Master List

A master list is a paper or electronic list of all the birds possible to see on your trip with enough space (usually in the form of boxes) to document each day’s sightings.  A master list is a tool with information as complicated or as simple as you want.  For me, I want to know where and when the bird was seen with enough extra pages to add notes if something unusual or interesting occurs while seeing it.  Having a master list from a trip makes it easy to add the birds to my electronic life list or to write up a trip report at a later date.  I prefer to make entries on a paper list, not to depending on electricity or my old lap top.  However, as time allows like while waiting for airplanes, I move the list to my laptop which contains a copy of my life list, keeping the paper as a backup.

Bird tour companies typically supply master lists for your use, usually prior to the trip so you can study with it.  However, if traveling independently, making a master list can be done at home by using one of the many downloadable bird lists off the internet.  Local, national, or regional bird clubs often have pre-made bird lists available on line.  The global Avibase web page can be used to generate bird lists by country or family.  The list can be transferred to a spreadsheet program, formatted, and printed.

If you are not keen to spend time on such a project, the fabulous webpage at contains IOC based lists by country or region in several formats, ready to print or edit to your needs.  I usually spiral bind it with several blank pages fore and aft and a plastic cover.  Some larger parks or reserves, particularly in the USA will have park bird lists for sale in their gift shops.  If you are planning to bird only a few days in a specific park, this can be a convenient way to keep records.

The arrangement of a master list is typically a column with common and scientific names on the left, followed by several columns of small empty boxes in which you can put as much or as little information as you like.  An example can be found in my Borneo report (here).  Each column can be headed with a date, or a location symbol depending on your preferences.  Because I often travel for several weeks, I typically use a set of dates during which I was in an area to differentiate columns, and letters in each box to discriminate  locations within the area.  For example, the column heading of dates 9/20 to 9/27 are dates I first visited the Kota Kinabalu National Park and make a column heading.  Letter “c” in the column at the Crimson-headed Partridge line indicates I saw it on the Liwagu trail.  I write a key to the symbols as well as notes on conditions, and birding companions by date on the blank preface pages of the master list.  Alternatively, you can use a column for each location or day birded, which gives you room to add the number of birds seen (presumed abundance) of any one species.  The headings and entries should represent whatever you want to enter in your life list, or whatever is important to you.  I usually don’t track numbers of species unless it is something special, and then I add an asterisk indicating there are notes about this species at this location included in my notes on the blank pages.  A female or male symbol in a box indicates gender when sexes are dimorphic.

There are a lot of ways to add information to your master list.  I’ve added symbols for abundance and range, but these were not as useful in the field, as they were during study.

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