eBirding your Christmas Bird Count data

Christmas Bird Count (CBC) season is here! The CBC represents one of the longest standing citizen science projects in birding, and generates a ton of interest from birders of all levels. And it is a lot of fun to participate in! From December 14 to January 5 each year, each 7.5 mile radius CBC circle (of over 60 circles in Michigan) is divided up into sections, with individual search parties sent out to cover each section carefully for a single day. At the end of the day, all of the parties’ totals are summed to gather a total count for each species detected in the circle.

Thankfully, your CBC data CAN be eBirded. However, because CBC data violate some of the standard protocol conventions we have established, there are specific requirements in order to have your data validated. Perhaps most importantly, we do not normally allow traveling counts longer than 5 miles, while virtually all CBC data involve a much longer traveling count than this. Here is how to properly eBird your CBC data so that they are validated in the eBird database:

  1. Enter only single-party checklists, never multi-party checklists. In other words, don’t add together the totals from separate search parties regardless of where each party birded. Keep these all separate for eBird purposes, even though the cumulative totals are what the CBC compilers will be interested in.
  2. Use traveling count, not area count. Enter only the one-way distance traveled, never including backtracking along the same routes. For instance, if you bird a one mile dead end road, then turn around and drive out the same road, this counts for 1 mile only, not 2 miles. There are several online utilities which will help you calculate your day’s distance. You just enter your route then it tells you the overall distance. See these links.
  3. If you lump the entire day’s count into one checklist, as most CBCers do, your location pin must be named according to this convention: “CBC name–Section name“. For example: “Monroe CBC–Section 2″ or “Lapeer County CBC–north zone.” Please use the double-hypen. The idea here is that checklists will be comparable between years and traceable to the same subsections of each CBC circle. If you’re willing to separate out each location birded into its own checklist, then eBird as you normally would outside the CBC window.

Any CBC checklists which do not conform to all of these standards will be invalidated for the research outputs of eBird, but as always, will stay in your account and still populate your list totals. Obviously, your local eBird review team member will ask you to change the errors before invalidating.

More information, including how to use your eBird mobile app to create your CBC totals, can be found here (and in the links therein).

Now, get out there are have some fun, while making a significant contribution to our understanding of birds! And maybe you’ll even be rewarded with a rarity for your efforts…

Adam, Brian, Caleb, Joe, and Marc


6 thoughts on “eBirding your Christmas Bird Count data

  1. Thanks for clarifying the unique requirements for submitting CBC checklists to eBird. I have shared this blog post with all Michigan CBC compilers and asked them to pass it on to any of their participants they think should be aware of these requirements.

  2. I do my own individual CBC in my yard and frequently in the Metropark adjacent to my house. I plan to add my findings to eBird. That’s not going to mess up anyone’s count is it. I plan to not use any of the naming protocols – just a normal, individual report. Thanks for letting me know if I should name it differently.

    • Colmel-

      Thanks for asking!

      Unless your “CBC” is part of the official count, ie. in a CBC circle and you’re covering a specific area and sending in your results to the official compiler, then it can be treated as a unique, standard eBird checklist. What you’re describing sounds more like Great Backyard Bird Count.


      • Actually, Caleb, you’re precisely right! It is just like that except done at Christmas time. We used to be part of a terrific group of CBC compilers in Georgia (Marietta area, headed up by Giff Beaton). The past years I’ve actually done my own compilation and put in in Avisys and will now be using eBird.

  3. Is there any consideration for how to approach eBird submissions for the NAMC? I have been chunking my count area out as a number of point counts and traveling counts and not as a summary of results for the township count area as a whole.

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