How to Make a Bird Watching Journal

Like many others, you may find that a personal journal will give added depth and meaning to your experiences in birding. You can use it to compare your own sightings over time, share notes with companions, or simply recall special moments in the field. 


In creating a journalistic record, you can choose from a broad range of formats. There is no standard. If you wish, you can simply check the box for each bird you see in a location checklist. You can list birds, noting species, location and time in a Day-Timer or on a calendar. You can keep notes, sketches and snapshots, like a personal diary, in one of the small hard-cover blank books. If you wish to keep a more detailed journal, you might consider using 8 1/2 x 11-inch paper that can be maintained and filed in one of the more durable three-ring binders. 


In a more detailed journal, you might consider including:

  • Species (common and scientific names), including description (for example, size, plumage, eye color, distinctive characteristics, call or song);
  • Abundance and behavior (for instance, species count, courtship, nesting, territorial defense);
  • Date and time;
  • Location (even in your back yard, see A Back Yard Bird Sanctuary) and weather conditions, including temperature; and
  • Habitat, including cover, blooming or seeding plants and available prey.

Possible Journal Form

Birding Journal Example

Obviously, you can add pages to the species notes to accommodate your observations, sketches, cutouts and photographs (see Bird Photography), and you can file your notes in any number of ways, for instance, by species, date or location. For a PDF of the form click here.

Your journal can increase in value as it grows over time. You and fellow birders may turn to your journal and other supporting records to trace a species' use of specific migration routes within the four great Flyways of the United States; estimate a species' abundance or decline within an area from year to year; use a species' numbers as an indicator of an area's environmental health from year to year; or understand a species' relationship with the ecological system of a region. 

As a part of your journal, you might also keep a record of exceptional, but possibly enlightening, events. For instance, in a desert park just before noon on September 6, 2008, a clear hot day in south central New Mexico, I saw a humming bird (probably a Black-chinned since that is a common species in the area) in hot pursuit of a swallow (possibly a Cliff Swallow). They passed in a blur perhaps five feet from me, just a few feet above the ground, and swiftly disappeared. I had never seen a hummer chase so much larger a bird so far. I made a note, and I shall seek an explanation.

For information on other aspects of birding, see

Finding the Birds,
Bird Watching Basics,
A Back Yard Bird Sanctuary
Bird Photography.

Bird Watching Tips & Interesting Facts about Birds
Bird Watching at the Salton Sea
Wildlife Viewing at Coyote Canyon in Anza Borrego


by Jay Sharp


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