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eBirding from Home? Here Are 3 Expert Tips for Optimizing Your Lists

Red-bellied Woodpecker by Gerald Romanchuk/Macaulay Library
Red-bellied Woodpecker by Gerald Romanchuk/Macaulay Library.

With 90% of Americans urged to stay at home, millions of people are spending a lot more time looking out of windows at a backyard, porch, or garden. Many of those folks are using this time to try their hand at eBirding—or even just good old-fashioned birding.

Birding is a great mental release from the worries of the world. But eBirding can be even better, because it turns your bird sightings into powerful data that scientists use to build awesome visualizations of migratory bird pathways that span the entire Western Hemisphere and identify important habitat for conservation. (Are you an eBird newbie? No worries, check out the basics for getting started or take the free eBird Essentials course.)

More Resources to Make Your eBirding Easier

If you’re eBirding from home these days, here are a few simple ways to make your eBird checklists even more powerful as data that can be used for conservation science.

Birding while doing something else? Mark your list “incidental”

If you’re keeping a running eBird list of the species out your window while you’re working from home, cooking dinner, or doing anything else other than dedicated birding, then be sure to mark your list’s observation type as “incidental.”

That doesn’t mean your data won’t be used. “All data is valuable,” says Ian Davies, eBird project coordinator. Incidental birding checklists are still used for science and conservation. But labeling your list as incidental lets scientists know that you might have missed some birds that were present, and they can treat the data accordingly.

Take a dedicated 15-minute eBirding break

“The best eBird lists for citizen science come from dedicated birding, even if it’s just for 5 minutes,” says eBird project co-leader Jenna Curtis.

Curtis says eBirders can use short, dedicated bursts of birding in the morning and afternoon to break up the routine of a stuck-at-home workday. Grab a cup of coffee or tea, throw open a window so your ears can tune into the soundscape, and list every species you see or hear.

Snap a few photos or make a simple audio recording with your smartphone during your birding break, and you can add multimedia to your eBird checklist. Plus, you’ll have great birdy content to share what you saw with friends on social media.

Start a Yard List in eBird

Yard listing is a fun way for birders to keep track of species counts right around their home. It can be satisfying to play Henry David Thoreau and keep a scientific record of your immediate universe. And a yard list can be good fodder for good-natured rivalries with fellow birders.

Classifying your eBird checklist as a yard list can help the scientists who use your data, too. “We know comparatively less about what birds are seen at private residences than birding hotspots,” says Curtis. “Chances are, only you have direct access to the birds in your yard, which makes every home birding checklist unique and valuable.”

Adding a Yard List in your eBird account is easy. First, make sure you have submitted some eBird checklists from your yard. Then, hit the “Add a Yard” button, give your yard list a descriptive name, and add the eBird checklist locations that were tallied in your yard. Use the same location(s) for all your subsequent yard lists.

Tip: If you’re worried about privacy when adding your eBird checklist location, you don’t need to place the pin exactly in your yard; you can place the pin nearby along your street and name the location by the street name. You can also leave off your own name or other identifying information.

After that, you’ll be able to see your yard list totals any time by clicking the “Explore” tab on the eBird website while signed in to your account. And you don’t have to own a backyard to keep a yard list. An apartment complex courtyard, a rooftop garden on your building, any space near your immediate home can count as a “yard list.” And remember that any bird you hear or see from your home counts for your yard list. The bird doesn’t actually have to come into your yard, it can be out over the rooftops or somewhere down the street, as long as you’re in your yard when you see/hear it.

Whether eBirding and yardlisting, or just pausing to look up and appreciate nature outside the kitchen window, birds can have a calming effect during these worrying times, says eBird’s Jenna Curtis.

“The simple act of watching birds brings us together and brightens our days,” she says. “Seeing and sharing bird sightings is a reminder that, even when we’re isolated, we’re part of a global community.”

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library