Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: Keeping a Backyard Bird List

birders list (2)One of the most enjoyable things about birding, besides the birds themselves, is keeping track or records of all the birds that we have seen over the years. These lists can contain more than just the date, place and times of all the many special sightings of our feathered friends that make up one of the great passions of our lives. Birds can also hold many special memories of those extraordinary days when we saw that new bird species for the very first time.

Bird lists, or “Life Lists,” as they are commonly called, can be compiled from birds we have seen from all around the world to a state or even just one singular location. But my favorite Life List to keep is from a much smaller geographic location: my own backyard.

Why Keep a Backyard Bird List?

*It is great to look back and see when the Orioles, Hummingbirds, Warblers and the Snow birds Like Juncos and White-throated sparrows appeared in your yard in years past. You can prepare your feeders, bird houses and birdbaths to get ready for your favorite yearly visitors.

* A backyard bird list will also allow you to track changes in local bird populations due to landscape changes, habitat destruction or even climate change . Not to mention looking back and seeing when you spotted that “Rare Bird” to remind you when you should begin to keep a lookout for it again at the same time next year.

* If you decide to create a backyard wildlife habitat and make it more bird friendly you can also track how many more bird species utilize your yard than in the past. At the same time you can learn how to improve it for the species that visit your yard and make it even better for the ones you still hope to attract.

* Your list can create many fond memories. Besides recording the bird sighting, you can write notes that recap what you were doing when you saw the bird , your thoughts and what tree or plants the bird was utilizing . This is particularly fun if your list can go back many years, a kind of life history of your yard.

*How To Get Started –Define your boundaries and set your rules!

Since we know birds don’t care where human property lines begin or end you will have to decide where a bird must be before you can count them. Will you count all birds that can be seen anywhere from your backyard or will they have to be directly within your property lines? Will birds on your neighbor’s trees or fence count if they are close to your property? How about a flyover? Front yard count too?

There is really no right or wrong here. You set the rules and make it fun, but no cheating! You are on your honor to positively ID the bird as best you can . This is very important as it is respectful to other birders and especially since recording bird sightings is very important to establishing bird populations.

  * What Birds will be counted?

This is another decision you will have to make. Will you count all birds that visit your yard? Just your feeder birds? Birds that use your plants ? Only birds that come back more than once ? Will you count the non-native birds too, like Pigeons, House Sparrows, and Starlings? Again there is no right or wrong. You set the rules .

Remember that every backyard is different depending on what your surrounding habitat may be. Since I live in the Meadowlands many sparrow species are attracted to my humble little yard , so many in fact I get my friends jealous. The flip side of that is they live in a more wooded habitat and get many more warbler species than I do .

*How to keep your list

Of course the old fashioned way still works: a note book, a pad or a “Birders Life List” book will enable you to document your sightings and allow you to write your field notes and personal thoughts.

Apps for your phone and many computer programs will let you keep your backyard list in a more modern way, but don’t forget to back these up so you don’t lose them forever if your computer decides to check out permanently.

Ebird – Ebird is a great way to maintain your list not only for yourself but also to help track bird populations worldwide. It is a real-time, online checklist program that has revolutionized the way that the birding community reports and accesses information about birds.

Launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, eBird provides rich data sources for basic information that everyone can use and take advantage . For more info on ebird go to

Keeping and maintaining a backyard bird list is a great way for you and your family to keep connected to the natural world around us. To be able to look back 10, 20 or event 30 years at records of the birds we have come to know and love can be one of life’s most treasured joys. If you need any help starting your backyard life list please contact me at




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