What are your personal bird list rules?

I know that a few people here are list makers of various types so I just wondered how people’s personal rules differ for how they log birds. Obviously for iNat you need a photo that’s clear enough to verify the ID or some decent audio, and for officially logged lists there are sure to be other rules but this is more concerned with personal lists outside of iNat etc.
I’ve been keeping records of the number of bird species that I see every year for 9 years now and my rules have changed a bit. I was more of an amateur when I started out so it helped me learn to ID birds, first visually and then by sound or behavior as the years went on. My rule used to be that I had to have a clear view of the bird to confirm ID and a photograph if I wasn’t sure what it was. Now I’m more casual about it and will log some trickier birds from calls alone because I don’t have the free time to dedicate to go stalking them around the woods. I still find that my internal rule guide compels me to only log them if I know where they are but can’t see them. I log the first cuckoo that I hear every year (In the UK) but don’t log it on my list until I’ve been at least within a few hundred metres of it. The same goes for owls at night, I can hear it and identify it from the call but I’m not going to shine a torch at it just to log the sighting for myself.
I’m up to 48 birds this year so far (all visual) and I’m trying to find an excuse today to go looking for 2 more to make 50 for January.
What are your rules and how is your year going so far?


I care more about life list than year list, my best year was 2021 with 262 species (top birders in country get around 500), I start birding at the end of April, when migration starts around the area I live in, in winter I only can find new owls, and you know how not easy it is. I count any wild bird, visible or heard, but I don’t see species as “known to me” if I only heard it or saw it not long enough, I think unless you had an opporunity to watch them doing something it’s nothing more than a check in the list.
But there’re exceptions, e.g. I have 5 observations of Manchurian Bush Warbler, all are songs, I heard them all the time, often 3-5 at once, I was tired trying to find the bird cause even if you know which small bush it’s on, you can’t see it. Or water rail that was like a metre in front of me and I still couldn’t see it.
For iNat I observe everything I hear and recording is good enough if it’s a new place for me or new species for the area, but around my house I record them in spring and give up with common species in June cause it requires too much time.
This year I’m 19 species so far, yet to go out for birds.


I get nowhere near that sort of number here. My best year was 2017 with 103 species and we had to travel quite a bit and try hard for that. I’m hoping to beat it this year though now my kids are older and my bird knowledge is getting a bit better. I haven’t really made a lifer list though so that might be interesting to work out.

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I am not a real birder, but this year has been great so far. I don’t know many bird songs and often I am even not good enough to identify in the field (shorebirds). And I don’t trust myself. I know I would say: Oh, I think this was a kingfisher - and count it. So my rule is: I have to have a photo and I post it here. (There is still a tern which hasn’t been identified, by the way.) I am now at 74 species. Considering that my last year brought (only) 111, I find this rather amazing. True, I went to some wetlands more often than last year.

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I use ebird to track my life/year list. So, if it counts on ebird, it counts for me. Currently sitting at 83 species for the year. Last year was my best year at 263 species.

While I do count “heard only” birds, I bird pretty much every day, so few if any species are “heard only” for an entire year.

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I track every bird (and other animal) species I have seen in-person and can track down to species level, with a DD-MM-YY-LOCATION code next to each of them to log my first sighting as possible, plus separate codes for other subspecies I’ve seen. I also mark whether I’m sure of my ID, not sure of my ID, or, in the case of a few species from an early life list, if I wrote down that I saw something but have no recollection of seeing it.

I use eBird too. I’m not a huge year lister, but I do try to get a good year list for my county. I’m always looking for lifers, including heard-only birds that I’m certain of the identification. As a side note, I do not blindly trust Merlin sound ID unless I have very good reason to. It sometimes “finds” some very unlikely birds.

I use ebird almost every day. I think this is my 13th year on ebird. I record all birds seen or heard and ebird tracks all my lists. I’m very familiar with the local birds and much of my birding is local. Merlin is helpful but not perfect. Sometimes I wonder why I hear a chickadee and Merlin doesn’t. Merlin can also hear some strange birds too. Only rule I have is that a new life bird must be clearly seen. Never add one based on sound alone (looking a you Worm-eating Warbler).


I note heard-only lifers only for nocturnal species, with the intent to remove that disclaimer later on. Otherwise, I add everything I can clearly identify to my life list (in a word document). I used to be on eBird daily (often multiple checklists per day), but I’ve stopped in the last 5 years. I don’t care about year lists or county lists or even country lists, but I do keep a yard list.

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95 species for the year, trying to hit 700 this year.

I count everything, if its not in recorded and submitted to Cornell via eBird, it wasn’t counted, for me.

We count every bird that we can identify, by sight or sound and record none that we cannot confidently ID, using “**” sp. as a placeholder until we can confirm an unknown species with photos or sound samples with reference materials, or consult an expert. Notes are included for most species observed, including whether it was seen or heard, and a description of the encounter, ect.

for me, if i can ID a bird by sound, that is more than sufficient, if I do not recognize a call, I try to record a sample to share on Xenocanta or with local researchers.

I simply dont have time, health or resources to chase down birds that are almost impossible to observe visually in places where there are over 100 unique species actively present, especially with species like antpitta, many of which can be extremely difficult to see (outside of reserves with feeder programs), but are remarkable easy to identify by their very distinct calls, lookin at you Watkins Antpitta.

I don’t really have much of a desire to submit birds obs., or anything frankly to iNat anymore, it’s not really worth my time to generate content that will largely be ignored or is essentially useless, it takes hours to cull, edit and process photos with my equipment and I dont think I have the clout or a nice enough camera anymore to get IDs for the species in the places we photograph and observe.

My rules are… I don’t have a bird list. :-)

I do sporadically improve my ability to recognize birds I hear, though.


I dont generally list down birds that I hear, strange enough, I dont put it in the checklist (on ebird). Maybe I should start doing it.

From a data quality standpoint, it is important to include heard birds on an ebird checklist (if marking it complete).

From the eBird Rules and Best Practices:

Include in your list

  • Birds you hear or see - as long as you were able to confidently identify the bird, you should enter it regardless of whether you heard or saw it. If you only report the birds you saw, mark your checklist incomplete.
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Wow. I did not know that! Luckily I uploaded a good number of birds that I heard, but never knew was mandatory. So do I go through told checklists and mark them as incomplete? Or shall I just make sure to add birds I heard next time I go birding?

I’m also not a birder. Last year I set myself a modest target of 100 just to make sure I paid them some attention and to learn a bit. I ended up with 91 even though I got off to quite a good start. I’m doing slightly better this year (44 so far - including a couple I didn’t get last year - goldcrest and redpoll. (If any one could tell me what sort of redpoll these are I’d be delighted!)

I did include sounds that I recorded but I can’t identify songs myself. The only thing I uploaded casual without evidence and included on my list was a kingfisher - I mean, in that case I know what I saw! (but it was gone in a flash)

I found it so much easier in the winter and early spring, presumably becasue of the relative lack of foliage.

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I use iNat as my life list for all types of organisms. I don’t have a separate list for birds in any form, although I do tend to focus my observations on them. If I can confidently identify a new species by sight, I consider it a lifer as soon as I observe it; if I can’t identify it, I wait for the observation to reach RG.

That’s certainly a big time saver!

The BTO tells me that 630 bird species have been logged in the UK so it looks like I’m seriously behind on my spotting. If I can beat my previous 103 for the year I’ll be happy enough.

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Patrick’s a botanist, so pardon the interruption :wink:


I don’t have a plant list, either. :-)

Well, OK, I have a lot of plant lists, but “here are all the plants I’ve seen” is not one of them. I could create that list, it’s just not something I’m focused on.


My life list (birds) includes all wild birds I have seen (or heard) well enough that I could identify them (though sometimes somebody else I was with was the person who ID’d it at the time). I include birds only heard (not seen) for a few species I’ll probably never see, basically nocturnal birds. I don’t include species I’ve only seen dead.

I do keep a lot of lists of birds, butterflies, and/or plants I’ve seen on a particular date at a particular place. These include a lot of plant lists that have been mapped by the Oregon Flora Project. For those lists, anything I can detect is fair game, though I’ll make a note if I saw only tracks or some other such evidence, but didn’t see or hear the organism.