top of page

Using eBird for Spring Migration

Below is a review of how to accurately use eBird posted to a birding listserv by San Mateo County's eBird editor, Malia DeFelice. All of these recommendations are important to remember if you think you are seeing a rare bird while you are bird watching. Thanks to all the eBird users and especially the volunteer eBird editors and reviewers. That's a tough job!

Here comes Spring Migration! And here are a few reminders for best practices when using eBird at any time, but also at this exciting time of the year. Please feel free to share.


Everyone who has used eBird to report a rare bird, unusually high counts of a species, or birds that are unusual for the time of year, or location, is familiar with the automated prompt requesting more documentation. Just a few reminders about documenting your rare/unusual sightings on eBird:


Written Documentation: When you are prompted to provide documentation for a sighting of an unusual or rare bird, the #1 comment to add is a description of the bird. A description of the bird should contain field marks and defining physical or audible characteristics that helped you separate it from similar species. This is the most important element you can add to your checklist record. The bird’s behavior, what the bird was doing, where it was seen etc. can add depth to the record, but a description of what the bird looked/sounded like is the most important component. Remember, the rarer the bird, the more important thorough documentation becomes.


Early Arrivals: Accurate reporting of arrival timing is just as important to science as correct ID, and the two can go hand in hand. It is understood that not everyone will know if a bird is extremely early, sort of early, or just a little bit early. Some migrants return earlier than others.  Some return a lot later than others. So please treat the prompt for more details for an early bird in a similar way that you would treat rare birds. Please provide confirmable media, or a description of what the bird looked like or sounded like and how it was separated from confusion species. When writing your details, consider how helpful your choice of words will be to other eBirders, researchers, scientists and people doing important conservation work now, and far into the future.


Photos and Audio: eBird has made uploading photos and audio recordings relatively easy.  Media are a great way to document your sightings. However, there are times that we see photos or hear audio, that are of a less than optimal quality and they alone do not support the ID of the bird. If your uploaded media is less than optimal, please supplement your record by adding descriptions of the bird(s) as noted above.


“Details to be added” “Photos/Audio to be added”: When compiling checklists in the field using a smart device, it can be difficult to type detailed notes. For birds flagged for more details, please use comments like “Details to be added” or “Photos/Audio to be added”. But use that wording only as a temporary placeholder in your checklist comments. Avoid making those “to be added” comments permanent. Try to write your descriptions of the birds and field marks/notes etc. as soon as you can while the details are still fresh in your mind. Don’t wait until a time too far in the future when details are fuzzy at best. Upload your supporting photos and audio as soon as it is convenient, especially if it is an early arrival or a rarity you are documenting.


EBIRD FILTERS: eBird filters are extremely complicated and I could write more words of explanation than anyone will ever want to read. So to keep the answer simple.........

eBird Filters are set to:

·      reflect the overall rarity of a species at any time of year i.e. Slaty-backed Gull

·      Address timing and seasonality  i.e. arrival and departure dates

·      Where on-going identification issues for some “common” species have become apparent based on what the review team has experienced over time and continue to experience

·      We more geographically refined filters. But eBird is not prepared to give them to us. So there are likely many birds reported erroneously that the filters do not catch at the time of the observation. The review team has to search for those potential erroneous records manually and then contact observers for more details after the fact.


HOTSPOTS: If you are birding at a known eBird Hotspot please select the known eBird Hotspot as your checklist location. Unfortunately, it is very easy to select an auto-assigned location when entering your checklist data with a smart device in the field. The eBird Hotspot may not be the first location option in the list of location choices, so please take care to look for the official hotspot.


Merlin Users: If you are using Merlin to identify a bird that gets flagged for more details, please upload your audio recording to your checklist as soon as it is convenient. Leaving a comment “ID”d by Merlin” is not sufficient documentation. Merlin can be accurate, but Merlin can also be very wrong and still needs the human element to review suggested Identifications. It is always best to try to see a vocalizing bird in order to get visual confirmation of the ID when possible.


Species High Counts for eBird records: The mobile app now prompts species “High Counts” with a request for added details. A brief comment describing how the number was determined, i.e. “counted by 10’s” or “direct count” is what eBird is looking for. A numeric estimate of birds is always better than an “X”.  In addition, in some cases it may be necessary to confirm how the species was ID’d by providing a brief description of the species and how it was separated from similar species. 


A Big Thank You to All, for your media contributions, documentation and note-taking efforts to support rare bird sightings, unusually high counts of a species, or birds that are unusual for the time of year or location. Your efforts to set a high standard for data quality for eBird.


Good Birding and Have Fun.

Malia DeFelice

eBird-San Mateo County

Below are a series of eBird help articles covering various topics:


Here is an eBird help article about how to document your sightings.


For more information and tips for counting large numbers of birds or birds observed over a duration of time here are 3 help articles:


Here is an eBird help article that talks about uploading media.


We are seeing a lot of new users on eBird. If you are new to eBird here is a help article about Getting Started with eBird:


For new eBirders, I highly recommend taking the FREE eBird essentials course

58 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page