Uploading historic media

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper Bartramia longicauda

  • Illinois, Jasper, United States

Do you have old sound recordings or photos that you would like to upload to the Macaulay Library, but you don’t have an eBird checklist or complete field notes for your observation? This page explains how to create the best possible eBird checklist to upload historical recordings and images to the Macaulay Library. Be sure to visit our photo and audio guidelines before uploading your media.

Creating an eBird checklist is the first step necessary to archive your media. If you are new to eBird, click here to learn more about getting started.

An eBird checklist is most useful when it is a complete list of all species detected with numbers of individuals. For historical recording or photography sessions, much of this information might not be available, but your observations still have value, especially when accompanied by media. 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 or photography in the future, we strongly encourage you to create complete eBird checklists.

Quick guidelines

  1. Choose a location, specific to the location from which the media came. eBird depends on accurate and reasonably precise locations. Please don’t submit a single list for a very large area or an aggregation of multiple, discrete sites. 
  2. Choose the “Historical” protocol
  3. Add a note in the Checklist Comments explaining that the list is constructed from sound recordings or photographs
  4. Include audible or visible background species in your checklist
  5. Select “No” when asked if you are submitting a complete checklist

Create a checklist

Before creating a checklist for your historic media, make sure you don’t already have a checklist for that date and location. Go to My eBird, click on “Manage My Checklists” on the right side, and sort results by date. Click “Show All” in the upper right corner of the page to see all of your checklists on a single page. Search your checklists by date with Ctrl+F on a PC, or Command+F on a Mac. Enter 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 have a pre-existing checklist for the correct date and location, you can upload your media to your checklist and add more details.

If you do not have a pre-existing checklist, start a new checklist for the location, date, and time when you collected the media. 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. Learn more about how to plot locations for your sightings.

On the Date and Effort page of the submission process, check the “Historical” protocol, and then fill in as much effort information as possible.

If you are submitting recordings, 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 or are working off of photos, 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. Some photo editing and viewing programs can also access photo metadata to give a more accurate date and time even if the modified dates have changed.

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.

When creating a checklist for historical media, 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 audio recordings? Does it also contain audible background species? Did you supplement the species information from your media 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.

Generate the species list

If you are working with audio recordings, you will need to prepare your sound files. The Macaulay Library has a how-to guide with tutorials for preparing your files. In general, 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 prepare your recordings, take note of all audible species and add them to your checklist. Unless you specifically recall how many individuals were present, 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).”

A similar process can be used to add species to the checklist based on your photographs, although background species will generally be less helpful in this case. Please remember to follow our guidelines for preparing and uploading photos. This includes uploading only your own images; uploading full-resolution images whenever possible; cropping and editing photos as desired, but avoiding extreme editing techniques and over-sharpening; and refraining from adding text, watermarks, borders, or other decorations that were not on the original image.

**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 or photos to estimate numeric values for species on your checklist.

Upload files

After preparing your file, find the species in your list, click “Add Details,” and drag and drop the file into the drop zone. Once the file has successfully uploaded add additional information about it. For audio recordings, this includes behaviors like song and call, age and sex information of the bird in the recording if known, 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.) The same goes for uploading photos, except that you will see fewer metadata options: only age and sex information and comments are currently available for images. Finally, it is also helpful to add a quality rating to each piece of uploaded media. For more information on rating media, see rating photos and rating audio.

After adding your first media file, click “Save” to submit your list, answer “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, photos, or species.

After uploading a file, make sure to wait until the upload is complete 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.

Audio 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. Remember too that multiple files that are definitely of the same individual in the same location on the same date should be combined into one file before uploading.

If you made recordings of mammals, frogs, insects, other animals, or an environmental recording, these can be archived at the Macaulay Library, but cannot 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. 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. The size limit for photos is 10MB. If your images are over this limit, consider cropping them, resizing them slightly, or saving them at a slightly more compressed rate. If they are not over the limit, it is always more useful to upload the full-resolution version (after any desired cropping).

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. 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 or photo, you have the option to create a separate checklist for each piece of media, creating a personal location with these exact coordinates. You may also add coordinate information to the comments section of each uploaded piece of media. This way the information is stored with the appropriate media but the media are grouped into a single convenient list. Finally, exact coordinates for a specific audio recording can be appended to the recording as a voice announcement. Since location specificity is very important for eBird, please make sure that whatever checklist you provide gives reasonably precise locality information. Making sure the distance traveled is about 8 km (5 mi) or less is a best practice, and photos or audio can always be uploaded together to such checklists.

Q: My checklist spans several hours, but I want to preserve the time I made each audio 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 07:17.”

Q: What do I do if I have media but no exact date?
A: An exact date is required to create an eBird checklist, hence the eBird upload tool cannot be used for recordings lacking date. However, in special cases involving rare species, the Macaulay Library will archive recordings with only partial date information. Please contact us if you have historic recordings of rare species without a date.

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.