June 2023

Vol. 51, No. 3

Zaps: 51-3

Zaps are notes of awareness and pleas for action that appear in the corresponding print edition of Bird Observer. Here they are from the current issue.

iNaturalist: A Community Science Tool for Reporting Bird Mortalities

Natasha Bartolotta

For most birders, the phone app of choice for submitting one’s sightings is eBird. But what happens if you unfortunately encounter a dead bird? Where can these data be reported? A more generalized app, called iNaturalist, can play a role in utilizing community science to gain different insights into the state of our bird populations.

Currently, researchers within the Community Science & Disease working group of the Atlantic Marine Bird Cooperative (AMBC, ) are exploring a collaborative project through iNaturalist to gather baseline mortality data, monitor unusual mortality events such as the recent impact of highly pathogenic avian influenza, identify causes of death, and connect biologists to mortalities for samples or necropsy. Groups within the AMBC study primarily seabird and waterbirds along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The cooperative comprises national organizations, such as US Fish & Wildlife Service and American Bird Conservancy, with regional programs investigating the role of marine debris in mortality and monitoring marine bird health. Other organizations, such as the National Loon Center in Minnesota, will look at the coastal mortality data for insight into what affects Common Loon survival on their wintering grounds.

Although the project is still being fine-tuned, birders along the coasts can already contribute sightings to iNaturalist. After creating an account, download the app onto your phone or use it on a desktop. Unlike eBird, where a checklist of species is reported, iNaturalist relies on individual observations that must have a photograph or audio, though photography is the primary medium. You can submit photographs of living or dead animals as well as plants. Use a mobile phone to submit observations in real time. This real time reporting can be most helpful to researchers actively monitoring marine bird health, disease, and survival. If you encounter a dead bird on the beach or coastal area, take several photographs, ideally with something near it that will provide a size reference. There is a notes section where you can include a brief description of the conditions the bird was found in, and it is important to include information on any visible pathology such as wounds, entanglement, or oil on feathers.

Finally, after you submit the observation, make sure you select the “dead” checkbox under the annotations section. This will ensure that the observations automatically get included into collection projects such as the one the AMBC is creating. While it is certainly not pleasant to encounter a dead bird, your observation can contribute to ongoing research that will help us better monitor and protect our marine and waterbird populations.

Note that due to concerns about highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) we recommend that observers not touch the cadavers of these dead birds. Take photographs from a few feet away and use something like a stick from the beach if you want to reposition the body for photographs.

Request for Information about Diets of Eastern Red Crossbills

Dr. Cody Porter, Ames, Iowa

I am beginning a multi-year effort to characterize seasonal changes in the diets of eastern Red Crossbill call types. We know that crossbills in the east are fairly generalized in the sense that they feed on many conifer species. However, we don’t know if certain conifers are particularly important at specific times of the year or if certain conifers form a part of crossbill diets across years. Here is the project description link:

If you come across Red Crossbills in the field, I would appreciate it if you record their calls and get a picture of the conifer(s) the birds are feeding on. Pictures of the cones are especially helpful.

There are a few ways you could contribute observations to this project.

Perhaps the easiest is to upload a recording of the crossbills’ calls and a picture of the conifers the birds were feeding on to an eBird checklist. If you are comfortable with eastern conifer identification, a note about what conifer(s) the birds were feeding on is helpful. I will check eBird checklists with rich media monthly, but you can email your checklist to me directly.

For those who are not eBird users, I have created an iNaturalist project. Upload your information to

Finally, if you are not into eBird or iNaturalist, please email me directly at with crossbills’ recordings, pictures, and notes.

Please feel free to reach out with any questions. Also, please pass this on to anyone you think might be interested in contributing observations to this project.

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