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Yard and Patch guidelines

The below guidelines pertain both to eBird Patch Lists and Yard lists.

Our Patch Listing pages provide a new way to view and explore data from a favorite birding site, affectionately known as a “patch”, by many birders. A patch is meant to be a fairly small area that you cover regularly or where you really care about tracking your bird lists. A patch can be your local park, neighborhood walk, favorite lake or sewage plant, or refuge wildlife drive. It can consist of a single eBird location or a group of locations; since we always appreciate fine-scale submissions, we encourage patches that consist of multiple small locations. Yard lists are popular among birders as well, and are really just the “patch” where we live. "Yards" should be limited to the area you own or rent (e.g., the answer to someone asking you "where do you live?"), and not extend miles off your property. See below about what birds are countable in your yard.

The new Patch and Yard listing pages provide an easy way to see your total list for the sites that you care about. Once you define your patch or yard, your stats will appear on top of the summary page, and if you click any of the totals (for life, year, or month) you will see your patch/yard list totals. From your current year list, you can generate past year lists using the year selector at the top right. These new pages give you the ability to compile lists for groups of sites. Using the “add a patch” or “edit a patch” feature, you simply select the locations that comprise your patch or yard. If you create a new birding location within the patch on a later date, make sure to edit your patch and add the new site!

Patch comparisons: Below your personal stats for your patches, you can see a list of other eBirders' patches that have been registered in the region. This lets you see how your yard or patch compares with others in the area, lets you share your findings with your friends and keep track of what they are finding, and even opens the door for developing friendly competitions. For example, in Ithaca, NY, most of Team eBird participates in an annual yard listing competition. Check out the Tompkins County, NY, Yard lists if you want to follow along and see how any of the team is faring -- Chris Wood (eBird project leader), Tim Lenz (our eBird programmer), Jeff Gerbracht (Lead Developer for eBird), Ken Rosenberg (Director of Conservation), Steve Kelling (Director of Information Science--we are all cheering for him, he’s our boss!), and John Fitzpatrick (Director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology--actually, maybe we should cheer for him!) are all avid participants in the annual Tompkins County yard list competition.

With this new functionality in eBird, we hope many similar competitions will spring up, providing a fun way to share your sightings, and make us all more likely to do repeated surveys of our yards and patches. If you and a group of friends regularly bird a favorite park, we encourage you to establish your own standards and have a friendly competition on your life or year patch lists. You can compete in the same patch or let two different hotspots face off against one another. In the future we hope to develop the ability for you to publish your patch definitions and open them up to more formal competition.

Size of your patch: In order for patches to be comparable, it is important to set reasonable guidelines on how big a patch should be. We don't want anyone to create an 'Arizona-California' patch! In general, your patch should be a combination of sites that you can cover fairly thoroughly in a morning, or a few hours of birding on foot or by car. These can include transects of up to about five miles or areas up to four or five square miles. These are rough guidelines, but our intent is to discourage the creation of patches that cover entire counties, multiple widely-separated hotspots, or exceptionally large areas. In order to have meaningful comparisons in a region, we hope that most eBirders will “play” by similar rules.

Many birders already have a “patch”, whether or not it is registered in eBird. Patches often consist of a natural and well-defined area, and often the boundaries are set by the property limits or habitat breaks. Examples such as Huntington Central Park in Huntington Beach (California), Montrose Point in Chicago, or Central Park in Manhattan, are all straightforward and obvious patches where multiple birders are already keeping track of their lists; the first two are less than 0.5 square miles, and Central Park tops out at 1.3 square miles. Small islands form other well-defined patches: we look forward to seeing eBird Patch totals for Southeast Farallon Island off San Francisco or Monhegan Island off the Maine coast. Most eBird hotspots could be considered a patches too, although these hotspot points can represent anything from a single point (e.g., Avalon Seawatch in Cape May, NJ) to a refuge (e.g., E.B. Forsythe NWR). With larger patches, make sure to use smaller sublocations for you bird recording, and then aggregate these to form the patch. Some eBirders regularly survey stretches of shoreline, such as Park Point (Duluth, Minnesota) or Plum Island (Massachusetts): these linear transects are certainly fair game, but try to keep your transects to less than five miles (OK, Plum Island is seven miles long from the refuge gate, but it’s in the right ballpark and is about 4.8 square miles). If you do want to survey a larger patch, like Plum Island, we do encourage you to break out your eBird submissions into several distinct locations.

What birds count?: For eBird yard and patch lists, feel free to count anything seen or heard from within your yard or patch. Fly-overs are fair game. In other words, the bird need not actually be in your yard or patch, as long as you are. Thus, if you have a small city apartment with no actual trees or grass, you can still count anything you see or hear from your property. However, please note that birds that you do not record personally (i.e., a friend sees it in your yard, you record it on a feeder cam, or use microphones to record birds from your yard),should not be counted. These should best be entered under a different location (that you don't include in your patch) or a different account if you don't want those sightings grouped among your personal sightings.

Patch privacy: Our new patch listing pages are a way to share your favorite birding site and your listing achievements with others. We have built a community of site surveyors within eBird and this is a way for those committed eBirders to share what they have been finding. But a few considerations are worth remembering:

  1. For your most recent addition, we are opening up your original checklist submission so that people can see what you saw on that visit. We believe that this will give eBirders a way to share their birding experiences, to learn from each other’s good eBirding habits, and to enjoy their local competitions more. As always, we are keeping checklist comments hidden, but the rest of your checklist will be visible to others.
  2. If you “hide” a checklist, it will still appear here if you saw a new species for your patch. The whole checklist will be accessible to other eBirders. We encourage you to be cautious in these scenarios. The best way to keep a sighting hidden, in order to protect the species or the privacy of a site, is to: a) not report the checklist containing the species until later; b) remove your patch from the patch listing pages if you need to hide the checklist; c) make certain that the checklist will not appear on the eBird output for these pages. Remember, if you remove your patch you can always add the patch again later. The Patch Listing pages are a way for other eBirders to see what you have been seeing, so please do keep in mind that they are a bit more public, and may not be appropriate if you regularly bird areas with sensitive species or sensitive privacy issues.
Number of patches:

You can have as many patch lists and yard lists as you want; for example if you have moved or if you have a summer cottage somewhere, you are free to enter multiple yard lists. Likewise for patch lists -- feel free to enter as many as you like. We recommend that you limit your patches to places that you actually visit on a regular basis, and if you have registered for the eBird Site Survey, you should certainly register your site as a favorite patch.


Final thoughts: Most of all, we want this new eBird functionality to be fun. Create some patches and see how your life, year, and month totals are faring. Consider committing to a patch for 2011, register it as a site survey, and engage with fellow eBirders in your area. Keep a patch year list and see how it compares to your past years at the site. Register your yard list and see how your yard shapes up to others in your county. Above all else, get out there eBirding and enjoy!
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