[Tweeters] eBird takes on the "ABA Area"

birdmarymoor at gmail.com birdmarymoor at gmail.com
Fri Apr 1 08:56:21 PDT 2022

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which operates the web-based ornithological database eBird that is the world’s largest citizen-science project, has announced that they will be developing a set of regions for competitive birding. Many North American birders currently focus on getting as many species as possible in the “ABA area” which is defined by the American Birding Association to encompass Canada and the United States. However, as Hans Pedersen at Cornell says, “The ABA Area is arbitrary and totally unscientifically defined. The southern border is merely a political division that is meaningless to birds, the western edge goes well into Asia, and don’t even get me started on the inclusion of Hawaii!”

So the folks at eBird would like to create some new birding areas that will excite competitive birders while being much more scientifically based. They are almost ready to roll out the first such area, with the name ‘North America’. This would comprise Canada, the lower 48 states, and Alaska east of 169 degrees latitude (which would exclude St. Lawrence Island and all of the Aleutians west of Unalaska Island). The Bahamas would also be included. Additionally, it would include much of Mexico, with the southern border being the Tropic of Cancer, just north of Mazatlan.

Hawaii would not be included.

“This just makes much more sense,” says Pedersen. “It’s absurd to count the western Aleutians as part of North America, and totally crazy to count Hawaii.”

The southern demarcation, though, is still under discussion at eBird. “There are some who think the border should be much further north, at a line above all influence of the tropics,” admitted Pedersen. “Several researchers at Cornell argue the line should cut off the southern parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, and well as the tip of Florida. Some say this better excludes the range of ‘tropical’ birds.”

It will be a while before eBird comes out with the final boundaries of “North America”, but they are already at work defining “Central America” and “Southern America”. By 2025, they hope to have divided the rest of the world into additional competitive bird regions. “Dividing Europe from Asia is going to be a bit problem,” admits Pedersen. “It’s basically just one big lump of land.”
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