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Data Entry Shortcuts and Tips

We often hear from birders who use eBird that they'd like to use it more, but that they just "don't have the time". We know your time is valuable, and that’s why eBird has been working hard to make data entry easier than ever. Whether you’re an existing user or someone who is still considering contributing, the following tips can help you significantly streamline your data entry process. Even with extensive checklist comments, you should be able to enter any checklist in 3-5 minutes (OK, maybe 7 if you live in Panama and see 125 species per outing!). Three of the biggest time savers are in bold italics.

Using Bookmarks

Firefox, Internet Explorer, and other web browsers allow you to create bookmarks in a Bookmarks Toolbar (Firefox) or Links Toolbar (Explorer) on top of your browser, often just below your Navigation Toolbar. If you are a frequent eBird user, you can create bookmarks to the Submit page, "View and Explore Data", or "My eBird"--or all three! You can even bookmark a favorite eBird bar chart, if it is something you check out regularly. But the "Submit Observations" bookmark is probably the best one to create.

Your browser probably also allows you to set a page as your home page. In Firefox, go to Tools, select Options, and then set the eBird Submit Observations Page under the Home page section. In Internet Explorer select Tools and then Internet Options. Now whenever you open your browser, eBird is ready to go!

Step 1: Where Did You Bird?

This screen, on which you identify the location where you birded, offers some of the best opportunities for time saving.

The first option is the "Select from my locations" drop-down menu. This is a place for you to customize how you deal with your locations, and you can edit the list by clicking the small blue "Edit My Locations List " link under the drop-down.

When you click the link, the "Manage My Locations" screen is displayed. By default, all the locations you've ever used will display on your "My Locations" list. To make it easier to find the locations you visit most often, you may want to hide locations that you don't plan to use again (for example the locations from your recent once-in-a-lifetime trip to Venezuela). To hide locations so that they do not display on your "My Locations" list, select the check boxes for one or more locations, select "Hide in My Locations" from the drop-down list, and then click the Submit button.

The entire drop-down menu is searchable. Just start typing the name of a place and eBird will find it for you. For this reason, it is not necessarily important to edit your "My Locations" list to the locations you are likely to visit multiple times. Just make sure the names are clear and unique and then simply use "type and find" to select the desired location. You can rename ANY location according to your own standards, even hotspots (although hotspots will show their "official" names in output tools). To rename a location, click the "edit" link to the right of a location on the Manage My Locations screen. On the Edit Location screen, type the new name, and then click the Rename button. If you put an asterisk (*) in front of the locations you bird most frequently (such as your yard or favorite park) then it will always appear right at the top of the list.

The second option is “Find it on a map” and it involves two additional steps. The first step asks for the state and county. For state, you can use the two letter postal code (MA) rather than the full state name (Massachusetts). Also, we recommend filling in the county (or even a nearby county) whenever possible, since this will mean that the starting point for the map is zoomed that much closer.

The next step is the Google Map interface where you can plot the location. The major time saver here is to notice the little magnifying glass on the left side of the map. Although you can zoom in by double-clicking the map or by using the slide bar, the best way by far is to click the magnifying glass and then draw a little box around the area you want to zoom in on. This is a major time saver--try it once and you will use it every time!

The third option is "Use Latitude / Longitude." This option is easy if you kept GPS coordinates, which is ever easier with more and more mobile devices (such as iPhones) having GPS capabilities. Consider jotting down a GPS coordinate in your notebook if you can, and using this option. It is faster than “Find it on a map”.

The fourth option is "Select an entire city, county, or state." Entering at the city, county, or state level is something we rarely encourage, since we prefer data entered from specific locations (but it can be appropriate, especially for old data where you may not have specific locations marked).

The final option, "Import Data", provides a great way to save time, but requires a familiarity with spreadsheet programs such as Excel. If you have a backlog of checklists to enter or if you sometimes carry a laptop in the field with you, read our guide to using the bulk upload process to speed checklist entry.

Step 2: Date and Effort

The best time-saver on this page is to use the calendar icon to the right of the observation date. Click once to load today’s date, or use the simple calendar to select any other date. If you know you went birding on the second Saturday in June, but you don't know the date, this is a quick way to find it.

Step 3: Checklist Entry

We encounter birds in random order in the field, and our field notebooks often are not organized alphabetically or taxonomically. To quickly transcribe notes into eBird, use the Jump to Species Box to jump to a species on the checklist. Hit the up arrow on your keyboard to return to the box. If you do not find the species, try clicking the "Rare Species" link. Enter numbers (or 'x' to indicate presence) for each species you identified." This can turn checklist entry into a super-fast procedure, especially when working from a list you kept in your notebook.

Learning the shortest character string for finding each species will also save time. For example, if you want to enter "House Sparrow" and you start typing from the front of the word, you won't get the correct match until "House S" because House Finch and House Wren are likely to be other matches in your area. But if you try "se S" you might get a match, since few sparrows have that character string. "e J" is a favorite of ours to quickly find Blue Jay (although it can be spoiled by Pomarine Jaeger, necessitating "e Jay" to get a unique match).

In the USA and Canada, it is also possible to use the approved banding codes for data entry. These codes often consist of the first two-letters of each name, so typing CORA will bring up Common Raven, AMCR will bring up American Crow etc. For four word names, each word gets one letter so BTBW is Black-throated Blue Warbler. Some special rules apply in most other cases, which are discussed at the banding code website, which also gives the most recent approved list. This can be a time saver for those who are "fluent" in these codes.

Remember that if you saw anything surprising, you will probably have to click "Show Rarities" (also in the blue shading) to find that species. You can add any species, subspecies, hybrid, or spuh by first clicking "Show Rarities" and then using the "Add Species" box. Simply type any part of the name--such as "warbler", "Amer", "hybrid", or "sp."--to see the full list of species containing that character string.

Note that you can change the species sort order of the list from "Taxonomic" (AOU sort order) to "Alphabetic" if you prefer. This can significantly streamline checklist entry for some people.

Final step: Be sure to take note of the options available as soon as you complete your checklist submission. You have the option to:

  • "Submit another checklist for the same location and date", which lets you skip step 1 and pre-loads the date and count type, in case those were the same (maybe you do a series of 5 point counts in your local park).
  • "Submit another checklist for the same location", which lets you skip step 1.
  • "Submit another checklist for the same area and date", which pre-loads the map at the same zoom level for the same region you just entered a checklist from, and pre-loads the date.
  • "Submit another checklist for the same area", which pre-loads the map at the same zoom level for the same region you just entered a checklist from.
  • "Submit another checklist for the same date", which brings you back to Step 1, but pre-loads the date.
  • "Submit a checklist for a different location and date", which brings you back to Step 1 (and doesn't really save any time).

Avoiding the Timeout

Every checklist submission creates a direct link to our database, and because of that, each entry has a cost to eBird in terms of bandwidth and performance. For this reason, like banking web sites, we have a timeout after 60 minutes. We sometimes hear from people who were in the middle of a long checklist, stepped away for a few minutes, and were frustrated to learn that they lost all their work.

To avoid this frustrating experience, you should always go ahead and complete the checklist entry (even if you are not done yet) before walking away from it. That way, your work will be preserved. You can always come back to it from "Manage My Observations" and round it out with those additional 20 species, or start working on detailed comments for all the birds you submitted. If you make this a habit, you'll never swear at the eBird timeout message again!

In the Field

Some eBird users have suggested simple changes to note-taking in the field that can save time during data entry. Some generate their own checklists in an eBird friendly format and use those for data entry when in the field. If you take your notes by hand, you might consider listing species in two columns on a notebook page with non-passerines (e.g., ducks and herons) on the left and passerines (e.g., warblers and sparrows) on the right. You might want to group similar species together, such as shorebirds or gulls, so that you can easily enter them later without scrolling. Depending on personal preferences, there are many options for tailoring your notes to simplify data entry. Your personal shorthand will continue to develop over time, making the process easier and easier.  Be sure to always write down the date, time, and location—if you forget these crucial elements can be lost forever if too much time elapses! Don’t forget to jot down notes and details in the field, especially if you will be filing many reports. Your comments are valuable to science, as well as your own future use and enjoyment.

Mobile Entry

For those with 3G access on their laptops, or other means of accessing the Internet from anywhere, directly entering your eBird checklist from the field is perhaps the very best and quickest way to enter data. We are working closely with collaborators on improving eBird use on mobile devices too, which is clearly the wave of the future.

Use BirdLog!

In spring 2012, mobile data entry for iPhones and Androids was released. Read more here. This is a MAJOR time saver!

Bulk Uploads

For those that are comfortable with Excel or other spreadsheet programs, creating an uploadable CSV file can be a real time saver. Read more with our data import instructions.

The number one best way to save time?

Have someone else do your checklist entry for you! We say this only partly in jest—with checklist sharing it is now feasible for two friends to bird together, agree to each do half of the checklists, and cut each other’s data entry load in half. Whenever you bird as a team, try to agree on a division of labor so that everyone contributes to the list keeping and data entry process. Checklist sharing was designed with this in mind--make it a habit!

We hope that these time-saving tips will encourage more of you to submit even more checklists—eBird thrives on volume! If we forgot any time-savers that you have discovered, please email us and let us know!

ebirdhelp@gmail.com
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