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eBirding your Christmas Bird Counts

By Doug Hitchcox December 9, 2013
York County CBC circle copy

York County CBC Area

December 14 will begin the 114th Christmas Bird Count (CBC) season, which will run for three weeks, until January 4. The Christmas Count is the largest and longest-running ornithological citizen science project: There were 71,531 observers participating in 2,369 counts last year. Its data are a great complement to what we are collecting in eBird, and indeed the CBC has paved the way for eBird in many respects. It is not a problem to enter data in eBird and then submit it for the CBC too, since the two projects are collecting data in similar ways, but at different scales. There are a few very important things to remember when you submit your counts to eBird:

1) Most CBC circles are divided into multiple sectors, with teams of people (“parties”) covering each sector. Remember that eBird counts are single party counts, so any data collected during the CBC season should be entered for single parties only, not parties that spend a lot of time split up.

For more on this, read eBird’s article on Multi-party Counts.

2) The official CBC effort does not permanently store information at the “sector” level. eBird provides an opportunity to permanently record those data. For example, most coastal counts will have a substantially different mix of birds on the open beach versus areas 5 or 10 miles inland. eBird thrives on location specificity, so we welcome your sector data from the CBC.

3) While eBird works best with location specific sightings, it can be time consuming to enter multiple lists from a single day. We certainly appreciate those who take the time to break a day of birding into discrete stops, but a day-long traveling count or area count is not inappropriate. The important thing is that you describe what you did (accurate mileage, duration etc.)


For those using smartphones, the release of BirdLog last year fundamentally changed the way we record birds during CBCs. We are now able to create eBird checklists from the field! The process is easy, quick, and allows us to collect on a fine scale that is more valuable for representing bird populations.

Through BirdLog’s Trip Counter feature it is possible to keep checklists for each stop in your CBC sector and to have them automatically tallied at the end of the day. Who doesn’t love having a list in taxonomic order with correct counts when the compilations start?


4) If you do use a day-long count to enter your count, please give some thought as to the location that you use. Please do not plot your point at a ‘hotspot’ if you spent significant time birding outside of the hotspot area. It is far better to plot a new point to represent the CBC sector, and to name it in a way that makes it clear what it represents — such as “Waterville CBC–Sector 5”. Since hotspot summaries depend on data collected at the actual point, the bar charts and other summaries become much less meaningful when they include data from outside the location.

If you are still looking for a count to help with, a complete list of Christmas Bird Counts in Maine is available at: And if you need motivation to join more counts, I recommend reading about Paul Sykes, the first person to participate in over 400 CBCs: 400 Hundred and Counting: Reflections on a Long Association with the Christmas Bird Count.

Many thanks in advance to all of who participate in both eBird and the CBC. Our collective knowledge of birds has grown exponentially thanks to the efforts of citizen scientists like yourselves. Everyone at Team eBird enthusiastically participates in our local CBCs, so please get out there, have fun, and enjoy the compilations!