Tips for eBirding the PA Migration Count

Forster’s Tern – Toftrees, Centre Co (photo by Alex)

Each year on the second Saturday of May, Pennsylvania birders hit the forests, lakes and fields to find as many species as they can in each county. This is a great opportunity to get out and bird at the peak of spring warbler migration. The goal of the project is to gain a better understanding of the populations of birds as they migrate through the state. However, since the sightings are lumped together at the county level, only very broad questions can be answered with the data. To take it to the next level, consider entering your sightings into eBird.

Since eBird uses precise locations for all checklists, as well as effort information (distance walked, time of day, hours birding) researchers using the data can look at effects of habitat, time of day and weather on bird activity. I encourage everyone to use the tips below to enter their PAMC count observations to eBird and help us learn more! As a bonus, you can then use eBird to tally up the species from all the locations and easily submit those numbers to your county compiler. Instructions at the bottom.

  1. Your sighting of common birds are valuable when you use eBird.
    1. Checklists with feeder birds or birds seen during a walk down the block provide great information on the abundance of those species in areas that are not typically surveyed. example checklist
  2. Select the correct type of effort
    1. Traveling– You traveled a specific distance — walking a trail, driving a refuge loop, field birding.
      Observations made while birding over a specified distance (preferably
    2. Stationary – You stayed at a fixed location — watching from a window, hawkwatching, seawatching.
    3. Incidental – select this type of effort when you are not actively birding, or to just report a single interesting species. Also used when you do not have effort information such as mileage, time, and hours birding.
    4. Reporting all species? This is perhaps the most important part so make sure to answer this correctly. If you are out birding and recording everything to the best of your ability, answer YES. If you are just reporting some of the species, answer NO, for example, reporting a single flyover Bald Eagle, or if you didn’t keep track of House Sparrows, Europeans Starlings, etc.
  3. Select a precise location to make your data more valuable. eBird uses the location to look at habitat and how birds are using it. Use the hotspot for the area you birded or zoom ALL the way in on that map if you are creating a new location. Read more about this topic.
    1. Entering the state or county as the location of the checklist is of little or no value.
    2. While using a town, city, or natural area designation such as a State Park or Gamelands is valid, try to be as specific as possible. See the following examples:
      1. Bald Eagle SP has several hotspots that can be used depending on where you are birding. These are all different vantage points to view the lake, and entering separate checklists for each vantage point provides more data for eBird to use.
  4. Numbers are more valuable than X’s. You can enter ‘X’ for a species if you did not count how many you saw, but even a rough estimate gives eBird more data to work with that ‘X’. When there are many birds of a species, try to estimate in groups of tens, hundreds or thousands. If it is an estimate add comments next to the species to indicate the number you entered for that species is an estimate.

    Tree Swallow (photo by Alex)

    1. Be conservative when counting small, active, and vocal songbirds.
    2. Rough estimates are perfectly acceptable for flocks or large numbers of birds. example checklist
  5. Add details! When a species is flagged for any reason, please include comments and/or photos for the reviewer to best evaluate the record. Read more about comments.
    1. When you report a rare or unusual species, please include how you arrived at the identification, field marks you used, pertinent age/ sex information, length of study, notes on circumstance of the sighting, its behavior, associated species, etc. ANYTHING is better than nothing. example checklist
    2. If the species was flagged because of a high count, please mention how the species was counted, i.e. “rough estimate”, “conservative estimate”, “careful count”, “10 x 10 count”, etc.
    3. Add additional details as you can regarding age and sex of the species. You can also enter breeding evidence for each species much like the Breeding Bird Atlas.

If you have questions on how to enter data, contact the eBird Reviewer for your home county or the county for which you are entering the checklist.

Instructions to tally up your PAMC totals in eBird.

Once you have entered all your checklists into eBird

  1. Click on Explore Data in the menubar.
  2. On the bottom right under Summary Tables select My Observations. quick link
  3. Create a Week Report starting with May 12.
  4. On the next page all of the locations you birded during the PAMC should show up.
  5. Select them all and press Continue.
  6. From this page (example below) you can view the species totals from the day of birding, as well as download the report into an Excel file where you can copy out the species counts to send to your county compiler.


Thanks to all the PA eBird reviewers for their input on the tips above.