eBird Checklist Hall of Fame

In my dreams, Owen Wilson, Steve Martin, and Jack Black all have eBird profiles

Some truly fantastic eBird checklists

There are many reasons to love eBird. For a stat and graphics junkies like me, its organization and presentation of data is delightful. It does the dirty work of keeping your county/country/life/year lists. Some birders use eBird for more than just submitting checklists and keeping life lists. It’s an indispensable planning tool. It’s a window to the birds of the world and what might could be if we were just able to be in the right spot. You can find individual eBird hotspots in Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador with lists of over 600 species (I haven’t even seen 600 species in the entire United States!). You can find single checklists with well-over 100 species seen, and crippling, close-up photographs of unfathomable birds. Someday, we dream, we’ll get to visit these places and submit a checklist like that. There are the “Wish I Was There” checklists – of birders finding mega rarities, like this report of a Harpy Eagle in Costa Rica seen while looking for damselflies. Or maybe you’re the last person (in eBird at least) to have ever seen a particular species before it presumably went extinct, like this 2018 report (with a photo!) of a Bahama Nuthatch.

But over the years, a few eBird checklists have caught my attention and stuck in my mind. Some of them are notable for their implausibility. These reports are not confirmed by the intrepid team of volunteer eBird reviewers, and are thus pretty ephemeral. But if you are paying attention, you can see some real gems from time to time. This one might be dubbed “the greatest 13 minutes of parrot/parakeet birding ever.” 

While covering 4 miles in a mere 13 minutes, this birder claims to have seen almost every possible L.A. county parrot and parakeet, including some species that are almost never reported anymore. Not only that, he (at an average speed of 18 miles per hour, mind you) was able to tease out some very tough IDs that turn on subtle color differences in crown feathers or a small patch of color on the underside of the wing. And on top of that, he saw all these birds in a short span of time a full 2 hours before sunset. As local birders know, during the day, the parrots and parakeets disperse over a wide area to feed in small groups. It’s only at sunset when they gather in mixed company for their evening roost. (It’s an awesome sight to see, by the way). But there’s more – this report was in the middle of summer, when the parrots and parakeets are much more dispersed around the L.A. basin than they are in the winter.  Especially nice are the 10 parakeets he couldn’t distinguish b/t Mitred and Red-masked. We have no idea how many of the other parrots and parakeets he saw, but it is precisely 10 he couldn’t identify between Mitred and Red-Masked. Why even bother counting these birds.

But the icing on the cake for me are the 30 rock pigeon and 3 ravens (exact counts this time) presumably there to give the checklist a veneer of truth. “It’s not just a list of all the possible parrots and parakeets an out-of-towner might need for their life list” he’s trying to suggest, “it’s a legit checklist, because, look, I also reported some pigeons and ravens.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are other equally optimistic (i.e. fictional) submissions from this birder in eBird. Short story – don’t be this guy. No one cares about the length of your eBird life list. And scientists rely on the accuracy of eBird data to do real science and track bird populations. Checklists like this distort what’s actually out there. Bird honestly, report truthfully.

I also love checklists in the category of  what might be called “my first-ever-and-only eBird checklist, reporting a rare bird, accompanied by a distant blurry photo of a common bird”. We have here a report of a rare fall, post-migration Tennessee Warbler in L.A. It includes no description of the bird, or any comments about when and where it was seen. Instead, the location is “Los Angeles”, where the person was apparently stationary for three hours. There’s a distant, out-of-focus shot of a Yellow-rumped Warbler attached to the report. I find these kinds of reports harmless, and much more laudable than the intentional lies of the one above. What we have here is probably a new, enthusiastic, and optimistic birder. 


But nothing, in my mind, can top this checklist. I can’t post an image of it here because the checklist is far too long. Over the course of almost 10 hours, up in Quebec, Canada, this birder had “the greatest birding day of my life.” And he’s not kidding. 726,383 individuals reported during an incredible day of migration. It boggles the mind to imagine seeing numbers like that. Among the astonishing sightings, 144,300 Bay-breasted Warblers, 108,200 Magnolia Warblers and 108,200 Cape May Warblers, 72,200 Yellow-rumped Warblers and 72,200 Tennessee Warblers, 50,500 American Redstarts, 28,900 Blackburnian Warblers, 14,440 Canada Warblers, and 1 Palm Warbler. 

Someday I hope to have a legendary checklist like that one.

1 Comment

  1. Lynn C Bossone

    We saw your photo of the Snow Goose courtesy of Don Sterba. Some of my neighbors at Lakeside Village had noticed this bird.
    How great that you live in our neighborhood,
    We walk around West LA College frequently and think we sometimes hear a gnatcatcher hoping it is a CAGN.
    Your photos pretty much confirm the one time a few weeks ago when we got a glimpse of one.
    We enjoy reading your blogs. Thank you for sharing the knowledge of birds.
    Lynn Bossone
    Ulrike Mehler

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