Frequently Asked Questions
We Have Answers
Please review the four sections below and click on each question it to see the response.
How do I create an account?
If you have never particpated in the Great Backyard Bird Count or other projects at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, you may need to create an account. We recommend creating an account within the tool that you choose to use for the count. See our How to Participate to choose your tool, either the Merlin Bird ID app; the eBird Mobile app; or ebird on a computer. This is because each tool is optimized to walk you through this process seamlessly.
If, however, you would rather create an account directly with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, visit this page to be walked through the steps. Please be sure to record your username and password in a safe location so you can use it when you go to sign-in and enter a sighting or list(s) for the 4-day count.
Do you accept paper data?
No. All Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) data must be entered online because an email address is required for confirmation of any flagged reports. Anyone with an email address and access to a smart phone or computer can submit data.
How is the information from the GBBC used?
Bird populations are constantly changing. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to keep track of the complicated patterns of movement of species around the world. The information from Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) participants, combined with other surveys, helps scientists learn how birds are affected by environmental changes
The information you send in can provide the first sign that individual species may be increasing or declining from year to year. Data gathered over many years help highlight how a species’ range may be expanding or shrinking. A big change, noted consistently over a period of years, is an indication that something is happening in the environment that is affecting the birds and that should receive attention. Great Backyard Bird Count information also allows us to look at what kinds of birds inhabit different areas, such as cities and suburbs compared to more natural habitats.
Why is the count in February?
Originally the Great Backyard Bird Count was held in the U.S. and Canada each February to create a snapshot of the distribution of birds just before spring migrations ramped up in March. Scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, Birds Canada, and elsewhere can combine this information with data from surveys conducted at different times of the year. In 2013, the count went global, creating snapshots of birds wherever they are in February, regardless of seasons across the hemispheres.
Why do I have to create an account to participate?
Having an account ensures that your data will be associated with your efforts, allowing scientists to quantify participation to aid in analyses. It also enables you to keep track of your personal bird records and lists. If you already participate in the eBird citizen-science project, please submit your checklists through eBird as usual during the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). Your data will be included in the count. If you participate in any other Cornell Lab of Ornithology citizen-science projects, such as NestWatch, you can use your same login name and password to log in on the GBBC or eBird websites.
What happens to the counts I’ve submitted in the past?
Go to the eBird website and use the bar charts tool. You’ll find that under the “Explore Data” tab.
- Go to bar charts https://ebird.org/ebird/GuideMe?cmd=changeLocation
- Select region
- Select year range (If within the same year, e.g. 2020-2020)
- Select month range (Feb-Feb)
You can also search by individual species:
Choose a week-long period in the “Species Maps” section in the “Explore Data” section of the GBBC or eBird websites.
Your data from Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) before 2013 are no longer viewable due to a database migration in eBird. We apologize for this inconvenience.
What if I can’t identify some of the birds I see?
Do your best to figure it out. See if you can find the bird you’re looking for in a field guide. There are a number of web resources available to help:
- The Merlin Bird ID app will suggest the most likely species based on your answers to five questions.
- Within Merlin you will now find the Photo ID feature which allows you to upload an image and have the computer help you identify the bird.
- The Audubon Bird Guide app has photos and recordings of over 800 North American species, and is free to download.
If you’re still unable to identify a species, that’s OK. The checklist may have options such as Downy/Hairy Woodpecker, Greater/Lesser Yellowlegs, hawk sp., or Accipiter sp. that will be useful for known identification challenges. In these examples, the forward slash (/) indicates that either species could have been observed (i.e., it might have been Downy or Hairy woodpecker). In the second two examples, the “sp.” stands for “species” and indicates that you knew it was some kind of hawk or that you knew it was in the tricky genus Accipiter, but that you weren’t certain of the species. Whether or not you are able to identify all species you see, please be sure to understand the question “Are you reporting all species?” (See above, “What does the “Are you reporting all species” question mean?”)
Where should I count birds?
You can count birds anywhere in the world from any location. Count in your backyard, at a local park or wildlife refuge, or wherever you like to watch birds.
How long should I count birds?
Spend at least 15 minutes at a location. If you can spend more than 15 minutes, you’ll get a better sense of which birds are in your area. If you’d like to do more than one count at the same location, or counts at several locations, then please submit separate checklists each time you do so.
How do I count birds at bird feeders?
Please report the highest number of individuals seen at one time during your observation period, as well as any clearly different individuals. For example, if you see a chickadee flying back and forth to your feeder multiple times but you never see more than one at a time, count just one chickadee. But if you see a male and female cardinal coming and going but not at the same time, you can count them as two birds because you know for sure that there are 2 individuals. And if you see a bird fly over your feeder – please count that too. We are looking for a conservative estimate of the highest number of individual birds you are seeing for the counting period. Submit a checklist for each counting session. You can count more than once in the same location or in more than one location—just submit a separate checklist for each watching period and/or location.
If you are a Project FeederWatch participant, you can participate in GBBC as well. The same birds counted for GBBC can be submitted to FeederWatch, but note that the counting protocols are different, so be sure to record and submit your bird counts to each project according to the correct protocol.
Why do I plot my birding locations on a map?
Our ability to understand bird populations depends on knowing exactly where you are making your observations. We ask that you use Google Maps to zoom in and plot where you observed birds as accurately as possible. Behind the scenes, the latitude and longitude of this location is computed. This will allow us to make better use of every observation you submit.
What do I do if I am watching birds on a hike?
Although many people participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) by watching at one location, we also welcome data from bird walks, hikes, or special outings with your local bird club or nature center. Each time you enter a checklist, you’ll be asked what kind of count you did:
- Traveling: You traveled some distance—walking a trail, driving a refuge loop, field. These are observations made while birding over a specified distance (preferably less than 5 miles).
- Stationary: You stayed in one place, perhaps watching your feeders from a window
- Historical: You will not be using this for the GBBC, but can use it when entering past data in eBird.
- Incidental: You saw a bird while you were doing something else—birding was not your main activity
You’ll also enter your start time, how much time you spent counting birds, and how many people contributed to the checklist. Use the “Incidental Observation” option when birding was not your primary purpose, or when you have bird records but no effort information, such as amount of time spent watching. Examples include a fly-over Osprey seen while driving to work or inputting historical data with no effort information.
Note: If your report gets flagged as being “nocturnal” (occurring at night) and you did NOT bird at night, please go back into your account and check that you used the correct a.m. or p.m. time designation. If you check the time and it is correct, but you are still getting the nocturnal flag, please don’t worry. This flag is meant to prompt a double-check and sometimes it guesses wrong about dawn and dusk. The flag can be ignored if you are certain your time is entered correctly.
Is there a limit to the distance I should cover in a traveling count?
Traveling counts should be limited as much as possible to a single habitat (e.g., forest, desert, short-grass prairie, etc.). If you move into a new habitat, start a new traveling count. Ideally a traveling count should not be longer than five miles. Most birding that is conducted on foot easily falls within that range. Traveling counts done by car are usually longer. In that case, we ask that you break the route into shorter segments. If you enter a new habitat or travel more than five miles, enter a new checklist for each segment. For example, a logical point to break a longer route into segments would be at a transition between forest and farmland, as the birds found in these two habitat types are very different.
Plot your location for a segment at the center of the area traveled, not at the start point or end point. The goal is to link the birds you report with specific habitats using mapping tools, remote sensing, and GIS layers. With that in mind, having the most precise locations possible is what makes the data you supply the most useful. It’s better to enter several checklists from more refined locations than it is to enter a single checklist for a very large area or an exceptionally long traveling count.
Note: When back-tracking on a trail, record the distance traveled only in one direction, but do record the total time you spent birding as you traveled out and back.
How do I estimate the number of birds when there’s a roost or a huge flock?
First count the birds in a small part of the flock. Then estimate how many blocks of equal size would make up the entire flock. Multiply number of blocks by the number of individual birds you first counted to come up with an estimate. For a more detailed explanation of this technique, read Bird Counting 101.
Can I include birds that fly overhead in my tally?
Yes, but only if they are close enough for you to make a positive identification. It might be easy enough for a single bird at close range. But if a flock of gulls flies overhead, it may be pretty tough to distinguish which species they are—especially if it’s a mixed flock. If that’s the case, you can always use “gull sp.” to enter birds that you knew were gulls but could not identify the species (see “What if I can’t identify some of the birds I see?”.)
How do I indicate the time spent if I watched intermittently through the day?
Instead of watching in defined blocks of time, many people prefer to keep track of birds on and off throughout the day. If you do this, simply estimate the time you actually spent watching birds. For example, you may have been watching intermittently from 8:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M., but estimate that time actually spent watching birds was about two hours. It doesn’t have to be exact—this gives us a general idea of the amount of effort expended.
What is eBird?
Inspired by the success of the four-day Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society launched eBird in 2002 to engage participants in recording bird observations year round. In 2010 eBird expanded from its North and South American focus to invite global participation. In 2013, the Great Backyard Bird Count merged with eBird, which by then had developed more sophisticated tools for the collection, analysis, and display of data. As a result, the Great Backyard Bird Count now offers improved features, including the following:
- Personal record-keeping: Access to all your bird records and bird lists submitted through eBird or the GBBC. You’ll find them all in one place under the “My eBird” tab on both websites.
- No double entry: In past years, eBird users had to enter their data in both eBird and the GBBC to be included in both projects. Now the information can be entered just once, from either project.• Global access: You can submit counts from any location in the world with Internet access. International and regional eBird portals are available for many countries.
- Multiple Languages: Full language support (on eBird website; not yet on the GBBC website) for nine languages and dialects: Chinese, English, French, German, Portuguese (Portugal), Portuguese (Brazil), Russian, Spanish, Turkish.
- Precise locations: The precise mapping tools add scientific value to your data, making them more useful for analyses and conservation, and making it easier for you to track trends through time.
- Year-round access: Although the GBBC is a four-day project, you can use your same login to track your bird sightings with eBird year round.
- Better visualization: Interactive maps will allow you to explore bird observations in much greater detail than ever before.
- Corrections: If you realize you’ve entered erroneous information, you can go back into your reports any time to make corrections to your lists, locations, or profile.
If I am an eBird participant, do I need to enter my Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) data separately
No. The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is integrated with eBird so you only need to enter your information once, either on the eBird website or through the GBBC website. In either case, it will become part of the data collected for the GBBC. If you are already familiar with eBird, we recommend that you simply continue using eBird to enter your GBBC tallies.
What does the “Are you reporting all species” question mean?
This is one of the most important questions. If you are reporting a full list of the species that you were able to identify by sight or sound then please select “Yes.” However, if you are intentionally excluding certain species you could identify, such as House Sparrows or American Crows, please be sure to select “No.” The question is not an attempt to determine if you were able to identify every bird you saw but rather whether your list is just reporting one or a few highlights or a more complete accounting of the birds you found. Again, click “yes” to indicate you are including everything you could identify—click “yes” even if you saw some birds you could not identify.
Why are some reports not displayed?
Out-of-range species or large flocks of some species are flagged for review by a local reviewer before the sighting is added to the public data. If the reviewer has any questions about your sighting, they will contact you. This is how we try to ensure the highest possible accuracy in the database. Flagged records, even if they ultimately cannot be confirmed, will always be visible in your personal GBBC/eBird account.
How do I enter the checklist if I am counting with a group of people?
When you enter your Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) data, you’ll be asked to indicate how many people contributed to the checklist. Only one person needs to enter the data. You can then share this list with the other people in your group by clicking “Share w/Others in Your Party” in the right-hand column of the bird checklist page. The other people in your group can edit their version of the checklist after they accept it. (They’ll need to have their own GBBC/eBird account, of course.) The shared birds on your lists will not be counted more than once for that location.
To learn more about ways to do group counts, explore this page Group Counting.
You can also share your checklists from the Manage my Checklists page accessible from the My eBird tab on either the GBBC or eBird websites.
Can I enter more than one checklist per day?
Yes. You submit a new checklist for each new location, even if it’s on the same day. You may do a count in your own yard, for example, then move on to a city park, then to a wildlife refuge. That’s three different checklists for the same day. You may also enter more than one checklist per day from the same location. For example, if you spend an hour watching birds in the morning, and another hour in the evening, it is more valuable to submit those as two different checklists than to combine them into one list.
Can I include photos with my checklist?
Yes, both images and sound recordings can be included with your checklist. They will also be entered into the Macaulay Library archive at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Adding photos is especially helpful if you are reporting a rare or unusual species. Learn how to add photos and sounds.
What if I make a mistake when entering my checklist?
You will always have access to your Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) reports and can go back to correct any mistakes or omissions. To make a change, sign in to your account and click on “My eBird.” Click on “Manage My Checklists” in the right-hand column. Here you can scroll through your list and make changes. You may also choose “Manage My Locations” to make changes in your stored birding sites.
What do I do if I see a bird that is not on my area’s checklist?
If you are entering data through the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) website and see a bird that is not on the checklist for your area, first click the “show rare species” option in the right column. You can also use the “jump to species” search tool. If your bird is not there, move to the eBird website (ebird.org), enter your list there, and click the “Add Species” button to add it to your list. Species added to a checklist that do not appear on the main list or on the rarities list for your area will require confirmation by a reviewer before they are included in the database. This is a normal part of the process to assure the highest-quality data.