Those Bird Codes

Blackpoll warbler gleaning insects from a boxelder (photo by Chuck Tague)
Blackpoll warbler gleaning insects from a boxelder (photo by Chuck Tague)

25 May 2023

Call me crazy. Or maybe old-fashioned.

Whenever I go birding I make a list — on paper — of the birds I see using the four-letter code for each species. When I get home I type the paper list into eBird. This paper list became this checklist.

Why don’t I just enter the birds directly into the eBird app on my phone? Unfortunately I learned long ago that if I look at my phone in the woods I start to read email, respond to text messages, check the news … and suddenly I’m not birding anymore and I’ve got a whole new set of Things To Do that I didn’t need to trouble with yet. So to keep myself focused I write a paper list.

The codes are easy to remember (see the rules here) except where the rules resolve to the same thing for two or more birds. The overlap codes are the ones I forget:

  • Bay-breasted warbler (should be BBWA, I wrote BAYB)
  • Blackpoll warbler (should be BLPW, I wrote BLKPOLL) and
  • Blackburnian warbler (should be BLBW, I wrote BLKBUR).

I remembered these, though:

  • BAOR = Baltimore oriole
  • CHSP = Chipping sparrow
  • MAWA = Magnolia warbler

My list should have been:

A few of the birds seen or heard in Frick Park on 18 May 2023

Where did the codes come from? If you’ve read this far you might be curious.

(photo by Kate St. John)

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