Bird Watching, Vertica, and a Room Full of Data Geeks

Each December the National Audubon Society coordinates the Christmas Bird Count, when masses of avid birdwatchers dust off their binoculars and set out to record the number of birds seen in a predetermined area. This centuries-old survey, first proposed to end the more gruesome tradition of Christmas “side hunts” (when the birds were shot on sight instead of counted), draws thousands of participants from around the globe to collect and record regional population data of birds. This rich data set is used in conservation data each year, but what happens when you let a room full of data geeks loose on this information?

That’s exactly what we set out to answer by hosting our first hackathon (also known as the HAWKathon) at the HP Vertica Big Data Conference 2013. Multiple teams combed through a number of rich data sets, including the Audubon data, Apache data, and Wikimedia and Wikinews page counts, to find hidden data gems and compete for the best discoveries.

Our second place winner, Lloyd Tabb, Founder, Chairman and CTO of Looker, did just that. Lloyd built his solution using the Vertica analytics platform and Looker, his query-based BI tool, to visualize the data. While the dashboard shows a staggering amount of data, one of my favorite observations noted was that three regions, California, Texas, and New York, counted more birds than there were species. I didn’t know Texas had so many bird lovers. Take a look at this graphic to see some of the other discoveries Lloyd made.

This year’s hackathon was an overwhelming success and a huge thanks to all of the participants and organizers, especially the Audubon Society for providing the data and making the hackathon such a great event. We’ll see you at next year’s HP Vertica Big Data Conference.

Stay tuned for more posts about the hackathon and Big Data Conference in the coming weeks.

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