As the eBird database grows, it becomes increasingly valuable. Your observations make a huge difference in our understanding of birds at many levels—from making more information available for birdwatchers to eBird Science use. However, not all sightings have the same value—here are our tips to make sure that you’re eBirding the best way you can. For more details on maximizing the value of your checklists, take a look at our brief, free eBird Essentials course. 

Quick Links

Follow core checklist requirements

Keep complete checklists

Keep shorter checklists

Include species counts

Use Mobile tracks

Document your sightings

Follow core eBird checklist rules & requirements

Every eBird checklist must have four key elements:

  1. Date (a single calendar date)

  2. Location (a specific location selected on a map)

  3. Bird species detected (sometimes 0, sometimes as many as 345)

  4. Observer (a single observer)

Not having one of these three elements means that the data are not a good fit for eBird—common examples include no specific location, or sightings spanning multiple dates. If you know only the country you were in, or if you have sightings that span multiple days, enter these using our Life List guidelines

Include in your list

  • Birds you hear or see. As long as you were able to confidently identify the bird, you should enter it regardless of whether you heard or saw it. 
  • Fledglings, nestlings, and baby birds of all types.
  • Introduced species
  • Living birds. Right now eBird is intended only for living birds. Birds that were seen alive before dying are acceptable. 

Do not include in your list

  • Eggs
  • Captive birds. You may report wild birds you see at outdoor zoos, but never include caged birds, pinioned waterfowl, or birds that are part of the collection. Birds at zoos that are not known to be wild should not be reported.
  • Dead birds. eBird does not currently collect data on dead birds.
  • Remote sensed images or video. Do not enter any data from nest cameras, feeder cameras, or videos of people traveling around filming birds. The differences in detection rates differs greatly from what you can detect in the field.
  • Advertisement banners. Refrain from embedding images for advertising.
  • Sightings from multiple parties on a single list. Checklists must only include sightings that are from a single group of birders: adding lists from multiple parties together is not appropriate.

Sightings that do not follow these rules and requirements may be result in data removal from eBird.

Fledglings and baby birds of all types count—just make sure to keep track of all those heads! Common Merganser by Steve Kinsley/Macaulay Library (ML62561911).  

Keep complete checklists

Keeping complete checklists gives more meaning to your sightings of common and rare birds alike. King Eider with Common Eiders by Tom Ford-Hutchinson/Macaulay Library (ML126748271)

When you're out birding, you'll generally see a wide variety of birds: from the most familiar and common to (hopefully) some unusual species. 

The quickest way to maximize the value of your eBirding is to always keep a complete checklist and report all species you were able to identify. We know that sometimes you’ll see a bird from a car or something that isn’t complete, and that’s fine. All we encourage is reporting all species when you have the chance. 

Complete checklists are extremely valuable since they tell us that you didn’t report any European Starlings because you didn’t identify or encounter any—not that you excluded them! Every single bird observation, common or rare, has value. When you submit complete checklists, you tell us not only about all the birds you found, but you also tell us you did *not* observe a suite of other potential species. This “negative data” is critical because knowing where birds aren’t is just as important as knowing where they are when it comes to mapping their ranges! 

Complete checklists power eBird Status and Trends and many other research and conservation projects worldwide. We can determine the presence and absence of Bullock’s Orioles across North and Central America thanks to complete checklists! The colorful areas show the presence of Bullock’s Orioles compared to their absence in dark gray “0 abundance” areas. But, we can't confidently say if they’re present in certain parts of Baja California and boreal Canada because we don't yet have enough complete checklists there (note the blank “no prediction” areas). By submitting complete checklists, you're collecting important information about *all* species and allowing researchers and conservationists worldwide to make informed decisions to protect birds.

Keep shorter checklists

These checklists from Manú Road, Peru each contain species not found at the other location even though they are only 8 miles (13 km) apart as the hummingbird flies! Making precise checklists allows us to better understand very accurate information on where and when birds occur around the world.

The shorter the duration and distance, the more valuable the information. Each time you visit a new birding spot, cross a distinct habitat barrier, or start another hour of stationary counting, consider starting a new checklist. We recommend keeping Traveling checklists under 5 miles (8 km) and Stationary checklists under 3 hours for your sightings to make the biggest positive impact.  

Include species counts

Estimating numbers makes for a much more valuable checklist that highlights the incredible densities of migratory shorebirds in northeastern Canada. Semipalmated Sandpiper by Ben Lagasse/Macaulay Library (ML129596591).

Counting birds provides incredibly more-useful data for understanding birds.. Putting “X” only tells us that the species was present; there could be anywhere from 1 to 1,000,000! If you’re studying Semipalmated Sandpiper, knowing whether there were 40 or 40,000, and how that changes between places and across years, makes all the difference. It’s important to note that every count doesn’t have to be a one-by-one count of every bird—estimates are valuable too. Check out our articles on how to count birds to hone your skills! 

Use Mobile tracks 

Tracks give you a nice map of your route in addition to recording your distance traveled!

eBird Mobile lets you automatically record effort information: making it easier on you and also including the most precise location information we gather. Tracks allow you to focus on the birds and increase the value of your checklists by allowing researchers to link them with habitat information from satellite imagery for results like eBird Status and Trends

If you’re submitting a checklist using the eBird website, estimate your distance traveled using your GPS, odometer, pedometer, or online tools like the Gmap-pedometer. Please do not shy away from estimating distance and instead end up using our arch nemesis—The Incidental Checklist.

Document your sightings

When you observe rarities, add notes, photos, or sounds to document the observations. Even for common species, including media and notes adds a lot of depth to the record, and also makes it a better memory for a future you. Check out our tips on documenting notable birds and how to upload media. For more on our data quality process, click here.

This species abundance map was generated using information collected entirely by eBirders. The varying color intensities show relative abundance of Tree Swallows across North America throughout a given year, and the data product is only possible due to complete checklists with count information. Click to see more Status and Trends data products.