You may find yourself in a unique birding situation where the best way to eBird is unclear. In these cases, please refer to the guidance on this page.
In this article
Why should birders recognize borders?
eBirding your Christmas Bird Count
Keeping group accounts in eBird
Other special birding circumstances
For other unique birding situations, such as banding, Pelagic trips, or nocturnal flight counts, please see our Specialized eBird Protocols page.
Lineated Woodpecker by Ad Konings/Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab (ML179627167)
Birding Along Borders
In this section, "borders" refer to the boundaries between geopolitical units - namely counties, states/provinces, and countries.
When it comes to the position of the birder and the position of the bird, listing rules can be inconsistent. For example, some state lists only count birds that have demonstrably occurred within the state boundaries. However, most yard lists count whatever bird can be seen from your yard. At eBird, we strive to bring more consistency to lists.
Here are our best practices when you are birding near these boundaries:
Continue to follow eBird best practices; submit complete checklists that are short in duration and distance.
- At eBird, complete checklists come first. Complete checklists are an attempt to record everything you can see or hear from your location. We do not want birds left off your list simply because they were across an (often invisible) geopolitical boundary. If you do leave birds off for this reason, it is no longer a complete checklist!
When traveling somewhere, begin a new checklist every time you cross a border
- This ensures the expected species list on eBird Mobile is up to date, and any new birds you detect are placed in your current county, state, and country instead of the previous one.
Every bird seen or heard from your location "counts", regardless of where the bird is.
- A complete checklist should include birds on both sides of the border. If you are standing on the Texas side of the US-Mexico border, and you see a Lineated Woodpecker flying on the Mexico side, report it! In eBird, this observation "counts" for where you are standing (i.e., your US and Texas lists). If you don’t want it to count, or want to count it for both countries, see "Tips for county listers" below.
Plot your location as accurately and precisely as possible.
- For complete checklists, always plot your checklist where you were, NOT where the birds were. Do not place a complete checklist anywhere you did not stand or travel during that list.
- Your data will be summarized to a single county, state, and country based on where you plot your checklist - so be precise! Avoid using Hotspots if they do not accurately represent your location for the entire checklist (read more).
Any time you see or hear a rare bird across a border, add some notes in the Species Comments about the bird's location.
- From the example above: because Lineated Woodpecker does not have a confirmed record within the United States, if you see or hear one in Mexico while you are on the Texas side of the border, you would certainly be asked to provide notes about this rare observation. Write detailed comments to help other birders understand the exact location of the bird relative to your own. This is especially helpful for those that might use the data, including journals and Bird Record Committees
If you are birding along a border (e.g., traveling parallel to a county line or boating along a river that represents the border), please do one of the following:
- Submit a single complete checklist of all the birds you see or hear, regardless of your county or theirs. Plot your checklist at your starting point, or choose a Hotspot that best describes your route.
- Submit two incomplete checklists, one for the birds in each county following our "Tips for county listers" instructions below.
Tips for county listers
For some birders, keeping precise state and local lists is important. If reporting all birds on a single complete checklist is not something you wish to do, it is possible (though not preferred) to keep two incomplete birding lists - one for each side of the border.
When keeping separate checklists for different sides of a border, please follow these rules:
- For BOTH checklists, the answer to "Is this a complete checklist of the birds you were able to identify?" must be "No", because each list intentionally omits birds in the other geopolitical area.
- Use your exact location for birds detected on your side of the border; create a personal location directly across from you on the opposite side of the border for the birds you detect on that side. (You can also select an appropriate Hotspot for either side of the border, but only if it accurately describes your location on your side, or the general vicinity of the birds on the other side)
- If you freely crossed back and forth across the border while birding, choose an incomplete Stationary or Traveling protocol for both checklists. If you could not freely cross the border while birding, use the "Incidental" protocol for the checklist on the inaccessible side. Do not use the Stationary or Traveling protocol for any lists plotted to counties, states, or provinces you did not actually bird within.
- We recommend focusing on one side of the border at a time instead of trying to keep two lists at once (you will not be able to keep simultaneous lists running on eBird Mobile if you are using tracks).
Birds don't recognize borders, why should birders?
Geopolitical units give us a way to organize and summarize eBird observations.
Any birds you report on a checklist, regardless of where or how far you travel, will be automatically assigned to a county (where applicable), state/province, and country based on where you plot your list.
In most cases, this also determines the data entry checklist and data quality filter. Your checklist can only use one eBird filter, so there may be mis-matches in species data if you include birds from multiple geopolitical areas on the same checklist, especially when those areas have considerably different habitats and birds.
These issues can be avoided by doing all of the following, in addition to the instructions above:
- keep your checklists short in distance and duration
- plot your location as precisely as possible
- start a new checklist every time you cross a geopolitical boundary while traveling
These steps ensure your checklist is assigned to the correct eBird filter and summarized in the appropriate county, state, and country.
Elegant Trogon by Christoph Moning / Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (ML112317441)
eBirding your Christmas Bird Count
Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) are cooperative efforts to get the best count of wintering birds in a single 15-mile diameter circle. They depend upon the efforts of multiple parties of observers with each group checking different parts of the count circle, then combining their counts in a final total that can be compared to totals for the past 118 years. CBCs are an important and long-running endeavor that help us understand changes in bird populations.
While doing your CBC, eBird Mobile makes it easy to keep your tallies through the day. Here are our tips for making your CBC eBirding as helpful as possible:
- Keep multiple lists throughout the day: ideally one for each stop, or perhaps one for each road. We recommend beginning a new list every time you get into or out of a car. Use the Incidental protocol for lists you keep while driving between CBC birding sites.
- Only submit lists of birds observed by your CBC group: do not combine your lists with those from other groups in your section, or other CBC sections. It is not appropriate to enter the CBC totals for the entire count circle into eBird.
- Report only one-way distance in your traveling counts: both CBC and eBird measure distance as one-way distance, especially if you backtrack or repeat portions of a route. Learn more about reporting accurate traveling distances.
CBCs and eBirding are compatible processes as long as you stick to our recommended best practices, keeping separate lists for each place you visit during the count. By keeping many eBird lists, rather than one big checklist for your entire section, you increase the resolution or detail of your CBC data and add important spatial information.
Cackling Goose by Jeremiah Trimble / Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (ML125950291)
Keeping Group Accounts in eBird
Checklist sharing can also be a useful way to aggregate eBird checklists on "eBird group accounts." This can be helpful if you want to track the collaborative accomplishments of your local birding club or monitoring group in eBird.
To create a group account, create a normal eBird account and opt out of the Top 100 when you choose your user preferences.
Everyone contributing to a group account should ALWAYS:
- have individual personal accounts
- upload media to checklists from their own personal accounts
- share their checklists *to* the group account; never create a checklist using the group account
Important: make sure that the account administrator opts the group account out of the Top 100. Those totals should reflect the accomplishments of individual birders only.
eBirding on Guided Tours
Each year thousands of birders join guided tours, including morning bird walks at ecolodges, several days with a private guide, or multi-day adventures with a professional tour company. Intense birding like this always presents data entry challenges in eBird, but guided tours have some added layers of complexity. Below are some tips to submitting your birds from a tour.
Keep one checklist for the entire group
Designate one eBird user to keep the bird list for that location, start the list when you begin birding, and end the list when you leave that site. No need for multiple people to keep separate lists - each person can edit their own unique copy of the list once it is shared and accepted.
Share your sightings
eBird Mobile makes it easy to share your checklist with the group at the time of submission. Learn more about easy ways to share your guided your checklists.
Use eBird Mobile to keep lists and notes as you go
eBird mobile helps you keep a running tally of birds, and uses your device's GPS to accurately plot your location in the field - even without cell reception. Using eBird in the field ensures you don't forget the species you saw or places you visited before you can enter the data at home.
Work with your guide and other participants
As your guide and fellow group members if they use eBird. Sharing the workload among eBird users ensures everyone has a fun trip while collecting accurate lists.
Recap for accuracy
Every time you change locations, revisit the list from the previous location with the entire group to verify its completeness and accuracy. Ask specific questions like "How did we know that kingbird was a Couch's and not a Tropical?" or "How many Squirrel Cuckoo did we see in total?"
Things to avoid when eBirding a guided tour
Below are the most frequent errors we see on eBird checklists from guided tours:
- Misplotted Locations. Make sure your location is plotted accurately and precisely. Check with your guide before plotting your checklist to a hotspot - they may know of a more accurate location for the checklist. Learn more about choosing accurate checklist locations. Checklists with incorrect locations will not be used in public eBird outputs.
- Lists covering multiple locations. Please do not submit one checklist spanning several locations, especially when those locations were separated by long drives in between. A good rule of thumb is: every time you get in a car, stop the previous list, and start a new list at the next location. Checklists spanning broad regions will be not be used in public eBird outputs.
- Checklists spanning multiple days. Every checklist must correspond to a single calendar date. Do not submit one checklist for multiple days of birding. Checklists spanning multiple days will be not be used in public eBird outputs.
- Common name and taxonomic errors. Many guides know their local birds very well, but may not be up-to-date on the latest changes to common names, taxonomic relationships, or species 'splits'. Bird names can change over time as new species are recognized and names are revised. You may see evidence of this if you enter the name of a species that seems surprisingly common, and find that it is "flagged". Do a Google search or type the species name into Avibase to see if the species designation has recently changed.
- Writing "seen by guide" in the species comments of rare birds. While many professional guides know the birds in their area very well, eBird cannot consider statements like "seen by our guide" or "Identified by guide; contact him for documentation" to be acceptable. It is your responsibility to document the birds you report to eBird. Your guide may be able to provide you with notes or photos. Better yet, share your eBird list with your guide so they can add their own photos or notes.
Giant Antpitta by Ian Routley / Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (ML1824274431)