions.

The two primary codes at each stop (and any secondary and tertiary codes) can sometimes indicate the habitat occupied by the birds recorded there, but there will be some strange mismatches.   For instance, a Scarlet Tanager might be heard 50 yards ahead of a stop despite open fields directly to the right and left.

Estimating the proportions of all habitats within hearing range of a stop would present some serious difficulties.   Satellite images can of course provide a lot of information, but our procedure of recording 40 standardized codes provides easy and reliable estimates of the overall proportions of habitats -- and estimates of proportionate annual changes in the habitats.