Part of the fun of birding is keeping lists.
I love trying to see as many species as possible every time I go for a hike, which becomes a game and competition against myself. During any birding excursion, I am constantly aware of how many birds I have seen.
Keeping lists of birds is important to almost all birders and we all want to keep growing our list by adding new species!
The actual act of keeping a list in the field can be a little problematic as I find it distracting to stop in the middle of watching birds to add them all to my checklist. I don’t want to miss a bird flying over head while I am looking down!
On the flip side, I don’t want to forget to add a bird to my checklist either!
Looking back, it’s interesting, funny and a bit sad to see the evolution of how I tried to keep lists:
1. The Memory Method:
- Wow, was this a failure! When I first started birding and being young and foolish, the thought of actually stopping while birding to record what I saw seemed like a silly idea. It seemed much easier to just sit down at my computer after I had been home and just remember all of the birds from earlier in the day.
- FAIL! I basically sat in front of a blank screen all night trying to recreate events from earlier in the day, trying to remember all the birds I saw. This was almost impossible trying to do it hours after the actual birding trip.
2. The Notebook Method:
- After quickly realizing that I didn’t have the ability to remember every bird I saw and record them later, I went and bought a small pocket sized note book and pen to keep in my pocket. As soon as I saw a bird, I could whip it out and write everything down.
- Semi-Fail. This wasn’t terrible and many birders use this method. But it wasn’t for me. It seemed a bit too cumbersome and time consuming to write out each species that was seen. Worst of all, I always seemed to lose my pen halfway through the trip or the notebook got wet or I couldn’t understand my own writing!
3. The Recorder Method:
- After taking a small notebook along didn’t work well, I had a brilliant idea! Why not purchase a small recorder and use that to keep my list? It seemed to solve my above problems, I could keep track of my list real time but do it quickly by just speaking. Later on, I could go through my recordings and create a list.
- Semi -Fail. Again, this idea wasn’t horrible but the execution was difficult. While birding, it was nice to just speak quickly into the microphone. The biggest problem was the follow up. I had to be disciplined to sit down after my trip, listen to my recordings and create a checklist. Unfortunately this rarely happened and I still have tapes that I have never gone back and processed! And like many people I hate listening to the sound of my voice, which is another reason having a recorder wasn’t a good fit.
Luckily, these frustrations are just amusing memories now.
For the past few years, I have been using an app on my phone to instantly record my observed birds that is then uploaded into a database of all my submitted checklists.
Enter the eBird app.
Apple iTunes Store: eBird by Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Google Play: eBird by Cornell Lab of Ornithology
It’s sole purpose is to provide an easy way to record and submit a birding checklist.
Using the eBird app is hands down my favorite way to record birds while in the field. There are many other competitors and companies that offer checklist apps and software, but the eBird app is so simple and works so well, I can’t justify using anything else!
*In case you are new to birding and haven’t heard of eBird, they are an online checklist program that uses citizen science by relying on bird observations from people all around the world. Scientists take this data to observe trends which helps with conservation, policy changes, etc.*
Read more about the mission and goals of eBird: I am a huge fan of eBird and consider myself a dedicated eBirder for everything they are doing for birds.
The eBird App:
The good people over at eBird rely on amateur birders to submit checklists to provide raw data. Without any checklists, they have nothing to work with!
It has been a game changer and it is the only app that I am guaranteed to use EVERY time I bird. I literally use it almost every day, whether I am going to the park to specifically watch for birds or see a random bird outside my window at work.
The eBird app is designed to be an EASY way to keep a bird checklist. Unlike other apps that can become confusing, the eBird app knows it’s role and keeps it simple.
Here are 6 reason’s I like the eBird app:
1. More Checklists Submitted:
- Whenever I start a new birding trip, the first thing I do is take out my phone and open the eBird app. Based upon my GPS location, it finds the most likely birds that will be seen and uploads a checklist. Whenever a bird is spotted, I quickly pull out my phone to record my observations and get back to birding! At any point, I can look and see all the birds that have been observed.
- At the end of the trip, I quickly review my checklist and add any birds, notes or observations that I have forgotten. Then I submit my checklist right on my phone, which is normally done while sitting in my car before heading home. My checklist is submitted instantly and I am done! No more trying to remember the birds later at my computer or going through voice recordings!!
- By completing my checklist directly into the app while birding, the risk of an incomplete checklist or not submitting my checklist goes away.
2. It’s Free!!!
- Seriously, I get so much value from eBird and the app. Did I mention it doesn’t cost a cent??
3. Easy to Use:
- Some apps are so confusing, I feel that even computer programmers or 13 year old girls can’t figure them out. Not eBird. It’s pretty self-explanatory, especially if you experiment for just a few minutes.
- Fear not, keep reading and below I have screen shots on how submit a checklist using the app.
4. Syncs directly with my eBird account:
- Any checklist I submit through the app will be part of my eBird history and new species get added to my bird life list. Just make sure to use your same username and password with the app and website.
- Since the eBird app syncs with my eBird account, it’s easy to edit a checklist.
- For example, I try to include comments and observations of any birds added to my checklist. But using my phone to do this in the field can be challenging! Trying to type out complete sentences and use proper grammar on that little phone keypad in the woods is difficult. I like to go back and edit my checklist later and clean up the grammar. I just have to log in to the eBird website, find my checklists and make changes.
5. Finds Location Automatically with GPS:
- The eBird app saves time by using the GPS in my phone to locate my exact location.
- Based upon this location, the app narrows down and loads a checklist of likely birds to be seen. When birding in Ohio, it’s nice to not scroll through birds only found on the West coast.
- Another benefit of the GPS is the ability to find other local birding hot spots that other eBirders are visiting.
- For example, many of the local parks in my community are designated eBird hot spots. After opening the app, there are a few ways to search for this information and it’s fun to look around and find new areas that I haven’t visited.
6. Updates Splits and Lumps:
- Once per year, eBird does a complete taxonomy update. In this report, they talk about and update all of the lumps and splits throughout the year. Since eBird knows which species you have seen and where it occurred, all of your birding lists are updated automatically. How awesome is that!!??
How to Submit Your First Checklist:
Ok, so let’s take a look at the app and see how easy it is to use. I am going to walk through submitting a checklist to eBird using the app.
Step 1: Download the App
First, you will need to download the app on your smart phone in the iTunes app store or Google play. Just search “eBird” and it should be the first option. Look for the eBird logo (the picture at the top of this post).
Step 2: Sign In
Once the app is downloaded, open it up and sign in with your existing eBird account. This will sync with your existing eBird account. If this is your first time using eBird then hit “Create Free Account.”
Step 3: Start New Checklist
After signing in, the screen below will be staring you in the face. At the beginning of your birding trip, hit the big green “Start New Checklist” button.
So far pretty easy!
Step 4: Select Location
Next, it’s time to select select the location. See screen shot below because there are a few options:
(A) Choose a Recent Location:
- If you have used the mobile app before, it stores your previous 50 locations. This is the best option for birding spots that are visited and reported from often. For me this includes my house and my office.
(B) Choose a Location From Map:
- This option brings up a map of your current location using GPS. On the map, it not only displays your current location, but also your saved “Recent Locations” and other birding hotspots where other eBirders have submitted checklists. Skip below to Step 4 to see screenshots and more information.
(C) Create Offline Checklist:
- A lot of birders like to turn their phone off and disconnect while out in nature, which I totally understand. This feature is perfect as the app will work without a cellular or internet connected.
- Have you ever been bird watching and the cell service was sketchy or non existent? Using the “Create Offline Checklist” is great for these times.
Step 5: Select Location continued…
I selected “Choose a Location From Map” which is Option B from Step 4 immediately above.
The eBird app will use GPS to determine your location. See the screen shot below:
- On the map there will be different colored arrows. One of these will need to be selected as your birding location.
- Yellow Flag: Based upon your GPS coordinates, this is your current location.
- If you are in a new location, hit “Next” in the top left corner and move on to finding birds!
- *Recommendation: If this is a new location, make sure to title the location in the white entry bar at the top. The name of your location will default to the GPS coordinates. I found it’s much easier to use the name of the street or park or another landmark that is near your location.*
- Blue Flag: This is a “Personal Location” that has been used previously and saved. In this example, the Blue Flag represents “Work” which is my office location.
- Yellow Flag: Based upon your GPS coordinates, this is your current location.
- From the previous screen, I took my fingers and expanded the screen out to show a Red Flag.
- A Red Flag is an eBird Hotspot and represents locations where many other eBirders have submitted checklists. Many times these are parks or trails or a source of water. In this case it’s “Silver Lake”.
- If I want to find a new birding location, (especially while traveling), I use this feature. It’s easy to keep expanding the map and searching around until something close is found!
- In this example, I decided to use my previously saved “Work” location (the Blue Flag). Instead of using the Yellow Flag and creating a new location, I clicked on the Blue Flag which immediately renamed the location “Work”. See below, the Yellow Flag disappeared and just my Blue Flag remains. Now it’s time to hit Next!!
Step 6: Set Date and Time
The current date and time will appear. This will need adjusted if an older checklist is being entered.
Once it’s correct, tap “Start Checklist” at the bottom.
Step 7: Adding Birds to Checklist
Now comes the fun part! Finding birds!
There are a few ways to locate the correct bird and make sure it’s added to your checklist. See screen shots below:
- The eBird app defaults to a list of the likely birds that may be seen based upon your GPS location.
- One option is to scroll through this list and find the correct bird. In this example, I saw a Wood Duck and 4 Canada Geese. Just hit the “+” button next to the correct species to add the appropriate number.
- Scrolling through all of the available birds can be very time consuming. Normally, I tap the white search bar that says “# species name/code”. From here, start typing in the bird that was seen and it immediately finds the bird based on name.
- For example, if I type in sparrow, it immediately show’s all the birds with sparrow in their name. This is much quicker and less frustrating to find the correct bird instead of scrolling through the entire list.
- In the upper right hand corner there is a box that says “Checked”. Click at any point to review the birds that have been added to your checklist or to add additional birds for a species that has already been added.
- By clicking on the name of the bird (e.g. Canada Goose) it brings up a screen titled “Observation Details.”
- The number of species seen can be edited and comments can be added.
- There is also a spot for a Breeding Code. For more information on adding these codes check out the following eBird articles:
- The observation details screen does not have to be filled out but is helpful.
Step 8: Submitting a Checklist
We are almost done!
- Unfortunately, every bird watching trip has to come to an end. When that time comes we need to submit the checklist to eBird!
- Before submitting, I recommend reviewing the birds on your checklist. Make sure that all the species are added with the correct number. Many times this is when I open up each species to add comments about their behavior when observed.
- Once satisfied, hit the bottom green button that says “Review and Submit”.
- The final screens asks a few additional questions about the birding trip.
- It’s important to specify the type of observation that took place.
- Traveling: Did you go for a hike while birding? How far did you walk and how long?
- Stationary: Were you sitting in one place?
- Incidental: Birding was not the main objective. This is great to use when you see a bird in your backyard or while driving.
- When you are comfortable with the checklist it’s time to submit! Just hit the green button at the bottom that says “Submit” and you are all done!
Congratulations! You have just submitted a checklist using the eBird app!
I can’t say enough how easy the eBird app makes submitting a checklist and keeping track of all your birds.
If it’s not on your phone already, it needs to be!