Wouldn’t it be great to find any bird in the world by typing just four letters? You can! And it is easy to learn how! Most people will be able to guess at codes and get them right on their first try.
If you can figure out why Willet is WILL, Pomarine Jaeger is POJA, Black-winged Pratincole is BWPR and White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher is WESF, then you know enough to start using these codes. Go to eBird Range Maps and try guessing some codes! If you get them right, no need to read further! If it isn't clicking yet, don't worry—we have it all spelled out below.
An important note to all of this is that when entering data in the field via the eBird Mobile app, you can quickly add counts by typing "7 cago" to add 7 Canada Goose to your list. Typing "2 cago" then adds to that total, giving you 9 Canada Goose. Learn more about eBird Mobile Quick Entry.
These four-letter codes can be used anywhere you get a species selector option, including these pages and more that aren't listed:
- Range maps
- Data entry on the website: “Jump to Species” and “Add a species” from Submit Data
- Data entry on a smartphone (eBird Mobile)
Banding CodesBird banders (ringers) long have used four-letter codes to enter data on banded birds. Those who are fluent in these codes will know that COTE refers to Common Tern, PEFA refers to Peregrine Falcon, and DUNL is shorthand for Dunlin. These codes were designed to be unique, and those that are really fluent may even know some of the exceptions, e.g., BARS is used for Barn Swallow (due to a conflict with Bank Swallow, less of an issue outside the USA where Riparia riparia is known as Sand Martin). In recent years, the official list of codes in North America used by the Bird Banding Laboratory has been maintained here. These “official” four-letter codes have been available in eBird for a long time and show at the top of search results. Within eBird, we refer to these as “Banding Codes”. You can use these if you know them, but if you don't, we don't recommend it (because of those nasty exceptions and the rules that govern them). Instead, learn our Quick Find Codes below!
eBird Quick Find CodesWithin eBird, we have also implemented a “quick find” code. These do not need to be unique, and no longer is it necessary to remember the obscure rules for resolving conflicts like Barn Swallow. Instead, you can simply apply a uniform set of rules to get a quick four-letter code for any bird in the world. Within eBird, we refer to these as “eBird Quick Find Codes”.
The rules for creating eBird Quick Find Codes depend on how many words are in the bird name. Many of these match the Banding Code above, but in some cases eBird Quick Find Code differs. Here are the rules:
One-word bird names: The code is the first four letters of the bird name.
Examples: Gadwall = GADW; Willet = WILL.
Two-word bird names: Use the first two letters of the first word and the first two letters of the second word. Common Tern thus becomes COTE.
Examples: Spotted Redshank = SPRE; House Sparrow = HOSP.
Three-word bird names: Use the first letter of each of the first two words and the first two letters of the last word. South Polar Skua becomes SPSK, and Long-tailed Jaeger becomes LTJA (or LTSK if you know the bird as Long-tailed Skua and have your common names set to your local preference)
Examples: Red-winged Blackbird = RWBL; Fernando Po Batis = FPBA.
Red-winged Blackbird—also known as RWBL. Photo by Ryan Schain.
Four to six-word bird names: Just use the first letter of each word. Treat hyphens and spaces equally. Thus Black-throated Green Warbler (BTGW), White-winged Black-Tyrant (WWBT), and Von der Decken’s Hornbill (VDDH) are all constructed similarly, despite the different hyphenation. If the name is longer than four words (there are only a small number of examples) just enter the first four.
Examples: Black-throated Magpie-Jay = BTMJ; Black-bellied Storm-Petrel = BBSP; Black-and-white Casqued Hornbill = BAWC.
This should be all that you need to know to get started eBirding faster than before! But if you want more information on codes for scientific names or hyphenated common names, please see our piece on How Quick Entry Codes are created.