eBirding on Christmas Bird Counts

Christmas Bird Count (CBC) season is coming! For three weeks each year (14 December to 5 January) tens of thousands of birders head out to conduct the Audubon Christmas Bird Count™ which is coordinated annually by the National Audubon Society and Birds Canada. Christmas Bird Counts are cooperative efforts to get the best count of birds across more than 2,500 separate 15-mile diameter CBC circles. Teams of birders coordinate every year to cover each CBC circle, combining sightings across the circle for a final count total that can be compared to totals for the past 122 years to help document changes in bird populations.

Click here to learn how to join a Canadian Christmas Bird Count near you.

Below are instructions on how to use eBird for CBC participants and CBC Compilers. 

For CBC participants/parties

Here are some of our tips and tricks on how to make your CBC experience better than ever with eBird.

Take eBird Essentials

If anyone in your CBC party or team is new to eBird, we highly recommend they take the free eBird Essentials course before the CBC begins. This free, self-paced course offers step-by-step walkthroughs and helpful tips so everyone is ready to use eBird on the day of the CBC.

Use eBird Mobile

Nominate someone from your CBC party (or team) to be the official recorder during the day, and have them use eBird Mobile to keep a list of counts of species for each stop during your CBC. Doing one checklist for each stop or location provides the most valuable information.

Follow Best Practices

Here are our tips for making your CBC eBirding as helpful as possible.

  • Only submit lists that include birds observed by your CBC party: do not group lists from other birding parties together.
  • Keep multiple lists throughout the day: ideally one for each stop, or perhaps one for each road. Start a new checklist any time the mode of transportation is changed (e.g., every time you switch from car to foot and vice versa).
  • Include only one-way distance in your traveling counts: both the CBC and eBird measure distance as one-way distance. Always include the full time spent for each checklist.
  • Document unusual observations: if any of your reports are flagged as an unusually high count or rare species, take detailed field notes and, if possible, photos and/or audio recordings—your compiler will need these details for their final report. More tips for documenting unusual observations.
  • Be sure to also provide your total party miles and party hours (for both owling and diurnal efforts) to your compiler or sector leader: note that party kilometres and party hours for the CBC may also include travel time between eBirding stops, so will almost always be more than the sum of effort from your eBird checklists.
  • If you are submitting a checklist from your feeder during a CBC, remember to only tally the high number of each species seen or heard at once, and do include the full time spent watching the feeder.
  • Account for the same individual birds on multiple lists when sharing your final tally: if the same individual birds are reported on more than one eBird checklist, communicate these exceptions to your compiler to avoid double-counting in the final tally.

Create an eBird Trip Report for the day of the CBC

Have the nominated CBC eBirder on your team create a public or link-sharable eBird Trip Report for the day of the CBC (here’s an example). eBird Trip Reports give you a summary of your entire CBC in a single easily shareable list. You can even create your CBC Trip Report in advance. Create an eBird Trip Report for the date of the CBC and it’ll automatically update species and count totals as you submit eBird checklists throughout the day. All checklists during an eBird Trip Report are automatically added to the tally unless you choose to remove them.

Submit all your eBird checklists for the CBC

At the end of the day, make sure you’ve submitted all of your checklists and checked that the correct ones are included in the eBird Trip Report. You can remove lists from the Trip Report by going to Edit > Manage checklists when viewing your report. Once the counts are checked and the lists are ready, all the lists can be shared with other members of your party in just a couple clicks right from your eBird Trip Report!

Send your tallies to your CBC compiler

With eBird Trip Reports, sharing your final CBC numbers with your count compiler is easier than ever. Include your party effort information in the “Narrative” of the eBird Trip Report, then send the compiler the link to your eBird Trip Report and you’re good to go. Make sure to also note any numbers that should be reduced in the final tally due to the same individual birds being reported on multiple checklists.

That’s it! You’ve just shared your CBC results with your compiler, and you can head off to the next CBC.

For CBC Compilers

As a compiler, eBird can help summarize data across CBC parties, making it easier for you to finalize your count totals, access all party checklists from one place, and view photos and audio recordings for birds that require documentation.

Share eBird guidelines with party leaders

The preceding section (“For CBC participants/parties”) has everything party leaders need to use eBird during their CBC and get you their party data.

Summarize data from eBird Trip Reports from parties

Each party should send you one link containing their party’s totals and effort data (e.g., From each of these links you can transfer party species and effort totals into your count-wide summary. Every report has the same format, making it easier than ever to combine totals from many parties into a final report.

That’s it! With eBird Trip Reports, your job as a compiler should be easier than ever.

Here are some more useful links for eBird best practices and CBC resources: