Recent advancements in information technology and data acquisition have created both new research opportunities and new challenges for using big data in ornithology. We provide an overview of the past, present, and future of big data in ornithology, and explore the rewards and risks associated with their application. Structured data resources (e.g., North American Breeding Bird Survey) continue to play an important role in advancing our understanding of bird population ecology, and the recent advent of semistructured (e.g., eBird) and unstructured (e.g., weather surveillance radar) big data resources has promoted the development of new empirical perspectives that are generating novel insights. For example, big data have been used to study and model bird diversity and distributions across space and time, explore the patterns and determinants of broad-scale migration strategies, and examine the dynamics and mechanisms associated with geographic and phenological responses to global change. The application of big data also holds a number of challenges wherein high data volume and dimensionality can result in noise accumulation, spurious correlations, and incidental endogeneity. In total, big data resources continue to add empirical breadth and detail to ornithology, often at very broad spatial extents, but how the challenges underlying this approach can best be mitigated to maximize inferential quality and rigor needs to be carefully considered.
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Vol. 120 • No. 2