David Raffle is the Birding and Science Officer for the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club (SOC). As part of his role, he represents the SOC on the BirdTrack Steering Group and works closely with the Local Recorders’ Network on development areas such as BirdTrack, the main bird data recording platform used across Scotland. He is also a keen BirdTrack user himself, regularly contributing his sightings when out and about. 
Image right: Perched Kingfisher ©  Bob Hamilton

BirdTrack blog

BirdTrack is a free online biological recording platform run in partnership between BTO, RSPB, Birdwatch Ireland, SOC and Welsh Ornithological Society. BirdTrack provides a convenient way of storing and exploring your records online, ensuring that they are logged and not lost. You can find out what other people are seeing, view the latest trends and contribute your data to science. It is easy and fun to take part in, either entering your sightings on the go with the free smartphone app, or inputting them from the comfort of your own home on the website. This blog covers what you can get out of BirdTrack, how your records are used and how to maximise the value of your sightings.

What’s in it for me?

BirdTrack is a rewarding way to add structure to your birdwatching. Going out with the aim to do a complete list can be surprisingly fun and you are able to learn a lot from doing it; it forces you to pay more attention to common species as well as noticing which species you are not seeing. You can compare your observations to other people’s sightings, exploring whether these patterns and trends are evident more widely. If you like a good graph, you are in luck as there are lots of neat ways to visualise your data.

My 2023 BirdTrack year – just one of the ways you can visualise your data in BirdTrack

As well as developing your birding on a personal level, by participating in BirdTrack you are also making your data available to help monitor bird populations and contribute to scientific research. Your sightings are used for a variety of purposes, from local monitoring to international projects.

How are my records used?

Originally set up to map migration, BirdTrack continues to be a useful tool in the study of bird migration to this day. Reporting rate graphs show how the percentage of complete lists that a species appears in changes over time, clearly demonstrating the arrival and departure timings for migrant birds. This data has been used in research, such as this paper by BTO, which found that the spring arrival dates for 11 of 14 common migrants are significantly earlier than they were in the 1960s. BirdTrack data also feeds into EuroBirdPortal, with maps allowing you to visualise migration in real time, tracking the progress of birds.


Left: Reporting rate graph showing Swallow arrival and departure in Scotland
Right: Euro Bird Portal map showing Fieldfare migration

One of the strengths of BirdTrack is its flexibility, allowing users to input sightings anywhere, anytime. Some birds have restricted ranges, are difficult to detect or more active at dusk, meaning that they are often missed by structured surveys. The platform is a valuable tool for monitoring these scarce birds and mapping their distribution.

BirdTrack coverage is relatively extensive, lending itself to mapping projects. On a national level, records feed into the National Biodiversity Network Atlas, the UK’s largest repository of publicly available biodiversity data. It is not just birds that you can input either, with sightings of other taxa feeding into iRecord. On a more local level, records are invaluable for the Local Recorders’ Network, with Local Bird Recorders and Report Editors across Scotland collating them to produce local bird reports.

Local bird report

Your records may be flagged up if they are local or Scottish rarities, or if you have entered a high count or unseasonal date for that species. Checking and responding to these notifications is important to allow Local Bird Recorders to validate and use your sightings. You should respond using the Rare Bird Form if you were the original finder or edit the record if it was an error.

How can I maximise the value of my records?

The uses outlined above require high quality data, so here are a few steps that you can take to add value to your records.

Recording complete lists is a great starting point. Marking a list as complete shows that you have recorded all the birds that you have seen or heard on your visit to a site (that you have been able to identify) and, equally as important, highlights the birds which were not present. When you are making a list, remember that it should cover one clearly named place, rather than several independent locations, so that the Local Bird Recorder has enough detail to know which location your sightings relate to.

Adding extra details to your records is easy to do and provides a wealth of information, which is invaluable for Local Bird Recorders. These details could be counts or breeding evidence, which form an integral part of any species account in local bird reports. It can be difficult to make an accurate count, so there is the option to add an approximate or minimum estimate, which is helpful when dealing with flocks. Breeding evidence should be included, when possible, from March to July. This can be selected from a drop-down list, ranging from a singing male indicating possible breeding to a nest with young confirming breeding. You can add counts for breeding evidence too, facilitating the monitoring of breeding bird populations. If you are fortunate enough to encounter a rare breeding bird, submitting breeding evidence to BirdTrack will ensure that the record reaches the Rare Breeding Birds Panel. The comments box is an easily forgotten feature - but it is well worth using for any further details that you think may be important for the Local Bird Recorder to be aware of.

Left: Flock of Tufted Duck, which can be entered with a count © Bob Hamilton
Right: Skylark singing, which can be entered as breeding evidence © Alan Brown

 The BirdTrack app also allows you to add sightings of sick and dead birds, with records being used to monitor the spread of avian flu and highlight the species and areas worst affected. If you do see dead or sick birds, please do not touch them and remember to report them to Defra as well.

How can I find out more?

You can find out more about BirdTrack here. To get started, visit the ‘Taking part’ page of the BirdTrack website for a quick set-up guide and videos on getting started. If you have any questions about BirdTrack, please contact David on

David Raffle
SOC Birding & Science Officer