Confirming rare birds and high counts Why was I asked to confirm my count? Have you had one of those banner FeederWatching days when a flock of Cedar Waxwings descends upon your yard? More than 100 waxwings are dripping from the trees and shrubs and frolicking in your birdbath. Or perhaps you found a lost bunting at your feeders in the middle of the winter when the bird should be in Central America? These are indeed exciting events and you may be eager to enter your count into the FeederWatch data entry system. As you type in your report, you receive a message on the screen that says, “This is a high count for this species. Please confirm.” Did you do something wrong? Probably not, but you have been introduced to the FeederWatch system designed to check and “flag” potential errors. We have all made mistakes, either in identifying species or in hitting the wrong key when entering our counts. The data flagging system is designed to catch errors before they are permanently added to the FeederWatch data base. A computer (called the review robot) automatically screens all counts. It compares your counts to a series of allowable species/maximum count combinations called “filters.” The filters are based on the counts submitted by past FeederWatchers in your area. Although a species or a high count may not be unusual in your yard, it may be unusual when compared with the reports of others in your area. Congratulations! You have experienced something that others in your area have not. When the review robot finds a count that exceeds the maximum set by the filters, it generates a confirmation message and “flags” the count for review. Bird ranges are dynamic and the filters are designed to accommodate changes in bird distributions. For instance, as Eurasian Collared-Doves rapidly expanded their range across the country, FeederWatch staff were able to revise checklists to minimize the number of participants who were asked to confirm their Eurasian Collared-Dove reports. Unusual experiences certainly occur at feeders all the time–these rare events keep many of us watching in anticipation of what may happen next. The flagging system is designed to help us recognize when a report is unusual for an area and to help ensure the accuracy of the FeederWatch data so that we may learn more about the birds that we all enjoy. What happens if my report is flagged? If the filter considers your count to be unusually high, you will be asked to confirm the entry. Did you intend to type 100, or should it have been 10? If the count is correct, simply click the “Confirm” box, and the data will go to the FeederWatch database at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. There is no need to do anything further, such as sending photos or correspondence explaining your count, unless a FeederWatch staff member contacts you. If the filter considers the species you are reporting to be rare for your area, you will be asked to submit a photo or description of your sighting. What happens to flagged reports? After a record is flagged and confirmed, the record goes through a review system managed by FeederWatch staff at the Cornell Lab and Birds Canada. The experts often immediately recognize these flagged records as valid sightings and clear the flags. For the majority of flagged reports, that’s the end of the story. However, if you report a species or count that is rare for your area, you may receive a message from FeederWatch staff asking you to provide more details about your report. A photo is necessary to confirm extremely rare reports. Birds often show up in unusual places, and we are as excited as the participants about these rare sightings.