General Records

General Bird Records Reporting Guidelines


Collecting records is one of the core activities of any ornithological society and we are therefore keen that all members send records of their observations to the Recorder. The annual Sussex Bird Report is compiled from the many records submitted. It is the only up-to-date account of the county’s avifauna, with data on occurrence, distribution, populations, breeding success and unusual records. These records then form the basis for periodic reviews and publications such as ‘The Birds of Sussex’ and importantly provide information for various conservation bodies.

How the Society’s records are used
Each year the Society receives tens of thousands of records, and towards the end of 2022 we held about seven million records on our database. This database:-

  • provides the records which form the basis of the species accounts in the annual Sussex Bird Report
  • provides baseline information against which future changes in population can be matched
  • can be used to plot species distribution against land types, so that the habitat preference of a particular species can be identified. This knowledge can then be applied to the conservation of that species
  • allows the relative values of sites of conservation importance to be assessed
  • provides valuable information in response to planning enquiries re proposed land-use changes


Every record MUST contain at least three pieces of information

  1. species name
  2. dates of the observation
  3. precise location of the site and an appropriate OS Grid Reference… preferably a 6-figure reference of the 100m square in which the bird was seen. (See below for details about how to identify grid references) For counts in larger areas or for fly-by records a 4-figure (1-km square) grid reference or a tetrad (2km by 2km square) reference will usually be more appropriate. (Entering a 6-figure reference implies precision, so do not use a single 6-figure grid reference for a batch of records from, say, a morning’s walk or a centroid of a large area).

Whenever possible the number of birds seen should be included in your record (use only one number – terms such as “many”, “numerous” and “more than usual” have no meaning to computers). However, it is acceptable to let us have a record stating that a species is present, without saying exactly how many are present. If you see a large flock of say more than 100 birds we do not expect you to give us an exact count… your best approximation will suffice.

Other data that could be included with your record are:-

  • breeding status and success, with number of young. There are 16 codes for denoting whether in the breeding season a bird is a possible, probable or confirmed breeding bird (provided of course that it is in suitable breeding habitat), plus three other codes (flying over, migrant or summering non-breeding bird). With a little practice these codes are easy to use and the data they provide is really useful. However we would rather have your record with no breeding evidence data filled in than not have any record at all!
  • age and sex, with number in each category
  • date of subsequent and last observation(s)
  • direction of flight, with number in that direction
  • comments on interesting features of the observation


Grid References
The map below shows the 10-km grids in Sussex:


To find a 10-km square

  • select the 2-letter prefix (SU, SZ, TQ, TV, or TR)
  • each square has two numbers: the first refers to the east-west axis and the second the north-south axis, with each square being denoted by the axis numbers on the west and south sides of the square

Each 10-km square can then be broken down into 100 one-km squares (or monads) or 25 two-km squares (or tetrads).


Each one-km square can be broken down in a similar way into one hundred 100-metre squares, each of which has a 6 figure grid reference, with the third and sixth numbers indicating the 100-metre squares position in the monad. East and West Sussex Street Atlases, (on sale in many petrol stations and major newsagents), have useful large-scale maps. Most show one-km square grid lines, which makes determining 6-figure grid references easier than using the smaller scale OS maps.

So what species do we want you to send us records for?

Records are required of

  • Red and Amber listed birds of conservation concern or species listed in Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (2006) (the Sussex Bird Report shows which species are involved). Breeding season records of these species are particularly valuable
  • exceptionally early or late migration and winter visitor dates (first, last and 10-year average migrant and winter visitor dates are listed at the back of the Sussex Bird Report)
  • species that are rare, scarce or unusual in Sussex, including all Schedule 1 species
  • all national rarities considered by the British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC)
  • records of unusually high numbers of a species of any bird, or of unusual behaviour, or of number of breeding territories
  • if you know of a good, local area for birds that you particularly value, and which is not a well-known birding “hot spot”, send in the records of everything you see there. If there ever is a planning application to change its land use your records may prove very useful!
  • We do also want records of less scarce species. Whilst it is impractical to send us a record of every common bird that you see, what was once common may become scarce. Use your judgement, but if in doubt send a record in. (Indeed observers using Birdtrack (see below) are positively encouraged to submit full lists of all species encountered).
  • The SOS already collects the Sussex records from a large range of sources, so records submitted through these need not be resent to the society unless you feel more detail would be helpful or the record is of a species sufficiently scarce to require a supporting description. Thus you do NOT need to send us records of birds that have been recorded during BBS, WeBS or other SOS surveys. Likewise records compiled by seawatch groups, locality groups such as the Ashdown Forest Bird Group or local nature reserves if observations are passed to the reserve warden. Nor do you need to send us records that you have submitted to BTO Birdtrack or iRecord. Observations from some pager services are passed on a regular basis from Birdguides to Birdtrack and subsequently made available to county societies. However, much information is lost during the automated record transfer process and it would help if these records were also submitted through one of the following routes.

Submitting your records
Records can be submitted in one of four ways:

  1. On-line, using the BTO Birdtrack system – Click Here. This is by far the preferred option as your records are immediately available to the Society and for national studies. Furthermore Birdtrack guides users to record all their observations in a uniform and useful way. It also has the advantage of enabling you to store and retrieve your own records and is particularly useful when you want to build up a picture of the birds you see at a specific site. Your records are automatically passed on to SOS. Also please do take care when setting up your sites on Birdtrack and make sure they have accurate grid references otherwise your imported data will be misleading or will be rejected in the SOS database.
    Although not always possible, it is a great help to keep your Birdtrack sites as small as possible, ideally within a single kilometre square, and try not to extend beyond a tetrad. If “your site” straddles two (or more) squares then consider setting it up as two (or more) sites so that your records are clearly assigned to the correct square so your records can be mapped with confidence and your observations used for national and local surveys. Precise grid references are not only useful for distribution mapping but are a requirement for conservation purposes therefore please consider using the facility within Birdtrack for pin-pointing your observation (s) at a 1km (AANNNN) or 100m (AANNNNNN) level. Birdtrack is excellent for recording birds and also facilitates the recording of dragonflies and mammals. However, if you record many taxa and wish to keep all you observations in one system then consider using iRecord, an application being developed by Biodiverse IT and the Biological Records Centre on behalf of the National Biodiversity Network (NBN). Sussex bird records are made available from iRecord to the society.
  2. Electronically, via your computer, using the Society’s “Record Capture 2” (Microsoft Excel) software. You can download Record Capture 2 from our website (Click Here). The software contains instructions that will guide you on how to complete your records. You should submit your electronic records as soon as possible after the end of the year, and certainly no later than the end of January. They should be sent as an email attachment to the Society’s database team at Please note that this is definitely a second-choice method and should only be chosen if for some reason you are unable to make use of the BTO Birdtrack system or are providing more detailed information.
  3. Some observers or groups already have their own software for collecting and compiling records; in most instances these integrate well with the SOS database but please discuss with the Database Manager before embarking on any new system. Also remember the wardens of reserves and coordinators of the seawatch records collect records so it may be more appropriate to pass your observations to these persons in the first instance.
  4. If you don’t have regular access to a computer you can send us your records in manuscript on the Society’s Bird Records form. A copy of this form can be downloaded here: General Submission Blank Form (2017). Alternatively forms can be obtained from the Recorder. All observations from one site should be entered together. Manuscript records should be submitted quarterly, rather than at the end of the year, as that simplifies the workload for those who have to enter your data onto the Society’s computer. Please note that, as of 27 February 2012, this form has changed so if you are in possession of paper forms that were printed before this date, please discard them and obtain new ones. Please note also that the submission of records in this way creates the most work for our volunteer team and should only be used if online or electronic methods are not available to you.


Records of scarce or unusual species should be supported by either a Local Rarity Form on the BTO Birdtrack system or one of the Society’s Rare/Scarce Species Description Forms (Click Here).