The Sorby Natural History Society, Sheffield

Covering a full range of natural history interests in Sheffield and the surrounding area, providing for both interested beginners and specialists.

Recording Birds

Guidance from the Sorby Ornithological Group’s Acting Bird Recorder, Harold Smith.

Why Record Birds?

At the present time much effort is being made nationally to record the biodiversity of our countryside. Birds can often indicate the value of a habitat for other animals and plants. Those who watch birds have an important role to play at the local level by recording the species they see. A species list for any site can provide useful information about the site and about the distribution of the recorded species at the time of the visit. However, a well documented record provides additional valuable information which may lead to an improved understanding of the bird’s requirements and eventually provide the scientific basis for its conservation.

The object of this contribution is to provide guidance on the compilation and submission of bird records which hopefully may improve the quality of the records and encourage those who have not previously submitted records to “have a go”.

Recording Procedure

Records may be submitted as free text but it would greatly assist the recorder if records are submitted as a spreadsheet in which the required data are entered into the appropriate columns. The advantage of this method is that data can be imported directly into the software (Recorder 6) used to store records in the Sorby bird database.

image of blank recording sheet

The spreadsheet used for submitting records to the Sorby bird database.

Download a blank copy of the spreadsheet for submitting bird records (Microsoft Word format)

image of example recording sheet

An example of a partially completed spreadsheet.

Download an example of a partially completed spreadsheet (Microsoft Word format)

The original records are archived and to assist this process please confine records on each spreadsheet to a single month. If the number of records exceeds ten, the observer should produce a personal spreadsheet of a size to accommodate the total number of records.

Submission of Records

Please submit your records to the Recorder of the Sorby Ornithological Group at . Records should, if possible, be sent monthly so that readers can be informed of interesting events via the Newsletter. Records sent later may lose their topicality although all records eventually find their way into the database.

The following explanatory notes relate to the column headings. An asterisk (*) indicates a mandatory requirement.


Please give full initials to avoid confusion with similarly named members. More than one name may be entered. Where several persons have observed a rarity please give the name of the person who validates the record.


This should be entered as day, month, year (e.g. 5/7/16). Such an abbreviation can be recognised by the computer software.


This should be the name printed on the Ordnance Survey maps (1:50,000 or 1:25,000). Preferably the name of a village, town or landscape feature such as a river valley. If there is no name in the immediate vicinity of the site, sufficient detail should be given to enable the recorder to locate the site and check the grid reference. If no grid reference is given and the observer uses a parochial name, the recorder may be unable to locate the site.

Location Name

This is a parochial name or a geographical statement qualifying the Location.

Grid Reference*

The Sorby recording area lies within two 100 km squares of the National Grid designated by the letters SE or SK. The Ordnance Survey map shows how to give a grid reference to the nearest 100 metres (6 numbers). This is the preferred scale for an observation but when this is not possible, for example a bird in flight or sited on a large area of water, a GR to the nearest 1 km (4 numbers) is adequate. The 10 km squares containing the centres of Doncaster and Sheffield lie respectively within the squares of SE50 and SK38. Some helpful notes about grid references can be found on the BTO website.


A single name is required and it must be recognised by the software to be accepted . Mixed flocks, for example of Redwings and Fieldfares or Jackdaws and Rooks must be entered respectively as “Thrush” or “Crow” and the composition of the flock entered under comment.


A numerical value is required, either a single value or a range such as 50-100. Words such as “several” or “a few” are not accepted but (ca) is allowed. Qualifying statements such as the proportions of sexes in a flock or numbers of adults and young should be added under comments.


This includes activities such as singing/calling, flying and direction, display, aggression, active feeding, nest-building, roosting. General information about the birds environment, time of observation and weather may all be included.


There are several systems of classifying habitats or land-use but the one which is most useful in defining those features of the environment which may be relevant to the occurrence of a bird is the system of codes devised by Crick for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). It is used by the BTO for their nest record scheme and in national surveys of selected species. It does not require specialised botanical knowledge. The codes can be viewed here.

Nine major habitat types are recognised designated by the letters A-I. “A” corresponds to woodland “B” to scrub land etc. “H”, coastal habitats, is omitted not being applicable to our Area. Within each of the major habitats are three further levels that are used to record increasingly detailed information. In general, levels 2-4 correspond respectively to the species composition, the management type and structure. The options at level 2 are mutually exclusive, so only one can be recorded by the observer. Thus “Al” signifies broad-leaved woodland and A2 coniferous woodland. This is not the case for levels 3 and 4 where several code numbers can be recorded together. Stops are used to separate the level 2 code number(s) from the level 3 code number(s) as well as level 3 from level 4 code numbers. Some examples of codes are given on the partially completed spreadsheet shown above.

Remember, the more information you give the more valuable your record becomes for bird science and its application to conservation issues. However, this system of habitat recording allows for an almost infinite number of code combinations and in the interests of practicality it is recommended that the length of the code string is restricted to 8 digits including the two stops. If you have difficulty in deciding how to code (not all habitats are covered) a brief description would be useful as well as any detail not covered by the coding system such as crop type. Such information can be added to the comments column. In the case of water-bodies, please remember that it is the recreational activities actually going on at the time of your visit which matter – events at other times can be mentioned as a general comment.


Useful links