Adding Photos to Your GBBC Checklist

You can upload photos and audio directly to your Great Backyard Bird Count checklists, thanks to the integration with the eBird online checklist program. When you upload these images to support your records, it not only provides regional data-quality reviewers with excellent information to evaluate your observations of rare and unusual species, but also gives other birders an illustrated checklist of the birds you observed, making for a more enjoyable and informative experience when browsing the GBBC. Who doesn’t like seeing more pictures of birds?

Note: Uploading images with your GBBC checklist does NOT mean they are entered in the photo contest. To be considered for the contest, photos must be uploaded separately with a link on the GBBC website home page which will appear when the count begins.

This page provides guidance on uploading photos to help you understand these tools, and to help you make the most of them and your time investment in uploading images with your checklist.  Each checklist with photos or audio files automatically becomes a part of the valuable scientific research collection within the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library archive. To learn more about sound recording guidelines, please see the audio upload guide provided in eBird.

Male Wood Duck

GBBC Bird Photo Upload Guidelines and Best Practices

How do I upload a photo?

(1) Take a picture of a bird.

(2) Download the photo to your computer, and know where you downloaded it (folder, desktop, etc.).

(3) Go to your GBBC checklist containing that bird, and find the species you want to illustrate.

(4) Either drag the image(s) from your folder into the media window, or “Select” it using the file browser.

(5) Rate the quality of your image from 1-5 stars. (see below)

(6) Add sex or age information that is associated with the bird in that specific image.

(7) Repeat as desired (up to 10 files per species).

(8) Hit Submit, sit back, and enjoy the beauty of your GBBC checklist!

When you are entering species in your GBBC checklist, and you have a photo you want to upload, look for the “Add Details” button and click on it. You will see the “Media” option available as a button or as a drag-and-drop field. “Select” your image using either of these options. The screenshots below show the two potential views for this system. 

If you’re using the eBird Mobile app to participate in the GBBC, you will need to submit your list and then add the photos on the website. To do this, find the checklist on My eBird (try “Manage My Checklists,” which shows your lists in chronological order) and then click the “view or edit” option (elsewhere in eBird, the date is usually hyperlinked to bring you to the checklist page).



eBird Photo Upload Best Practices

* Take photos of all unusual species you see on an outing, or anything you can get a good photo of
* Crop the images so that the subject is large and visible in the frame
* Size images to 2 MB max per photo, 3 MB max per audio file

Which birds do I upload photos for?

For now, the primary focus should be to try and document any sighting with a photo if it is a rare or unusual species. This includes any species that is flagged during data entry. “Rare or unusual” can mean species that are either “flagged” as rare for the location or season, an unusually high count of a species that itself isn’t rare, or a species that you consider to be unusual. A secondary focus is on taking advantage of species that simply offer a good photo opportunity: if a bird is being cooperative in good light, by all means take the photo! This means that we’d like photos for a first country record for Emperor Penguin, for a flock of 10,000 European Starlings, or just a great picture of a Northern Shoveler on the local pond.


Best practices for resolution and size

If possible, size your images to 2 MB max per photo, in JPEG, PNG, and GIF (non-animated) formats. Each species on a checklist can accept 2 images.


Because these photos are becoming part of a permanent scientific collection (especially for computer vision learning), it is best to try to provide a medium-to-high resolution image. As time goes on, screen resolution will only improve, so it’s a good idea to provide a good quality image that will remain useful for many years to come.

In terms of image size, the GBBC checklist view shows two sizes: a smaller embedded view, and a larger expanded view. Over time these two view sizes may change, so it makes sense to provide an image that is sufficiently large to scale into the future.

How to crop and edit your images

Make sure to crop so that the bird is large and visible in the frame; we want to avoid distant photos that could be improved by a quick crop. When cropping, make sure to leave a little “canvas” around the edge of the bird—having that wiggle room will usually make the image look nicer.


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 in the field–the idea is to create a natural reproduction of how the bird looked in life.

If you have a couple photos that show different parts of the bird, please upload both. Aesthetically pleasing images are fine, as well as those that show the bird in habitat.

Rating your images and adding comments

Each image has a star rating associated with it, ranging from 1-5. This rating is meant to evaluate the quality of the image; not the quality of the bird in the image. A great photo of a common bird should be 5 stars, and a low-quality image of a rare bird should be one star. We plan to introduce ratings that deal with interesting behaviors, rare birds, and other such details in the future. At this time the rating is given by the person uploading the file—in the future we plan to move towards community-based rating.

Here are our suggestions for each star rating:

1-star: The lowest-quality of identifiable images possible. Very distant record shots (e.g., mile-distant digiscopes), very grainy, small-in-the-frame, and out of focus images. Barely identifiable.


2-star: Fairly poor images. Not very sharp, poorly lit, and/or much of the bird obscured. Fills a fairly small portion of the frame, but not tiny.


3-star: Mid-quality images. Fairly sharp, decently lit (e.g., dappled lighting, partially backlit), a busy background (e.g., branches), is partially obscured, and doesn’t fill very much of the frame.


4-star: Images that are quite good, but not fully 5-star worthy. This rating will likely span many of the “good” photos. 4-star photos are images that have a bird that is pretty sharp, but might have mediocre lighting (e.g., sidelit), a bird that is partially obscured in a tree or and doesn’t quite fill the frame. It is still a solid photograph, but just not the top quality.


5-star: The best images possible; the bird fills the frame, is sharp and well-lit, has a clean background, and is posed well.


Adding Comments

The comments section below the media is different than the one attached to the entry for that species. Media comments refer to that specific image or recording, whereas the species comments refer to that entire observation, which is often not just the bird that you photographed or recorded. This is a subtle yet important difference; the media comments are attached to the image, and the species comments attached to the observation.


Adding age/sex information to a media file

Each rich media file uploaded to eBird can be further annotated. Right now, sound files offer more options for additional metadata, but you can indicate the age and sex of the bird in both images and recordings. It’s important to remember that this photo or sound may be accessed away from the eBird checklist (e.g., within 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 in the image. So if you upload a picture of an adult male Northern Cardinal, you should select ‘Adult’ for age, and ‘Male’ for sex in the drop down menus accompanying the uploaded file on the checklist page. In some cases you won’t know the age or sex, and it’s fine to choose ‘Unknown’ for both. In some cases more than one age/sex is represented in the image. For these cases just use ‘Unknown’, and consider providing further details in the ‘Comments’ section that accompanies the file. This additional information will travel with the file wherever it is displayed.



Here are some commonly-asked questions about media uploading as used in eBird. If you cannot find an answer to your question please contact us at