Butterfly Counts

Butterfly counts are a hallmark of the citizen science and action North American Butterfly Association members take to protect butterfly populations.

*To submit your Counts Payment, click the SUBMIT COUNTS PAYMENT button above, choose the ‘Other’ button, fill in the dollar amount, click the ‘Donate’ button, fill out all the contact and payment information, and in the ‘Order notes’ field please state the name of your Count, the number of participants, and any other information you’d like to share. Thank you!

30+ Years of Butterfly Counts

The North American Butterfly Association has run the Butterfly Count Program in the United States, Canada, and Mexico since 1993. Each of the approximately 450 annual counts consists of a compilation of all butterflies observed at sites within a 15-mile diameter count circle in a one-day period. The annually published reports provide a tremendous amount of information about the geographical distribution and relative population sizes of the species counted. Comparisons of the results across years can be used to monitor changes in butterfly populations and study the effects of weather and habitat change on North American butterflies.

Joining a Butterfly Count

Butterfly counts are driven by butterfly lovers just like you. All it takes is a desire to participate in a day-long count to help track the North American butterfly populations. Find an active count near you on the map page; if there isn’t one, you can register your own.

Counts are open to the public and count on new participants like you. Depending on the count, one or more parties will survey sites within the 15-mile diameter count circle on a given day. The compiler (count leader) will let you know when and where to meet.

Three of the main goals of NABA’s Butterfly Count Program are to:

  • Gather data that will monitor butterfly populations.
  • Give butterfliers a chance to socialize and have fun.
  • Raise public awareness by hosting events that will increase general interest in butterflies.

How to Start a New Butterfly Count

We have found that a minimum of four observers and six party-hours best meets these three goals.

In order to strengthen the goals of the program, compilers of new butterfly counts are requested to pre-register their count circles with the NABA office prior to holding a count for the first time. Please note that it is suggested but not mandatory to pre-register new count circles in order to hold a NABA Butterfly Count.

By providing the NABA office with notification prior to holding a new count you can ensure that your new count circle does not overlap any current or historical count circle, and that you have provided all the descriptive information needed to publish your count in the annual Butterfly Count Report.

New compilers are encouraged to carefully consider their count circle coordinates, because count data become more valuable the longer a count is run. While it may not be possible to cover an entire count circle in the early years of a new count, the chosen count circle should reflect the hope that more participants will join the count as it becomes established, thereby helping to cover more of the count circle area. Changing a count circle’s coordinates after the count’s inception to include more desirable counting areas lessens the value of the data collected and therefore does not serve the first goal of the Count Program.

Once your count is pre-registered, we will be able to post your count location and date to the NABA website and possibly publicize your count through targeted emails. All new counts must have a minimum of FOUR (4) observers and SIX (6) party-hours. You should begin a count only when you have the reasonable expectation that you will be able to field a minimum of four observers each year. With advance knowledge of new counts, NABA may be able notify possible participants whose numbers can increase the overall success of new counts.

We request that you pre-register a new count at least 30 days prior to your proposed count. Without this lead time, NABA will probably not be able to announce the new count, but we would still appreciate an email notification so that we can check the count circle coordinates prior to the actual count date.

Please submit the results of all new counts to NABA online at www.butterflycounts.org. Please note that NABA strongly encourages all counts to avoid the use of nets. Instead, identify and count butterflies using binoculars and cameras.

Butterfly Count Program Frequently Asked Questions

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.

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.

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.

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 [email protected] to alert us that you have entered a count that was held in a prior year. 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.

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.

The butterfly lists for the Count Program follow the NABA Checklist of North American Butterflies, which is laid out in taxonomic order.

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.

Information on 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 COMING SOON.

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.

Go to www.naba.org/counts/count_circles.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.

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.

There are many different methods for estimating the number of butterflies during a count. Please refer to the document at https://naba.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/05/special_requests.pdf for detail of methods used by counts in the past.

Report all your butterfly sightings on the NABA Sightings project site, sightings.naba.org, where you can upload photos and location information and include comments and observations. You can also explore years and years of sightings that butterflyers from across the continent have reported. If you don’t have a NABA Sightings login, register here: sightings.naba.org/register.

Best way to get involved with a count is to look at our Counts Map, zoom in on the area where you want to join a count, and click on the red location icon. Contact the Count Compiler via the email address in the popup window for information on upcoming counts, including date, meeting location, and how to prepare. You can also email [email protected] for general information on our Counts Program.