In the comments to a recent post, I mentioned to John of A DC Birding Blog that there seem to be a lot of Clay-colored Sparrows kicking around Long Island this fall (literally, given their foraging habits) but that I had no way to say for sure. The bulk of all Clay-colored Sparrows live, love, and migrate in the center of the continent, and though a few turn up in New York every fall, they’re sought-after anomalies. Since they draw attention, they’re subject to confirmation bias; you remember hearing about them and connect dots in your brain that may not require a line. Are there more Clay-colored Sparrows this year, or am I just paying more attention to them?

And then I thought, hey… isn’t that what the good people of Cornell gave us eBird* for?

And eBird seems to suggest that my inklings are correct. Going back to 2005 (the year I moved to the city), 2008 shows the highest spikes in Clay-colored Sparrow frequency, abundance, and total count over September and October in Kings, Queens, New York, and Nassau counties. This year, for instance, there were 5 Clay-colored Sparrows reported the first week of October, compared to none in 2007 and only one in 2006

It’s hard to say what this means, if anything. 5 and 1 are not numbers of which statistical significance are made, when you’re talking about Clay-Colored Sparrows and not, say, Whooping Cranes or California Condors. And not every bird is sighted, of course, and not all sightings are reported to eBird. Could be that there are more confused young birds this year , more errant winds, or both, or something else. Or it could be just a fluke.

I’m not complaining about the fluke, though! And I’m glad that something like eBird exists now to indulge my curiosity like this.

*yes, I’m using Birdstack. Because it has better mapping, what with using Googlemaps. But you can export your sightings from Birdstack and donate them to science through eBird.
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