Butterfly Counts FAQ

What months of the year are included in Spring Seasonal and Fall Seasonal counts?

Seasonal counts may be held for locations in the United States and Mexico. Owing to the shorter flight season, all Canadian counts, regardless of date, are considered to be July 1st counts.

For any one United States count circle, three counts can be submitted to the NABA Butterfly Count Program in one calendar year. First, there can be one Spring Seasonal Count, which would be conducted on one day (24-hour period starting at midnight) during the time period of January 1 through May 31. The 4th of July butterfly count season extends from June 1 through July 31. Fall Seasonal Counts may be conducted from August 1st through December 31st.

For any one Mexican count circle, three counts can be submitted to the NABA Butterfly Count Program in one calendar year. First, there can be one Spring Seasonal Count, which would be conducted on one day during the time period of January 1through August 14. The 16th of September butterfly counts are held from August 15 through October 15. Fall Seasonal Counts may be conducted from October 16 through December 31.

Why do NABA Butterfly Counts require a minimum of four observers and six party-hours?

Three of the main goals of NABA’s Butterfly Count Program are to (1) gather data that will monitor butterfly populations, (2) give butterfliers a chance to socialize and have fun, and (3) raise public awareness by hosting events that will increase general interest in butterflies. A minimum of four observers and six party-hours best meets these three goals.

Because some long-running existing counts do not meet the new guidelines, the four observer/six party-hour requirement is strongly suggested (but not required) for all count circles that were established prior to 2009 and required for counts established in 2009 or later.

What if the count cannot meet the minimum of four observers and six party-hours due to weather or personal circumstances?

When circumstances prevent a planned count from having the minimum of four observers and/or six party-hours, the count is best considered a field trip. The data are still of value and can be input on the Butterflies I’ve Seen (BIS) database, located on NABA’s homepage www.naba.org. Currently, data input into BIS can be used to generate a life list and a list of field trips. Future plans include the installation of mapping capabilities so users can see where a certain species has been observed. The data stored by users in BIS has the same value to scientists who are studying butterfly populations as do the data generated by the Butterfly Count Program. We encourage people to start using BIS now so that when the mapping abilities are installed, users will have data to access.

If owing to special circumstances a count does not meet the four observer/six party- hour minimum, but the compiler still believes it should be published, he or she should contact the NABA office.

How do I submit count data from a prior year?


(1) Through the online data entry system at www.butterflycounts.org. The online form is set to accept current-year data and will assign the current year to your count information. To override this feature, please add a comment with the correct count year in the box at the bottom of the first page that is labeled ‘Optional Non-published comments regarding count:’ Please also send an email from the link under this comment box to counts@naba.org to alert us that you have entered a count that was held in a prior year (along with the correct season, see below). Once we receive the email, a count administrator can go into the online count and adjust the count year accordingly. Please note that if you choose this option, you will not be able to enter a current year count online until NABA administrators adjust the count year for the prior year’s entry. If you’ve already submitted a count for this year, choose a season you don’t normally conduct a count under, and note the correct season in your email.

Why are counts established in 2009 and later required to submit their data electronically using the online form?

In requiring online entry, NABA has embraced 21st-century technology and adopted a system that streamlines entering data from the growing number of counts (now approximately 500) for the compiler, for regional editors and for NABA staff. Online entry by compilers virtually eliminates the inevitable errors that occur when editors transcribe data from count forms to edited text. It saves on postage for compilers, Regional Editors, and NABA (no small matter these days), and reduces the carbon footprint of the program. It also allows the easy submission of images needed to verify unusual sightings.

Compilers who are unable to access a computer for online entry should please contact the NABA office so that alternative plans can be arranged.

What is the rationale for the organization of the butterfly lists used on both the online count form and on the printable count form?

The butterfly lists for the Count Program follow the NABA checklist, which is laid out in taxonomic order. Information about NABA’s checklist may be found at www.naba.org/pubs/checklst.html.

NABA’s Checklist was established by a committee of experts. We understand that other people may have other views of some taxonomic relationships, which is a highly subjective area.

A PDF file of the introduction; explanation of the formation, deliberations and policies of the NABA Names Committee; and a commentary section about the reasoning behind some of the names is available at www.naba.org/ftp/check2com.pdf.

Additional updates on the NABA Names Committee are available at www.naba.org/pubs/ab112/ab112_NABA_Names_Committee.pdf.

How do I create a map with a 15-mile-diameter count circle marked on it?

You can also do this using Google Maps, Google Earth, Delorme’s Street Atlas, etc. For an easy way to do this in the context of the current NABA butterfly count circles, refer to the instructions at www.naba.org/counts/place_circle.html.

How do a find out the latitude and longitude of an existing NABA butterfly count?

Go to www.naba.org/counts/maps11.html. Click on the appropriate country link and then click on the appropriate count by clicking on the marker or name of the count. A balloon will pop up that lists the latitude and longitude in decimal degrees

What is the best method for recording a butterfly during a count when the participants are not 100% certain of its identification?

Whether butterfly count participants are new or experienced, butterflies in the field can be sometimes be tricky to identify. When a species is unusual—or especially if the species identification is not 100% certain—participants are strongly encouraged to document the sighting with photographs. A photograph is the best way to confirm, as well as share with others, a species that is rare, significantly out of range or habitat, or flying at an unusual date. And if someone observes a butterfly that they’re not quite sure of, the NABA staff will be happy to check the photo and possibly help with the ID. If we can definitely ID a butterfly reported only as, for example, “Skipper sp.,” it may increase the species total for your count. With the proliferation of digital cameras, it should not be too great a problem to ask that at least one person in every party be prepared to take photos.

When a large number of butterflies (too large to actually count each individual) are encountered during a count, what is the best method to estimate the number of butterflies?

There are many different methods for estimating the number of butterflies during a count. Please refer to the document at www.naba.org/ftp/special_requests.pdf for detail of methods used by counts in the past.