Keeping a Life List or Birder’s Journal

Piping plover (Charadrius melodus) walking on the beach
Piping plover (Charadrius melodus)
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Public domain.

A life list is a record of the birds you have seen and where. A birder’s journal records the same as the life list but can include more details. These are nature journals for birders. These two journals are kept for a long time. It may take you decades to fill one up.

page from my birder’s journal and life list

How I Use My Birder’s Journal

Before buying a dedicated life list I recorded the date I first saw a species in the margins of my field guide. I didn’t have much room to write details like location or weather conditions, but I was young and didn’t want to spend my allowance. When I started getting a regular paycheck, I bought the National Geographic Birder’s Journal I still use. It’s out of print but used/unused copies are available on Amazon and probably other places.

birders journal checklist
a checklist page form my birder’s journal

Using the Checklist

On the first page of my birder’s journal I recorded the date I started July 2007. I’m still writing and recording in it. The front of the book is.checklist of all the bird species that are establish in North America with a few exotic visitors added in. By looking over my checklist I see that the number of ducks, geese, and swans that I have seen is rather skimpy. The Shorebirds area of the checklist is rather empty. Visiting Bombay National Wildlife Refuge in Dover, Delaware during fall migration when shorebirds are in abundance is on my bucket list.

Using the Life List

The bulk of my Birder’s Journal is filled with spaces to record species sightings. I have chosen to list my first sighting and subsequent sightings especially if I was in a wildlife refuge or visiting another state. I could have just as easily made notations just on the first sighting by including weather, number of birds, gender, age, activity or anything else. I like looking over the journal and reminiscences about past field trips.

nature journal_backyard bird list
the backyard bird life list in my birder’s journal

Add Your Own List

In the back of my birder’s journal I add a list just for the birds that I’ve seen in my backyard. I taped in black graphic paper. I started last year (2021) and still need to add past species listed in the journal section. This essentially be a backyard bird and feeder list.
White Falcon (hybrid bird). U.S. Air Force photo by David Armer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Choosing a Life List or Birder’s Journal

Birding focused journals have several focuses.

Checklist of birds – just that a checklist

Journal/Life List – Life lists have space for the first time a species is seen.  Usually species info is pre-printed so you just add dates and location.

Journal/Diary – doesn’t have species information. You write your observations about the bird. This is more of a nature journal that focuses on birds.

What You Can Do with a Birder’s Journal or Life List

  • You can plan trips. Perhaps you lack any sightings of shorebirds. You can plan to visit places where shorebirds gather and when the best times to see them.
  • record the species that visit your backyard feeders or habitat
  • record type of feeder the bird or bird species uses
  • record type of food the bird prefers
  • did the bird visit a water source? A hanging water feeder or a bird bath or pond?
  • birdhouse residents
  • Record the raising of young, when chicks are born, when they fledge
  • Record the birds activities and interaction with other birds.
  • Record additional sightings of the bird or bird species in different locales or habitats
  • Record seasonal observations
  • List migrants during spring and fall migration
  • Record the first appearance of migrants
  • Observe year-round resident species
  • Record the first appearance of winter visitors.
  • Sketch plumage colors, difference between the genders, juvenile and adult
  • Sketch body features beak shape
  • Note calls and songs
  • Record your citizen science sightings like the Great Backyard Bird Count and Project FeederWatch
A male American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla) in Chiquimula, Guatemala. Photo courtesy Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada derivative work: Snowmanradio, CC BY-SA 2.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons


Keeping a Birder’s Journal or Life List isn’t just for competitive birders. It can be a fun activity for casual backyard birders and competitive birders who participate in ‘Big Days”.

I searched for examples of birder’s journals and life lists. There aren’t as many as there were years ago. You can buy journals at environmental centers, bookstores, and online retailers. I include Amazon.ocm because as an affiliate I receive a commission which pays for this website. All the links below are affiliate links to the book page on Use Amazon’s “Look in Inside this book” feature to choose the best book to suit your needs. Good search terms to use are “life list” or birder’s journal”.

The National Geographic Birder’s Journal is out of print but there are used/unused copies on

Rite in the Rain Birder’s Journal

Sibley’s Birder’s Life List and Field Diary

Cornell Lab of Ornithology Birder’s Life List and Journal – every bird occuring in North America has a space to record your sightings.

Bird Watching Field Journal, Log, Sketchbook, and and Life List

For Kids

Beginning Birdwatcher’s Book with 48 stickers! (Dover Publications)

This series of books has checklist geared to several regions of the United States.

Birdwatching Life List for Kids: Southeast Region: A Birder’s Checklist Notebook Journal for Children to Log Birds

for the mid-Atlantic region

Birdwatching Book for Kids: A Journal to Observe and Record Your Birding Adventures by Kristine Rivers


More Information on Birding

Birds: Table of Contents (listing a posts on this blog)

Identifying Birds by Color: A Collection of Photo Galleries

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