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Creating eBird Checklists for Historical Recordings

Do you have old sound recordings that you would like to upload to the Macaulay Library, but you don’t have an eBird checklist or complete field notes for your recording session? This document explains how to create the best possible eBird checklists for uploading these historical recordings.
If you are completely new to eBird, you can learn how to enter sightings here. An eBird checklist is the most useful for data analysis when it is a complete list of all species detected during the birding event and it has numbers for all species. For historical recording sessions, much of this information might not be available, but your observations still have value, especially since they are all vouchered by your recordings. The important thing is to include as much information as possible in your checklist, while also recognizing the limitations of your data. If you plan on doing more recording in the future, we strongly encourage you to create complete eBird checklists each time that you are in the field sound recording.

Key Points

If you have historical recordings that you want to upload to the Macaulay Library, and you create an eBird checklist specifically for this purpose, you should:
  • Choose the "Historical" protocol
  • Add a note in the Checklist Comments explaining that the list is constructed from sound recordings
  • Include audible background species in your checklist
  • Select "No" when asked if you are submitting a complete checklist
Here are the additional details for the entire process:

Creating the Checklist

Before creating a checklist for a recording session, first check and make sure you don’t have a checklist already for this date and location. Go to My eBird, click on “Manage My Checklists” on the right side, and make sure that the results are sorted by date. Now click “Show All” in the upper right corner of the page, which will display all of the checklists on a single page. You can now search by date, using Ctrl+F on a PC, or Command+F on a Mac, and entering a date value in the format YYYY-MM-DD. For example, a search for “2015-10-05” will find a checklist created on October 5, 2015.
If you do have a pre-existing checklist, you can upload files to it and perhaps add more details to it using the strategies outlined below. If not, start a new checklist for where and when you were recording. When possible, use an appropriate eBird hotspot for your checklist location. Otherwise you can use an existing personal location or create a new personal location that will represent the site where you recorded. Learn more on how to plot locations for your sightings.
On the Date and Effort page of the submission process, use the “Historical” protocol for your checklist, and then fill in as much effort information as possible. If you haven’t already done so, now is a good time to open the relevant sound files in your sound editing program or in a file explorer window (Finder or Explorer). If you regularly announce the time of day in your recordings, listen to your first and last recordings to determine the checklist Start Time and Duration. If you don’t have this information in your voice announcements, you might be able to determine it from the “Date Created” or “Date Modified” information for your files, but be careful in using this information, as there are several different ways in which it can change and be incorrect! Of course, if you have written field notes from this session, you should use the actual Start Time and Duration. Any of the effort information for a checklist can be changed at a later date, so feel free to leave fields blank until you have gathered more information (from voice announcements, etc.) in the course of editing your files.
**Important** When creating a checklist for historical recordings, you should add a note in the Comments section of the checklist indicating how the species list was created. Does the checklist just contain the focal species in your uploaded recordings? Does it also contain audible background species? Did you supplement the species information from your recordings with written field notes? A note such as “Historical checklist constructed from all species audible in uploaded recordings” would be informative to you and to others who later view your checklist.

Generating the species list and uploading files

Now you are ready to begin editing your sound files and adding species to your checklist! The Macaulay Library has some great editing tips, but here is the condensed version: trim the ends of sound files, normalize each bird segment to -3 dB, combine multiple files of the same individual into a single file with one second of silence between each segment, and append your voice announcements (normalized to -10 dB). Recordings of different individuals should be uploaded as separate files.
As you start editing your recordings, take note of all audible species and add them to your checklist. All species included in your checklist should be added with “X” as the count. This includes both focal species and background species. It is not necessary to listen through every second of your recordings for very distant background species, but the more species that were present that you can add to the checklist, the more complete and useful it will be. And of course, you can go back and listen through your recordings for background species and add them to the checklist at any point in the future. If a background species is particularly noteworthy, but not recorded well enough to upload as a separate file, you can use the comments field for the background species to reference the recording in which it is audible. For example, under the comments for Species B you could write “Background species in recording of Species A (ML 1234567).”
**Important** An “X” value, which indicates the presence of a species, but in unknown numbers, should be used as the value for all species unless you are absolutely certain, from notes or from memory, of the total number of individuals that were present. In other words, you should not use your recordings to estimate numeric values for species on your checklist.
When you have finished editing your first recording, save it as a finished file, and then upload it to the checklist by finding the species, clicking “Media” in the “Add data…” row, and dragging and dropping the file into the drop zone. Once the file has successfully uploaded, click on the “Add Details” button to additional information about the recording. This includes behaviors like song and call, age and sex information of the bird in the recording, whether playback was used, and what recording gear you used. There is also a dedicated comments box for each uploaded recording, allowing you to include any additional information specific to that recording that you feel is important (behavioral context of the recording, background species, exact time, exact coordinates, etc.)
After adding your first audio file, click “Save” to submit your list, answering “No” to the question “Are you submitting a complete checklist?” This ensures that the list is saved in case of connectivity issues or other interruptions in the submission process. After this initial save, click “Edit Species List” at any time to continue adding recordings and/or species.
After uploading a file, make sure to wait until upload is complete on all active uploads before clicking Save. Loss of connectivity or navigating away from an open checklist will result in the loss of any files uploaded since the last save, so saving after every upload (or after a few uploads) is a good idea to make sure that all of your files are fully uploaded and saved at eBird/ML.
Recordings of different individuals of the same species should be uploaded separately (not combined into a single file as with multiple files of the same individual). A note can also be added indicating the fact they are different so there is no confusion about whether a bird is the same individual or not. For example, notes like “This individual was not previously recorded this morning,” or “Individual 3” can clarify how many different individuals of a species are documented in your checklist.

If you made recordings of mammals, frogs, insects, other animals, or an environmental recording, these can be archived at the Macaulay Library, but should not be uploaded using the eBird tool at this time. Recordings of non-bird subjects should be placed in a separate folder to submit to the Macaulay Library via Dropbox or another file transfer method. Similarly, the eBird upload tool currently has a 250 MB limit for individual audio files. If any of your finalized files are over this limit, they can still be archived at the Macaulay Library but will have to be submitted manually. You should not downsample your files just to get them under the size limit.
Finally, the media upload limit is 10 files per species. If you have more than 10 recordings of the same species from one recording session (but all different individuals), you can currently only upload 10 of them to a single checklist. Please contact the Macaulay Library if you have more than 10 recordings of different individuals of a species in a single checklist. Note that photographs also contribute to this limit of 10, so if you have photos as well as audio in your checklist, please keep this in mind.


Q: The exact coordinates for different recordings are very important to me. How can I use eBird to upload recordings but maintain this information?
A: If you have exact coordinates for every recording, you have the option to create a separate checklist for each recording, creating a personal location with these exact coordinates. This can be time consuming and loses the nice “clustering” that a checklist provides, but it is one option. Another is to simply add this coordinate information to the comments section of each uploaded recording. This way the information is stored with the appropriate recording but the recordings are grouped into a single convenient list. Finally, exact coordinates for a specific recording can be appended to the recording as a voice announcement.
Q: My checklist spans several hours, but I want to preserve the time I made each recording. How can I do this?
A: For long checklists (or even short ones), it can be helpful to know the time at which each individual recording was made. This information, often documented in a voice announcement and/or stored in the sound file properties, can be left in the voice announcement and/or added to the recording comments with a note like “Recorded at 0717.”
Q: What do I do if I have recordings but no exact date?
A: An exact date is required to create an eBird checklist, so the eBird upload tool cannot be used for recordings lacking full date information. However, in special cases involving rare species, the Macaulay Library will archive recordings with only partial date information.
Q: What should I do if I have recordings but do not know exactly where they were made?
A: Precise locations are strongly recommended for eBird checklists, but it is possible to create a checklist at the country, state, county, or city level. Choose the most specific level you can to provide the most information possible.
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