How To Create Your Own Bird Life List (Step-by-Step)

Creating a bird life list is a great way to keep a record of your birding experiences, and there are many ways to create a data-rich bird life list, whether you want to use an app or pen and paper.

How can you create a bird list?

To create your own bird life list, first, learn which birds count. All birds on the life list should be unique, living, and wild. You can begin your list by downloading an application, purchasing a guidebook, or creating your own journal. Then you can take note of each species you identify.

Know What Birds Count

Before you begin putting your bird life list together, make sure that you learn what qualifies a bird to be included in a bird life list.

This is especially important if you plan to share your list with a birding organization. 

The birds that you include should meet all of the following criteria:

  • The birds should be living, not killed or stuffed. Abandoned eggs should not count.
  • If you’re planning to submit a bird life list into a competition or share it with an organization, avoid including birds you witness in zoos or other unnatural habitats. Bird life lists ideally include only free birds, not those in captivity.
  • Each listed bird should be of a unique species. Don’t include multiple birds of the same species, even if they’re of different colors or genders.
  • The birds should not be hybrids or be identifiable through artificial marks like leg bands.

Record Your Sightings 

When you’re first getting started with your bird life list, it makes sense to start small. 

You can try dividing your list into sections, taking note of birds you saw in different times and contexts. All of the following are good starter categories:

  • Birds you see within 24 hours.
  • Those you see between sundown and sunrise.
  • The birds you see between sunrise and sunset.
  • Birds you see in one area, like your backyard or your state.

You may choose to record your bird sightings with a premade guide of some sort, whether it be a birding book, web application, or printable checklist. 

Or, you can create your own unique journal from scratch.

Using Bird Life List Books

Many books are available for birders looking to keep a bird life list, many of which allow you to combine handwritten notes and information alongside provided species information.

Both of these books are available on

Sibley Birder’s Life List and Field Diary

Sibley Birder’s Life List and Field Diary is a guide with entries for all 923 bird species found in the United States and Canada, organized by ornithologist David Sibley.

The book includes both a straightforward checklist of species and room for notes about each bird sighting.

Birder’s Life List and Journal

Made by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Birder’s Life List and Journal is a birding guide with records for every bird found in North America, with room for notes and sketches from each sighting.

The guide also includes color illustrations for some species, provided by artist Rigel Stuhmiller. 

Using Bird Life List Web Applications

Online databases and photo recognition software have transformed the world of birding. 

Web applications now allow you to create heavily detailed, rich bird life list entries with the touch of a button, accessing large databases that go beyond what can be stored in a simple book. 

The Cornell Lab’s Merlin Bird ID App

The Cornell Lab’s Merlin Bird ID App allows you to use photo recognition software to match birds with a database of over 7,500 species, saving your find to a bird life list in-app.

It uses your location to create a map of bird sightings, stored privately alongside your notes about the kind of habitat where you found the bird, such as in the woods, fields, or other places. 

You can then choose whether or not to report your sightings to eBird, a shared database of bird sightings.

The data accumulated in the eBird database is used for scientific research within the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Audubon Bird Guide App

The Audubon Bird Guide App has a Bird ID feature that allows you to select identifying features like size and color, then view a list of birds that may fit the description.

You can then view a detailed entry about each bird that contains clips of bird songs, range maps, and photos.

Once you’ve selected a bird, you can add it to a Sightings list. 

This list contains every bird sighting that you log, and it automatically generates a Life List containing the name of each species contained in a sighting.

The difference between the two lists is that the Life List only includes a given species one time.

It also allows you to create custom lists narrowed down by type and location.

Altogether, the app allows you to include birds from a database of over 800 North American species.

Share Your Bird Life List

Several options are available for birders who choose to share their bird life lists with the birding community, including databases used for scientific research and organizations that publish birding rankings. 

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has an online database known as eBird and is one of the leading community science projects in the world of ornithology.

The database includes records for over 7,500 species, and it grows daily as birders add their sightings.

Birding competitions, like the World Series of Birding, require participants to submit birding lists from a given day or series of days. 

Others include the Great Texas Birding Classic and the New York Birdathon.

More Tips for Creating a Bird Life List

As you’re building your bird life list, make sure that you give yourself ample opportunity to find new species.

Rather than sticking to your backyard, visit wildlife refuges and varied landscapes, looking for new species. 

You’ll find that your list grows quickly, especially if you live along a migration route. Make sure that you keep your list up to date! 

Having a life list of birds you’ve found is rewarding and enriches the birding experience.