eBird and the 3rd Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas

Welcome, eBirders to Atlas-3! Your reports to eBird have contributed valuable data about the distribution and abundance of birds in Ontario. We’re hoping you will join us in putting together the most complete picture ever of the distribution and abundance of the province’s birds and how those have changed over the past 40 years: an invaluable tool for helping conserve Ontario’s birds.

For more info about the Atlas, check out our About the Atlas page, and view some of our informational videos from the 2021 Atlas launch event. To see one of the final products of an Atlas project, you can also view pdfs of the entire Atlas-2 book (Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario, 2001-2005) at: www.birdsontario.org/atlas-2/book.

When you’re ready to join, don’t forget to register!

Why do I need to register?

There are some important differences and additional information we need for Atlas data:

  • Strong emphasis on adding breeding codes.
  • Built-in quality control checks related to breeding codes.
  • Atlas-specific flags for provincial and regional breeding status.
  • Ability to pin-point locations of specific sightings of interest on a checklist.
  • Data organized around a 10 km grid.
  • Track logs that can be used for data analysis (tracks in eBird are not available to the Atlas).

These things may seem subtle, but they make a big difference for ensuring the Atlas has the best possible data. By registering you’ll be able to contribute your data to this important project and stay in the loop for exciting Atlas news.

Ready to register for Atlas-3? Click here.

How do I contribute my data?

There are a few different ways to contribute your data to the Atlas. We hope you will choose the option that works best for you.

  1. NatureCounts (app): You can download the NatureCounts app for free from the Apple App Store or the Android Play Store. Entry follows eBird quite closely with you choosing your starting location and protocol first, followed by your species list, and finally your effort data. It has a built-in track log feature like eBird. [watch a video]
  2. NatureCounts (web): You can enter your checklist data directly on the NatureCounts website. Entry is similar to eBird with you choosing your location and entering your effort data on the first screen, followed by your species list on the second screen. [watch a video]
  3. eBird -> Atlas-3: You can collect your data in eBird and import your checklists to the Atlas. You copy your eBird checklist ID and paste it into the Atlas-3 importer and it will copy all of the contents from your eBird checklist. Because there is some extra information we’d like (for example, location pins for significant species) and because there are extra data checks (for example, related to breeding evidence codes and provincial and regional breeding status) you must import one checklist at a time so that there is an opportunity to add the extra information. [watch a video].

Keep in mind that if you’re entering through NatureCounts (either the web entry or app), you can set up your Atlas account to copy your Atlas forms automatically to your eBird account [watch a video].

In year one of Atlas-3, we found that a lot of eBirders ended up using a combination of these methods. Many used eBird for most of the year and imported their checklists when they observed breeding evidence, but then switched to NatureCounts during the main breeding season (late May through July) since it saved them the extra step of importing each checklist.

What is NatureCounts?

NatureCounts is the database that powers Atlas-3 and many other Citizen Science projects coordinated by Birds Canada. It is one of the world’s largest biodiversity data repositories. It contains data on the distribution and abundance of Canadian species, gathered by a network of volunteers and scientists in dozens of partnership programs. The NatureCounts platform allows users to collect, interpret and access data on wildlife in Canada.

Why use NatureCounts for Atlas data entry?

There are pros and cons to whichever approach you take for entering your data to Atlas-3 and in the end it is a personal choice. There have been many improvements to the NatureCounts app since the start of the Atlas, so many bugs have been worked out. Here is an overview of some things to consider when you decide which method best fits your needs.


  • Atlas square boundaries: At any time during a checklist, you can check your location on a map and see where the square boundaries are to ensure you don’t cross square boundaries.
  • Point count locations: If you are conducting point counts or other special surveys, you can use the app to find your locations.
  • Special survey protocols: The app supports direct entry of point counts and all other special Atlas surveys (e.g. owl surveys, nightjar surveys).
  • Faster for entering breeding evidence: The app is optimized to make adding breeding evidence codes quicker by having them right on the main checklist.
  • Ability to pin locations: You can add a pin or multiple pins for individual birds/records so rare species have their exact locations plotted precisely, helping future bird conservation work.
  • Breeding evidence code warnings: When entering data, certain breeding evidence codes have warnings, cautions, and in some cases are disabled. This is species-specific based on their biology. For example, you can’t enter the “nest building” code for Brown-headed Cowbird since they don’t actually build nests.
  • Atlas status warnings: On top of the eBird flags for rare species and high counts, NatureCounts has flags based on the provincial and regional breeding status of a species. If you enter breeding evidence for these species, you will be prompted for details.
  • No extra steps required: You can set up your NatureCounts account to automatically push all of your Atlas-3 data to your eBird account, so once you submit it, no extra steps are required to ensure the data are in both places.
  • Works offline: The app works for collecting checklists while offline, similar to the eBird app. You just have to submit the lists when you get back to a data connection.

Additional considerations:

  • New system: NatureCounts is similar to, but slightly different than eBird so there is a learning curve to using a new system.
  • No sharing of checklists: NatureCounts doesn’t currently offer the ability to share lists with other observers, so if you were birding with someone else you’ll have to go into eBird to share the checklist there with them.
  • Locations: NatureCounts locations don’t directly link with locations in eBird, so if you want your list totals to tally correctly for a location in eBird you have to merge your NatureCounts-created locations with those in eBird.
  • Checklist editing after submission not on app: NatureCounts doesn’t currently support editing submitted checklists in the app, so if you notice an error, you have to open and edit the checklist on the NatureCounts website. If you have your account set to automatically push to eBird, then any edits you make will automatically update your eBird checklist.
  • No media attachments: NatureCounts doesn’t currently support adding photos/video/audio to your checklists. If you have media to support an observation, please add them to your eBird checklist and note in your comments that they are there so reviewers will know to look.
  • iOS app closing: Particularly on older iOS devices and those with low battery, the NatureCounts app will sometimes be closed by the operating system, especially when a track log is running and/or if you close your screen or go to another app. This is a battery-saving feature of the current iOS operating system and not something that can be fixed easily by app development at this time although recent improvements in the app’s battery and memory usage appear to have helped (some other apps have the same issue on iOS). We are hopeful that Apple implements a fix but if this happens to you, rest assured your data will be saved (check your checklist drafts folder), you just won’t be able to restart your track log. Some of the things you can do that reduce the chances of this happening are to turn off battery saver mode or set your phone not to sleep and leave it open when a checklist is running. Keeping your battery level topped up (e.g. with a portable battery pack) can also help.

Frequently asked questions

Below are some frequently asked questions related to eBird and Atlas-3. Don’t see your question below? Check out the Atlas-3 discussion board or contact us.

That’s no problem. A principal atlasser is there to ensure the square gets the minimum coverage but additional coverage wherever you may be is needed to really fill out the Atlas data. Your effort becomes even more valuable if you can target under-covered squares, especially those in central and northern Ontario. Contact a regional coordinator if you’d like to become a principal atlasser for a square, otherwise just submit your Atlas data wherever you may be.

When you import your checklist from eBird:

  • Make sure the effort data has been copied correctly.
  • Check that your location and track (if applicable) are correct.
  • Make sure your species list is correct.
  • Add pins for breeding records of significant species (those with a †, ‡, or §).
  • Add details for how you identified significant species and information about their breeding evidence.
  • For colonial species, add details about the colony size and condition (e.g. was the number a count of nests? adults vs juveniles?).

When you are entering your data, you might notice certain symbols beside a species name. These relate to the status of the species and may be dependent on the time of year and location. Records with these symbols require extra documentation to help with confirming the record and for precise mapping.

SymbolNameExplanationDetails requested
[rare]eBird flagIf a species is rare for the date and location according to the eBird filter, you will be required to add detailsDetails about how you identified the species.
Provincially rareProvincially rare breeding species. Will be flagged if you enter breeding evidence.How did you identify the species? Explanation of breeding evidence. “Pin” the exact location(s)
Regionally rareRegionally rare breeding species. Will be flagged if you enter breeding evidence.How did you identify the species? Explanation of breeding evidence. “Pin” the exact location(s)
§Species of interestSpecies of interest. Widespread species at risk or colonial species. Will be flagged if you enter confirmed-level breeding evidence.“Pin” the exact location(s) and for colonial species, details about the size and status of the colony.

If you are actively searching for breeding evidence as opposed to “just birding” then please enter your checklists into NatureCounts. This is important to capture the amount of atlassing effort going on.

In year one, many eBirders used eBird for recording their data in the “shoulder season” and just imported the checklists with breeding evidence on them, then switched to full time using NatureCounts for data entry once the breeding season picked up in late May.

There are a few differences between the breeding evidence codes used in eBird and Atlas-3. For the most part you don’t need to worry about these, since the data are translated when you import or export data between the two platforms. However, it is good to know the code discrepancies to help avoid confusion:

eBird breeding evidence codeAtlas-3 translation
FL Recently fledged youngFY Fledged young.
FY Feeding youngCF Carrying food
ON Occupied nestAE Adult entering nest
UN Used nestNU Used nest
CN Carrying nesting materialNB Nest building
PE Physiological evidenceB Brood patch or cloacal protuberance
B Wren/Woodpecker nest buildingN Nest-building by wrens or nest hole excavation by woodpeckers
S7 Singing bird present 7+ daysT Territory
C Courtship, display or copulationD Display
N Visiting probable nest siteV Visiting probable nest site

Currently, NatureCounts does not support eBird checklist sharing with multiple observers so you will have to go into eBird after you’ve submitted the list and share through eBird. You can click on the eBird checklist link on your NatureCounts checklist (on the website) to go straight to the eBird checklist page where you can share with other observers you were with.

If you have the option to automatically push your Atlas data to eBird turned on (found under your NatureCounts profile), then when you import an eBird checklist, it will add some text to the eBird checklist comments like “NatureCounts – Breeding Bird Atlas” so that’s a handy way to know which checklists you’ve already imported (if you have a lot of eBird data, you could download your data [on the “my eBird”, found near the bottom of the left margin] and sort on the checklist comments field to help identify eBird checklists you haven’t yet imported.

No problem! NatureCounts won’t create a duplicate Atlas checklist. Instead, it will update the Atlas checklist – if you’ve made any changes to the Atlas version that haven’t been saved to the eBird version, then those updates will get over-written.

If you’re looking to see which Atlas checklists have been shared with your eBird account, you can go to “View data forms” under the “Explore” menu to see a list of your Atlas checklists and there will be an eBird icon beside each list that is shared with eBird.

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Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, Birds Canada, 115 Front Street, P.O. Box 160 Port Rowan, ON, N0E 1M0 Canada
Phone: 1-519-586-3531 E-mail: onatlas@birdscanada.org