Birders are seeing a Tufted Duck in Callifornia, a Black-headed Gull in New Jersey, a Little Gull in New York, a Smooth-billed Ani. All of these are bird species seldom seen or hard to find in North America. I know exactly when these birds were last seen, by whom they were seen, and if I care to see them myself, I’ve got a map here on my computer screen.

This technical helping hand comes to us from eBird Alerts, an email subscription service offered by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology through its parent eBird data-gathering Web site. eBird, first and foremost, allows birders to contribute to a nationwide database of bird observations – birds in your backyard, birds at the park, birds you see on vacation. This is another citizen-science program from the folks who do that best.

eBird gives you a real-time online checklist(s) that belongs to you while it contributes to a database with broad scientific use. Learn about it at http://ebird.org.content/ebird/about. You register, and you go online to record your sightings. It’s pretty simple.

And while you’re there, if knowing of the unusual sightings mentioned above interest you, you can sign up to receive this information. My report comes via email once a day about mid-afternoon, a brief summary to feed my armchair curiosity. You also can receive it hourly (!!) or weekly. Soon, Cornell hopes to add a service that will tell you where in Minnesota (or any other state) you might go to see a particular bird species should it be reported. The summaries indicate whether or not the report has been confirmed, and offer links not only to maps but also often to photos.

The Cornell Lab eBird Web site offers many ways to participate and collect information, plus new birding features. It’s one of the Internet premier birding addresses.

The bird in the photo is a Rufous-backed Robin, photographed in December in Tumac, Arizona. Another of this species presently is being seen near Pinal, Arizona.