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Photographing a boobyThe Macaulay Library and eBird allow you to upload photos (and audio) directly to your eBird checklists, thereby archiving them in the Macaulay Library. When you upload these images to support your records, it not only provides our regional reviewers with excellent information to evaluate your observations of rare and unusual species, it also gives other birders an illustrated checklist of the birds you observed, making for a more enjoyable and informative experience when browsing eBird. Who doesn’t like seeing more pictures of birds? Uploaded media provides valuable data for projects like MerlinVision, our computer vision project which helps birders identify the birds they’ve photographed and will play a large role in future data quality initiatives. Additionally, your media becomes part of a digital catalog of the birds of the world at the Macaulay Library. User photos also help other Cornell Lab educational projects to illustrate species accounts, including the Merlin Bird ID app, Birds of the World, and All About Birds.

Quick photo guidelines

  • Upload photos for both rare and common species
  • Crop and edit your images before uploading, but try not to over-crop or over-edit
  • Upload your full-resolution images, as long as they are JPG and under 10 MB each
  • Refrain from adding a watermark or other text to your images
  • Add comments and metadata and rate your photo after you upload it
  • Please don't upload composite images or back-of-camera photos
  • Upload multiple photos (up to 10 per species), but only if they are sufficiently different
  • Photos must be your own and adhere to the media licensing agreement

Which photos should I upload?

Photos uploaded to eBird and the Macaulay Library are used for a wide variety of purposes, so a wide variety of photos are useful and should be uploaded. Good, high-resolution images of both rare and common birds are particularly valuable, as they can help illustrate species in Cornell Lab projects, as well as providing an enjoyable browsing experience for users exploring the archive. However, lower-quality photos can also be useful—they help train our computer vision model to return accurate identifications regardless of image quality. For the purposes of documenting rare species, any identifiable photos help support your identifications and allow eBird regional reviewers to evaluate observations more efficiently and accurately. Photos illustrating behavior, as well as different molts, plumages, and angles, are also of particular interest for documenting the spectrum of global bird diversity. So to summarize: almost any identifiable photo is fair game to upload, whether it's a documentation shot of a first state record, a nicely lit picture of a common yard bird, or a rare photo of a hard-to-see species.

Resolution, size, cropping, and editing

If possible, upload photos at their original resolution. eBird accepts images up to 10 MB in size in JPEG, PNG, and GIF (non-animated) formats.

High-resolution photos are important because these images are part of a permanent scientific archive and may be used for computer vision learning. Although images are displayed in checklists and search at a smaller size, the full-resolution file is stored in the archive. High resolution images are also important for your photos to be considered for use in projects like eBird Explore Species, Merlin, and Birds of the World.

Crop photos so that the bird is large and visible in the frame. However, make sure to leave plenty of "canvas" around the edge of the bird. More cropping can always be done later, but there’s no way to get additional information back. When cropping, it's often good to keep more room in front of the bird than behind it to give the image a more balanced feel.

When editing, aim to make the bird look as it did in the field; please avoid over-saturation, over-sharpening, or augmentation of the image beyond what you observed. The idea is to create a natural reproduction of how the bird looked in life. Many editing tools found in Photoshop can "enhance" an otherwise backlit or hard-to-see image, but they can also result in very strange-looking birds; please use these tools sparingly. Similarly, avoid cosmetic Photoshopping like the removal of branches or other major changes. These artificially created images are not appropriate for inclusion in a scientific collection.

Multiple images of the same species

We encourage you to add multiple photos that show different individuals, parts, angles, or behaviors of the species as well as photos illustrating different individuals seen while you are out birding. However, multiple images should illustrate differences and not be nearly identical frames from the same burst of shots.

In the checklist view, images will sort in the order in which they finish uploading. If multiple images are selected or dropped in at one time, they may finish uploading in a different order depending on the file size. If the order of images in your checklist is important to you, make sure that they finish uploading before adding more.

Watermarks and other text

Please refrain from adding any kind of text or watermark to your photos. As the photographer, your name will always be displayed next to the image. Watermarks and other text mar the aesthetics of the photograph, as well as make it harder for computer learning projects such as MerlinVision to use the images. Although not recommended, if you wish to add a watermark, please keep the watermark small and subtle. Additional text on the images including the species name, date, or location is unnecessary because that information always appears with the photo. Similarly, if your camera puts a time and date stamp onto the image automatically, consider disabling this function. The time and date are already stored in the metadata of the image and do not need to be displayed on the image itself. We also ask that you refrain from adding any kind of border around the photo.

Composite images

Please refrain from uploading composite images (images that include more than one photo). Each image should be uploaded separately.

Back-of-camera images

When you’ve photographed a rare bird, it can be tempting to take a shot of your camera’s LCD screen and upload it to your eBird list for quick documentation purposes. While this can be a reasonable method of getting the word out in a hurry, please remember to go back and replace the placeholder images. Back-of-camera images may not be high enough resolution to show critical details, lack important metadata such as date and time, and are not useful for projects like MerlinVision.

Non-bird images

Because each image you upload has its own stand-alone data record in the Macaulay Library, it is important that any image uploaded to a particular species actually contains that species. Exceptions are photos of habitat or nests, which can be uploaded and tagged with the "Habitat" or "Nest" tag, respectively. At this time we ask you to refrain from uploading images of scenery, maps, pictures of your birding companions, etc. to your eBird checklist. Similarly, photos of animals other than birds should not be uploaded to eBird. Field notes that do not include sketches should be transcribed into the observation details rather than uploaded as images.

Rating images

After you upload your photo, rate the quality of the photo (1–5 stars). For guidelines on how to rate photos, see our photo quality rating page. You can rate the images you upload, and they can also be rated by anyone signed into eBird through our community-based rating system.

Adding notes

The comments about a species or observation on a checklist (observation details) are different than the media notes added to a photo. Media notes refer to that specific image, whereas the observation details refer to that entire observation, which is often not just the bird that you photographed. This is a subtle yet important difference. The media notes are attached to the image, the observation details attached to the observation.

Photo with commentsAdding notes to an image can provide specific information about the bird in the photo, whether to designate an individual between photos, or to provide comments on behavior, context of the photo, or anything else worth mentioning about the individual image.

Adding age/sex information

Photo with age/sex informationYou can indicate the age and sex of the bird(s) in the image. It’s important to remember that this photo may be accessed away from the eBird checklist (e.g., as a stand-alone media specimen in the Macaulay Library), so the more information you can add to describe what’s happening in the image the better. Age and sex should correspond directly to the bird(s) in the image. If you're not sure about the age or sex, don't just guess! You can still fill in numbers of Unknown Age, Unknown Sex, or leave them blank.


Adding tags and additional species

Many additional behavioral and photo tags can be applied to uploaded images, as well as listing additional species visible in the frame. Visit our tagging page to find out more.

Sharing checklists with photos

Sharing eBird checklists allows your photos to be visible in your friends' checklists too, even if they are uploaded after sharing. For copyright reasons, only the person who took a photo can upload it. If you were with someone and want to have their photo show up in your list, ask them to share their checklist, or share yours and ask them to upload their photos!

Changing identifications

The identification of uploaded media can be changed, but this is currently done outside of the Manage Media tool. Click Edit Species on your checklist, then click Change Species next to the media to change just that media. Alternatively, click Change Species next to the species name to change the entire observation (including all media associated with it.) See full instructions about the Change Species process.

Multiple species in the same photo

Each photo must be uploaded to only one species, but you can use the Additional Species field in Manage Media to tag other species present in the image. Note that an additional species can only be selected if it is also reported on the checklist to which you’re uploading media. If you have photos emphasizing different species in the group, upload these to different species as you see fit. Uploading identical photographs to two or more different species is not encouraged.