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The ABA Area in 2012—What Should Be In and What Should Be Out?



Hawaii. Attu. Saint Pierre. Which should be in the ABA Area and which, if any, should be out?
Images by:  SteveD./Steve Dunleavy (Hawaii); alaskanet/D. Sikes (Attu) The Tedster/Theo (Saint Pierre) all images are used under a Creative Commons license via flickr

The boundaries of the ABA area, especially whether they ought to include Hawaii or not, remain a topic of great interest and discussion within and beyond our membership. I’ve followed this debate closely, as I think these issues are important ones that will have an impact on the ABA’s growth and effectiveness. In this post, I’ll share some of my own thoughts about what would be best for the ABA and most importantly, tell you about how we intend to go about getting your thoughts.

A very brief summary of the debate. Some say we should stick with tradition. And the tradition can be summed up as follows:

ABA Area = (United States – Hawaii) + Canada + St Pierre et Miquelon, France + adjacent waters to a distance of 200 miles from land or half the distance to a neighboring country, whichever is less.

But much has changed, both inside the ABA and in the world at large. Though we proudly retain many long-term members, we have a very large and increasing percentage that are new to our flock in just the last couple of years.

At the same time, the accelerating peril of Hawaii’s birds is easily one of the saddest spectacles or our era. Many have called for us to shine what spotlight we can on this amazing, vanishing avifauna and have argued that inclusion in the ABA Area is the best means at our disposal for so doing.

But changing the ABA Area isn’t something that I or the board or the staff can simply do. It would take a vote by the membership to change the bylaws of the organization to do it.

Though some of us may remember it as vividly as if it were yesterday, it’s really been quite awhile since the issue was put to the membership. And so we have come up with a plan to get a sense of where the membership stands on this issue in 2012. First, though, I promised to let you know what I think.

While I’m under no illusion that the ABA adding Hawaii to the ABA Area will quickly halt or reverse the mass extinction now occurring there, I think it’s the right thing for the ABA to do. In my estimation it can’t hurt and it may well help. It will also send a clear message that the ABA can indeed change and adapt and that the risk of attempting to do something to help trumps the comforts of maintaining the status quo.

I also think there are other benefits to be had from refining the ABA Area. In fact, phrasing the question as “add Hawaii, yes or no,” may not be the best or most helpful approach. I’d prefer to frame it just as much as a question of clarity and coherence.

People have often debated the ABA Area, saying it should somehow be “biogeographically” or “ecologically” defined. This is often a prelude to saying that it makes sense to keep Attu and the rest of Alaska, but exclude Hawaii.

These arguments, however impassioned and well intentioned, make no sense to me. If the ABA area is supposed to be biogeographically defined, then South Texas, Southeast Arizona, etc, are out. Or Northern Mexico, for starters, is in. And the latter is certainly an option, but my suspicion is that is adding part or all of Mexico wouldn’t be approved by the membership at this point.

So it’s my contention that the ABA Area is more a political, cultural, and recreational construct, though certainly one with ornithological consequences.

Cutting to the chase here, my own own preference would be to have the ABA Area be the United States and Canada. I think that’s the simplest, most coherent formulation. It’s clear, memorable, and easy to articulate without asterisks and footnotes. Obviously, that brings Hawaii in and I suppose, kicks Saint Pierre et Miquelon, which are just off Newfoundland but technically France, out. But I’d likely be OK with that, as I suspect many of our members would be.

I also think we should internally ban and generally discourage referring to the ABA Area as, “North America,” or “North America north of Mexico,” etc. I think those formulations are inaccurate and clunky. Always have.

On the other hand, I don’t think making the ABA Area the same as the AOU area, as has sometimes been suggested, is the best course, either.

For one thing, ABA=AOU would run the risk of seriously diluting one of the ABA’s most recognized and valuable properties, the whole idea of a US/Canada-centric ABA Area that is different than the geographic North America. I hope everyone knows that this isn’t any kind of slight against Mesoamerica, whose birds, people, food, music, culture, and nearly everything else I love. It’s just that a US/Canada grouping makes a lot of sense, really.

There have been proposals to include Greenland and Bermuda over the years. Never the Bahamas that I know of, for whatever reasons. Nothing against any of those, but I think the US + Canada formulation is in many ways the best. While I wouldn’t be upset at all if Greenland or Bermuda (or the Bahamas for that matter) were in, I think that any of those starts to erode the simplicity argument.

But that’s just what I think. What I and the ABA board and staff are really interested in is what you, our members, think.

So we’re going to include a non-binding referendum on this year’s proxy ballot, which should be in your mailbox in the last week of August. On it, we’ll pose a series of questions about your preferences for the ABA Area boundaries.

From that, we’ll work to come up with a proposed change to the bylaws that truly reflects our shared vision of where the ABA is now and where it ought to go. And if the answer is that most of you want things status quo, well, at least we’ll know it’s time to put the issue to rest for a while.

Here’s a draft of what those questions will look like.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Understanding that this is a non-binding referendum, please give us your opinions on the following questions.

1. My preferred definition of the ABA area is:

______ A. United States minus Hawaii plus Canada plus St Pierre et Miquelon, France plus adjacent waters (status quo)

______ B. United States plus Canada plus adjacent waters

2. I would like to see the following places added, whatever else happens _______________________________

3. I would like to see the following places excluded, whatever else happens ____________________________

4. It is important to me that St Pierre et Miquelon, France, be retained.       yes | no

5. If your preferred definition for the ABA Area isn’t addressed above, please describe it below


* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

So I have several questions for you right now, dear readers.

  1. Are you an ABA member? We don’t typically ask commenters to say, but I think it’s important here, as we can only tabulate responses from members. Of course, you’re still welcome to comment here on the blog, member or no. And if you’re a non-member with strong opinions on this issue, you can always join now in order to recieve the proxy.
  2. How would you answer the questions posed above?
  3. How can that list of questions be improved?

Remember that all of us, members, board, and staff, should be thinking of what’s best for the organization as a whole as we move into the heart of the 21st Century. Thank you in advance for your thoughts. It is both an honor and a privilege to serve the ABA community.






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Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon is the president of the American Birding Association. There's very little about birds, birding, and birders that he doesn't find fascinating, though he's especially interested in birding culture and the many ways we all communicate our passion for birds, including this Blog.
  • I guess my concern about the clarity of the questions is how you define the “United States.” Just the actual 50 states? Or are Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the US Virgin Islands, and other territories (which you can see listed on this Wikipedia page) included?

    Or, more esoterically, what about Guantanamo Bay or American embassies?

    Personally, I like the current ABA area but see the conservation argument for including Hawaii.

  • Hi Corey!

    Thanks for weighing in. In that part of the goal, I believe, in any revision of the ABA Area should be simplification, I think the answer to your question is also simple: United States = States + DC. No territories, protectorates, possessions, prisons, etc. I will note that by my formulation, if Puerto Rico were to become a state, it would also be in. Of course, depending on how the bylaws are written, PR might have to be added by the ABA, or it might “automatically” be added.

  • Can you clarify for me why Hawaii needs to be a part of the “countable” ABA in order for this organization to advocate on behalf of its birds? I ask because while I don’t think that Hawaii should be part of the countable ABA area, I recognize that Hawaii is part of the United States and wouldn’t see it as unusual for the ABA to help protect the birds there (in fact, I would welcome it).

    Contrary to your argument in the body of this post (and especially in light of your response to Corey’s comment), I feel that the “everything north of Mexico” explanation – the one I so often give when trying to explain birding to someone – is simple already. Explaining that Hawaii is out because it’s so remote and because so many of the birds are unique doesn’t strike those I am speaking to as a technicality, but a sensible decision rooted in science.

    So I just don’t see the need to throw the baby out with the bathwater here. Why can’t the countable ABA area be left alone but the ABA do work in Hawaii anyway?

    I appreciate the opportunity to discuss!

  • Morgan Churchill

    Hi Jeff

    Thanks for addressing the questions (Which I have frequently commented on here and elsewhere online

    Anyway, here are my answers:

    Are you and ABA member: Yes, something like for 6-7 years. Been birding for about 10 years now

    My preferred definition: B (I would keep the French Island)

    I would like to see the following places added, whatever else happens: Bermuda and Greenland. I lean towards letting Bahamas in as well.

    I would like to see the following places excluded, whatever else happens: Mexico. Nothing against the country, but a good chunk of it is neotropical and quite a bit different bird fauna than that of the Nearctic. Maybe I would be okay if a set of northern counties were included, although it might be weird to put only part of a country into the ABA.

    It is important to me that St Pierre et Miquelon, France, be retained: YES. look at a map; it just a tiny island off of Canada. Excluding it would be like arbitrarily deciding that some of the outer banks islands are not part of the ABA.

    If your preferred definition for the ABA Area isn’t addressed above, please describe it below:

    My opinion is that the ABA definition should be similar to that of the Nearctic and be fully inclusive of countries. So that means Bermuda, Greenland, and Bahamas are in, but Mexico is out (Only the northern third or so is in the Nearctic, the rest is part of the neotropics). I would also add Hawaii to this. Most of the bird fauna, other than perhaps the Elepaio, is derived from North American or North Asian stock, unlike the rest of the far away Polynesian islands.

    I think this ballot is well designed. I would add a separate option (C) though that allows for the inclusion of St Pierre et Miquelon and Hawaii. Again, the OCD scientist in me would like to see ABA = Nearctic, just like he likes taxonomic order in his field guides 😛

  • The non-countability of Hawaiian birds contributes to the lack of attention that they receive from birders in the US. If the birders who use the ABA list need to travel to Hawaii and spend their ecotourism dollars to see these wonderful declining species more money would be available for their conservation. Plus there would be a lot more urgency to donate to Hawaiian coservation initiatives and make sure they stick around for the ABA birders who haven’t seen them.

  • Martin Reid

    Dear Jeff/ABA,
    I’d like to examine the thinking behind your “simplification”: it seems to be purely arbitrary, no? If so – and if that is acceptable to the ABA membership – then fine; let’s proceed. But it may help to simply abandon any attempts to justify the chosen definition based on any physical, biological, conservational or political grouping – there is none. As an example, why include DC? – it’s not a state. I agree that leaving it out would be awkward, geographically – but so would leaving out SP&M. Also, allowing PR to enter the ABA area based purely on some political wranglings entirely within the jurisdiction of the USA seems imprudent. it is likely that after such an event the US Virgin Islands would be next to seek/get full political representation (perhaps as part of PR). Any number of current territories and possessions could be annexed into the nearest US state for geopolitical (most likely mineral!) reasons. I think it makes more sense to just admit that we will define a boundary based on what ABA members see as the most useful/meaningful for their hobby – and forget trying to come up with a consistent use of current political units. Thus I suggest Jeff that your proposal should be amended to: ABA area = Canada (based on its current boundaries) + the 50 current USA states (based on their current boundaries) plus DC. This defines a fixed area of the planet that does not change with the vagaries of politics. If there is any change in the aforementioned boundaries then the ABA can provide details and seek member approval for change.
    Regarding Hawaii: As an alternative to including it in the ABA area, why not create a separate Hawaii list? This approach might also allow for political expansions (e.g. PR) while preserving the main ABA list for the majority (still true?) of its members who have some historic value in its current definition. Just an idea…
    Thanks for raising the issue!

  • My answers will mirror Morgan’s for the most part.

    I am an ABA member.

    My preferred definition is also B. I think we should keep the current ABA Area+Hawaii. I’ve always found it silly that every other US state was including but not Hawaii.

    I would like to see Hawaii added no matter what else happens and I think St Pierre et Miquelon should be retained. It is important to me that St Pierre et Miquelon, France, be retained.

    I don’t think Mexico should be included.

    There are people who are going to say that changing the ABA goes against tradition but tradition alone is a terrible reason to do or not do something. When weighed against the possible benefits to conservation of Hawaiian birds that is the furthest thing from my consideration of this issue.

  • Before reading this blog post: A nice link to it can be found on Facebook, I was thinking that keeping the ABA Area how it was would be nice. It then would be hard to compare ABA totals from the past to the future because the area would be larger and a lot more bird species would be added in.

    I have always thought about how Alaska and it’s islands are a part of the ABA area, and I have always liked that. I thought that was a good add but it seemed odd to add Hawaii in since, at least in my mind it was alway so far away. I don’t know this for sure, but it also seemed to me that it was a lot more likely a species found on one of Alaska’s islands would be more likely to show up in Canada or the lower 48 then would Hawaii. So from that stand point I understood why to leave Hawaii out.

    However, while reading this blog post, I was thinking that it would be nice to define this in simple terms. I think that if we/ the ABA Area counts the Alaska islands and all, with all of the really rare species that show up there, then it would be nice to include Hawaii and all states of the United States. I also like the idea of being a joint area of the USA+Canada. I think it is good to help the birds of Hawaii anyway, just to do so. However if it was a part of the ABA area, and advertised as such and information was put out and looked at by the ABA it would help a lot more to be in the ABA Area. Or I should say I think a lot more could be done with it in the ABA Area then outside. We just need to keep educating people, both birders and non-birders on the topics of saving wildlife and birds and their habitats. So I think adding Hawaii to the ABA area would be a good first step with that, but should not be the only thing done.

  • Jennifer Rycenga

    Thanks for encouraging 21st century-style discussion on this issue. First, my answers to the questions:

    1. My preferred definition of the ABA area is: B. United States plus Canada plus adjacent waters (+ SP&M; see below)

    2. I would like to see the following places added, whatever else happens: Hawai’i for sure; I could understand an argument for Greenland, too.

    3. I would like to see the following places excluded, whatever else happens: Don’t think we should include Mexico

    4. It is important to me that St Pierre et Miquelon, France, be retained. yes – leaving it out would be nonsensical. Plus, its very existence is a good discussion starter re. geography, history, and more. I would also think that in an era of global climate change, having more birders go there than would do so if it were NOT a part of the ABA area, helps with an informal monitoring of avian populations.

    5. If your preferred definition for the ABA Area isn’t addressed above, please describe it below – I like 50 US states+ Canada+SP&M

    I am both an engaged citizen-scientist birder and a confirmed lister, so this matters to me. I also love the avifauna of Hawai’i, and learned a lot about birding, as well as gaining a lot of knowledge about natural history and ecology, during my times visiting the islands. As the ABA Area currently stands, the ABA has created a disincentive for birders to travel to Hawai’i. (One could make a counterargument that having more and more birders visiting sensitive areas for native birds could be harmful, but access to those areas, especially on the Big Island and Maui, is tightly regulated, and an increase in birders taking the birding tours of those areas would benefit the very companies and leaders who are in the best position to be able to protect the birds). Including Hawai’i makes sense politically and environmentally; the discontinuity in the bird life there doesn’t worry me, anymore than it does when I am trolling the Florida Keys for Caribbean species, or dreaming of Attu. This is our game; as someone else said, the birds don’t care about our boundaries, and, as someone else said, the rules of games change over time. The boundaries though, do make a difference in our human world – in terms of political advocacy, political investment, and accessibility (compared to, say, Mexico, Hawai’i is a less complicated destination for an English-speaking American). So let’s use them, and change the rules.

  • Alan Wormington

    “4. It is important to me that St Pierre et Miquelon, France, be retained. yes | no”

    Not sure if this question is phrased in a neutral fashion. Just wondering if the “to me” part should be removed.

  • I agree that non-countability of Hawaiian birds contributes to a lack of attention from US birders, but my question is why do we need to conflate countability with advocacy? Certainly if we included Kenya in the ABA area, US birders would then pay more attention to Kenyan birding issues. But we won’t do that, because “countability” for the ABA should be based on (albeit imperfect) geographic distinctions, not advocacy.

    If the ABA wants to spend more time on conservation in Hawaii I think that’s fantastic. However I feel that including Hawaii for advocacy reasons and not ornithologic reasons is a mistake.

    Another idea is to have two ABA regions, a “Traditional ABA” and a “Super ABA” or “Extended ABA” or something similar. Then birders could keep their lists however they want.

  • I think that “to me” may be unnecessary, but I don’t see how it’s non-neutral. The wording is asking for what the individual member thinks, not what (s)he thinks others think.

  • Reginald E. David

    Kudos to Jeff and the Board for bringing up this issue again and the way in which they are considering presenting it to the membership for a vote.

    I am a biologist by trade, and a birder by avocation. I am also a lister, though I did not start to list until around 1986. I have been an ABA member for 25 years. When I joined at the suggestion of my birding mentor, the late Robert L. Pyle, life long birder and ABA board member for many years.

    1. My preferred definition of the ABA area is:
    B. United States plus Canada plus adjacent waters

    2. I would like to see the following places added, whatever else happens

    3. I would like to see the following places excluded, whatever else happens
    I don’t feel that Mexico ought to be included for all of the good reasons opined by others in previous posts.

    4. It is important to me that St Pierre et Miquelon, France, be retained. yes | no
    It is not important to me if St Pierre et Miquelon is retained, though I think from a common sense perspective there is little reason to remove it.

    As Clifford Hawley stated; “There are people who are going to say that changing the ABA goes against tradition but tradition alone is a terrible reason to do or not do something.”

    I have been a member of the ABA through halcyon days and the near collapse of the organization. I have in front of me the first ABA list report that I still have, which is dated March 1989 – since that time we have added numerous listing categories, including Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, birds photographed in the ABA area, ABA birds of the millennium, to identify but a few. As a lister I find that I maintain 79 lists – including World, ABA, North America Lower 48 etc. and even a US list including Hawaii but not including Midway – and two Hawaii lists, one with Midway included and one without, as Midway is technically not part of the Hawaiian Island, at least from a political definition.

    Changing the definition of the ABA makes sense for a lot of reasons well stated by others – for listers that are concerned that by doing so ABA lists will no longer be comparable is easily resolved by creating both a “new ABA” category and a “traditional ABA” category. Any potential negatives that adding Hawaii to the ABA area may have are eclipsed, at least in my opinion by the potential for conservation benefits to our rapidly disappearing endemic avifauna by doing so. I have lived in Hawaii for 40 years and have the dubious honor of having seen four endemic species which have since gone extinct.

  • Michael Walther

    Hi Jeff,

    I have been a member of the ABA for seven years and have lived and worked in Hawaii since 1994.My preferred definition of the ABA area is B. United States plus Canada plus adjacent waters.2. I would like to see the following places added, whatever else happens.Hawaii.

    The native bird species of Hawaii, including the famous Honeycreepers, have been decimated since people first arrived in these most isolated islands around 400AD. What was once one of the greatest examples of bird evolution the planet has ever known has now been reduced to isolated and imperiled remnant populations of a few surviving species. These survivors are being eaten by introduced rats, mongoose, and house cats, and bitten by introduced mosquitoes that infect them with Malaria and other diseases .Sadly, many of the species which might have been saved in our life times, the Kauai Akialoa, Kauai O’O, Ou, Nukupu’u, Kamao, Oahu Alauahio, Kakawahie, Poouli, and Olomao were under funded perhaps because Hawaii was considered to remote from the mainland USA . So far Hawaii has lost twenty three of forty seven native forest bird species (49%) that existed in 1778 when Captain Cook “discovered” Hawaii, most of these since 1900. Of the twenty three species remaining, fourteen are listed as endangered. The total of extinct and endangered species is a astounding 78%! What has happened in Hawaii and is continuing to happen here daily has to be one of the most profound examples of catastrophic bird extinction the world has ever known.

    Including Hawaii in the ABA area could potentially raise both awareness and hopefully much needed funding to help save our rapidly disappearing birds. I highly recommend the ABA adopts this important change and takes the lead on Hawaiian bird conservation which is urgently needed.


    Michael Walther

  • Paul Hurtado

    One VERY important question that isn’t on that list, Jeffrey, is one that gets at the motivation for the change. Something like:

    Should the ABA Area be changed to include Hawaii in order to shine a spotlight on that state’s vanishing avifauna?

    If this is the motivation for a change, it would be nice to know what the membership thinks of the idea.

  • Paul Hurtado

    PS: My answers to the questions at the end.

    1. Are you an ABA member? Yes (unless my membership lapsed and I didn’t notice)
    2. How would you answer the questions posed above? See below.
    3. How can that list of questions be improved? See comment above.

    – – – – –

    1. My preferred definition of the ABA area is: A (status quo)
    2. I would like to see the following places added, whatever else happens: None.
    3. I would like to see the following places excluded, whatever else happens: None.
    4. It is important to me that St Pierre et Miquelon, France, be retained: Yes.
    5. If your preferred definition for the ABA Area isn’t addressed above, please describe it below

  • Paul Hurtado

    Also, it would be nice to add a follow-up question that illuminates the reasoning they used to answer the question I posed above. Something to the effect of:

    Please list are the perceived pros and cons for the ABA and for the birds of Hawaii.

  • My thoughts…

    1. My preferred definition of the ABA area is: B. United States plus Canada plus adjacent waters *(but see below)

    2. I would like to see the following places added, whatever else happens: Hawaii and Midway Island.

    3. I would like to see the following places excluded, whatever else happens: South America, Eurasia, Africa, Australia.

    4. It is important to me that St Pierre et Miquelon, France, be retained: No, but I see no reason to exclude it. It is, after all, only 12 miles from Newfoundland!

    5. If your preferred definition for the ABA Area isn’t addressed above, please describe it below.

    United States (defined as current states, plus the District of Columbia, plus Midway Island) + Canada + St Pierre et Miquelon + adjacent waters to a distance of 200 miles from land or half the distance to non-Area land, whichever is less.

    *How can that list of questions be improved? In two important ways, I think. First, Midway Island is not part of the State of Hawaii, but including Hawaii and not Midway (which is literally between islands that are part of Hawaii) is pretty silly. And saying “current states” eliminates the need for the issue to be addressed if Puerto Rico ever becomes a state. And if it does, we should literally say, “Welcome! Join the Club!”

    As has been mentioned above, there is no way to delineate the ABA Area biogeographically without splitting Mexico in half. So let’s accept as fait accompli that that a biogeographical definition can never hold water. We are then left with either political or language-based reasons for the Area’s border, and (with the exception of Québec and St.-Pierre-et-Miquelon) I believe my suggested border accomplishes this goal.

  • Dear Nick (and Cliff),

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments and questions. Here are some responses.

    Hawaii does not need to be part of the ABA area for us to advocate for its birds. In fact, our publications both online and off have paid a great deal of attention to Hawaiian birds, especially in the time I’ve been here at the ABA. This wasn’t part of some grand agenda; it’s simply a fact that if you’re talking about birding in the United States of America, unquestionably a lot of the biggest stories have involved the 50th State.

    So we’re trying to help. But the biggest tool in our belt at this point in the ABA’s history is what we define as in our backyard. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to hope that if we do include Hawaii that more North American birding resources will start to, as well. (Remember, Peterson’s Western guide once did!) If THAT kind of thing were to start to happen again, I think it would be an unqualified win for the most endangered part of the US avifauna. And adding Hawaii to the ABA Area is, I believe, the most direct way we can lead in that direction.

    I’ll take up some other issues in a follow up comment…

  • …continued from previous comment.

    On to the idea that the status quo, which you report easily explaining to friends as, “everything north of Mexico.”

    I wonder if you mention Greenland. My guess is you don’t, but I’m not sure. If you don’t, why not? Greenland is clearly a) north of Mexico b) part of North America c) ornithologically VERY like adjacent parts of the ABA area and d) a territory of Denmark. I would submit that it’s d) and only d) that has kept Greenland out, of the ABA Area and off most ABA birders’ radar. If it belonged to Canada, it’d be in, right? Well, Hawaii belongs to the US. See my point?

    You say that, “Explaining that Hawaii is out because it’s so remote and because so many of the birds are unique doesn’t strike those I am speaking to as a technicality, but a sensible decision rooted in science.” Let me respectfully toss that one around for a moment, if I may.

    How easy would it be to convince those same people that Attu and other Alaskan outposts are in DESPITE the fact that they are remote and so many of their birds are unique? Would that strike them or you as, “a sensible decision rooted in science?”

    I would submit the only reason Attu et al are in is that they’re part of the United States and there are cool birds there, characters that apply equally to Hawaii.

    I think the major reason that the status quo seems sensible and easy to understand to you (and to me, for that matter, to the extent that it does) is because we’re simply used to it being that way. End of story.

    Think of something you know by heart: The Star Spangled Banner, O Canada, or La Marseillaise, for example. You’ve heard those words and melodies (of at least one, I’ll wager) so many times that they may seem to have somehow organically risen from the very soil of one’s fatherland. But that’s only because we grew up with them and we’ve heard them repeated many, many times.

    And it would be a fair struggle for someone from some other country to learn to to sing any of them. They would at first seem new and strange and hard to understand, no matter how familiar they were to the locals.

    What I’m trying to say is that over time, the rules and codes and dances and secret handshakes of any tribe come to seem second nature to that tribe. But being as one of my goals is helping the ABA become more accessible to all, I’m trying to reduce the barriers to figure out what we’re about. Not eliminate them, mind you. Do that, and your tribe may very well lose its identity.

    So that’s the line I’m trying to walk here. Enough change to keep us reasonably consistent, relavent, and accessible. Not so much as to make us unrecognizable to ourselves.

    I very much appreciate the opportunity to bat these ideas back and forth with you, Nick.

  • Alan Wormington

    To tell you the truth its not important “to me” if Alaska remains as part of the ABA Area since I’m not likely to ever visit there anytime soon, thus I vote “no” for Alaska to be retained.

    Unfortunately for the vast majority of ABA members the retention of St Pierre et Miquelon, France, will not be important “to them” but that is not a good reason to delete it, even if 100% of the membership were to vote in that direction.

  • There has been a separate Hawaii region and a “Fifty States” region listed in the ABA Big Day and Listing Report for a long time. Both seem to have had as much positive impact on bird conservation in Hawaii as the Palearctic list in my view.

  • I see your point, Alan. Perhaps this is something to consider when drafting the final wording.

  • Thanks, Alan and Michael, for batting this ball back and forth. It’s helping clarify how best to ask these questions and also understand some of what I was trying to get at when asking them.

    I think the reason I asked if retaining St Pierre et Miquelon, France, was “important to you” the respondent, is that it’s clear what the benefit to the ABA of deleting it would be: simplifying and rationalizing our principal listing area. We’d remove a major footnote from our explanations of what the ABA is. That may strike you as a big benefit or a small one, but it’s not nothing.

    But I recognize that even though striking that little bit of France might make good sense from a number of angles, it would bother some people on an emotional level. So I was trying to gauge how many and how much.

    But maybe I am muddying the waters by striking that more emotional note? Perhaps questions 2, 3, and 5 cover this ground adequately and more dispassionately? After all, one of the main purposes of this exercise is for us all to come up with what’s best for the ABA, not for any one of us individually.

    Again, thanks. This is helpful.

  • Richard Frechette

    As a long time member of the ABA, I have enjoyed watching familiar names as their life totals rise, celebrating their achievements with them. I understand, and support, the well intentioned conservation message of those who propose adding Hawaii to the ABA Area. However, it changes the playing field, not just the rules of the game.

    Baseball added the designated hitter many years ago. Now, aging sluggers hang on as designated hitters, inflating their life totals of home runs and hits. It makes comparisons to players of yesteryear false.

    A comprimise seems to be in order. Keep the ABA Area the same, allowing all to compare apples to apples in that game. However, create a new area, call it the “Super ABA Area”. Then, ABA leadership could begin to put more emphasis on this area, encouraging members to expand their horizons into Hawaii, while leaving the original game intact.

  • What a complex issue and interesting discussion. I don’t think St. Pierre and Miquelon have been discussed this much since 1763.

    Like many, I’m in favor of Hawaii being added because it is a state. However as Jeff has hinted, if we exclude territories (such as Puerto Rico) shouldn’t that also leave the Yukon, NWT and Nunavut out as well?

    I think Greenland is important to add to the ABA world. There is increasing information that some birds who nest in Greenland may winter more regularly in the Northeast and Eastern Canada than first thought. Geese such as Pink-footed and Barnacle, which used to be thought to be escapes are actually from Greenland. The somewhat larger sub-species of Hoary Redpoll also frequents that area, along with the Greenland version of Greater White-Fronted Goose. The bottom line is Greenland is important to the ABA area and in all likely hood would have been part of Canada, if it didn’t belong already to Denmark.

    As for Bermuda, there is really nothing in my opinion that lives there that you can’t really find elsewhere in North America. Even most of its migrants are from North America. The Bahamas I’m mixed on, but opens up a whole other discussion about the wintering ranges of a lot of North American species, this includes the rest of the western hemisphere, but suddenly your area is getting huge and unruly.

    The question in my mind is the ABA more about birds… or birders? While the organization will strive to do both, if its focus is birders, then really no matter what is decided, the boundaries are irrelevant, they are for show. If its about birds and conservation than the ABA I think has a mission and responsibility to be active everywhere North American birds are found, which is across much of the western hemisphere. I do think that Australia/Asia/Africa/Europe should be excluded at this time. We are not the World Birding Association… yet.

  • I just received an email from a friend who had a question very germane to this discussion: “What about Hawaii’s exotics?” What happens to them if Hawaii is added to the ABA Area? And what about all the other non-exotics that would be additions to the checklist (e.g., ‘Akohekohe, Black Kite)?

    I think the answer is clear and elegant: simply use as a baseline those species which the AOU considers established (for introduced birds) or having occurred (for vagrants) in Hawaii. The AOU already keeps track of some of this in its checklist. You can see some of this online. Just go to and scroll down to the very bottom to see what I mean. Birds marked with “H” are considered by the AOU to be indisputably found in Hawaii. Unfortunately, only birds that are found nowhere else in the AOU Area are thus marked. So, for instance, even though Chukar is established in Hawaii, it’s not marked because it’s also found in the Great Basin. The species should be, however, listed as occurring in Hawaii within the text of the master AOU Checklist. Following this model should make the transition relatively easy for the ABA CLC.

  • “I don’t think St. Pierre and Miquelon have been discussed this much since 1763.” I think that’s probably correct, Will!

  • Matt

    My take [as an ABA member]

    I like the increased focus on the ABA advocating for conservation issues, but I think this is a poor use of a mis-shaped tool in an attempt to pursue that goal.

    I think plenty of places ‘deserve’ greater attention by birders — the people lucky enough to be able to afford distant birding trips shouldn’t be encouraged by the listing game to choose Hawaii over Central America or Mexico or places in Asia in my opinion — I see the pool of birder $$ available for distant travel as pretty zero-sum, and think this is a short-sighted effort that will remove conservation dollars from other locations that have a good claim on it as well.

    Why not step up the information about conservation issues around the world and let birders decide on their own where to place their money?

    I think many listers [myself included] are interested in all our lists and where we choose to bird has more to do with the funds we have than whether or not we want to work on our ABA area list or our world list [or whatever other region we can consider].

    I’d favor leaving the list definitions as they are, with the possible expansions being contiguous areas before distant ones [Greenland & Mexico before Hawaii]. We’ll survive if the list definitions change as the ABA leadership seems determined to do, but for a period the rankings will be an artifact.

    As to the ideas about ‘capping’ the states at the present 50 to exclude PR or others later added — no no no — this sounds like a ridiculously post-hoc attempt to create a semblance of a rational definition — if the change comes to include Hawaii, let’s do it w/o any pretense that we are creating something sensible — it is a political move motivated by conservation issues, not a ‘rational’ change made with any sort of geographical sensibility involved.

    Seattle, WA

  • John Hubbell

    Member: Yes (10 years)

    1. B US + Canada
    2. Hawaii
    3. None
    4. No, but would be fine with leaving it.
    5. If we were following a rank-order voting system for multiple alternatives, my order of preference would be:

    a. AOU
    b. US + Canada
    c. AOU + South America
    d. US + Canada + Mexico
    e. US only
    f. Canada only
    g. Current ABA

    I could easily move c and d above b, but b seems like a practical compromise.

    PS. Thank you for putting this issue on the blog and not just on Facebook.

  • Chris W

    Jeff et al,

    IMHO: Adding Hawaii to the ABA area will not have very much effect on drawing attention to the state outside of the short term. It has done little (that I know of) for St Pierre and Miquelon outside of this discussion (I personally had never heard of those two islands until this discussion).

    I would like to point out that the ABA has done quite a bit for drawing attention to the tropical countries like Costa Rica, Panama and Peru, and none of those countries are within the “ABA area” and no move has been made to try to add those to the area (or should be made).

    I would put my foot forward and say that the ABA can do plenty more for drawing attention to conservation in Hawaii and other islands than just simply adding them to an arbitrary area, which in turn would change the rules of a long-standing listing game.

    Let’s bring in conservationists from Hawaii and put more focus on conservation in that state. It doesn’t have to be part of the “ABA area” in order to do so.

    For the ABA to send a message to the birding public that they want to support conservation in Hawaii, all they have to do is shift a small focus (blog posts, Birding Magazine articles, etc) towards Hawaii and put it further into the birding spotlight. We’ve already done that with Costa Rica and Panama and a few other foreign countries. Hawaii is no different, other than being a US state.

    Therefore, my answer would be to leave the ABA listing area alone, don’t change the area, don’t change the game, don’t change the rules, but instead, change the focus. In that, the ABA can do more for Hawaii than by simply adding it to an area to change the rules on a game that’s been going on for 50+ years.

    The same thing goes for the other islands that are not currently within the ABA area.
    If you want to attract attention, just put them further into your spotlight. The ABA is and has always been the flagship organization in the US and Canada for birding and conservation. Just speak out. People will listen.


  • (Different Nick than above). I favor including Hawaii in the ABA area, and I’m glad to see the issue getting traction. I see some opposing arguments acknowledging that listing is a game, and they’re understandably concerned about the consequences of retroactively changing the way that scores are tallied after having devoted years and years to maxing out their North American lists. However, that devotedness is exactly why this change should happen. In the abstract, we all agree that preventing extinctions is good, but what are we doing about it? I, like so many ABA birders, am almost completely ignorant about Hawaiian species — as much as I wish them well, my conservation priorities lie mainly with the birds that I know. Lets continue to recognize that listing is a game, but play it in such a way that birds feel a real and positive impact.

    I also see comments arguing that this issue conflates countability and advocacy. Of course the ABA can and should work to preserve native Hawaiian species regardless of how this referendum turns out. However, we should be focused not only top-down solutions, but on bottom-up ones, too. If we want to maximize our impact, we need to ask how to get regular members involved in conservation, not just leadership. Awareness is an important first step, but tourism money and the pressure we can collectively put on policy-makers and stakeholders is where we can really make a difference. Do we really have enough at stake right now to understand how devastating the loss of Hawaiian birds is? Expanding the ABA area isn’t a silver bullet, but it’s a good first step.

  • Chris, you said, “It has done little (that I know of) for St Pierre and Miquelon…”

    That’s not a fair comparison. There are no birds found on St.-Pierret-et-Miquelon that are not more easily found elsewhere in the ABA Area, let alone 20+ endemics. In other words, there’s no reason for listers to go there.

  • Justyn Stahl


    It may be helpful to include questions along the lines of “Have you traveled to Hawaii for birding?” and “How likely would you be to travel to Hawaii for birding should Hawaii be added to the ABA area?”

    I personally traveled there last fall because it’s the only place in the WORLD to see these species, not because I wanted to add them to my 50 states or the potential of them being added to an ABA list someday.

  • I have been a longtime advocate for adding Hawaii to the ABA area, and not primarily for conservation reasons, although I believe that would be an important benefit. My feeling was that the area was never defined ecologically or biogeographically (because it stops at the Mexican boundary), and that it should reflect some rational political definition. The status quo is the ABA Area is Canada, most (but not all) of the US, and a little piece of France. I prefer it to be simply (as Jeff advocates) the US and Canada out to 200 miles, plus any enclaves within those two countries and their waters. That way, Midway (see more discussion below) and SP&M would be included. Note that the 200-mile coverage only applies to open ocean and would not allow us to include any of the Bahamas or the eastern tip of Russia.

    A second reason I think Hawaii should be added to the official ABA List has nothing to do with mainland birders, but considers the feelings of birders who live in Hawaii when their national organization excludes them in its official list. It is one of the main reasons we have so few members from our 50th state. In this regard, the “enclave provision” I state above is especially important in Hawaii because Midway is the ONLY accessible island in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands and the ONLY place one has much chance of seeing any of the seabirds or land birds of those far-flung islands. It is a migrant trap, Hawaii’s Attu, and Hawaiian birders have ALWAYS considered the rarities seen there as countable on Hawaii lists. Adding Hawaii, but excluding Midway, would be a real slap in the face to them, not to mention a blow to many ABA lists, including mine.

    Now for a few corrections of misstated fact, misunderstandings, and myths from previous comments:

    1) DC is part of the US, Midway is not, nor are PR, Guam, etc. It’s easy to tell what is and is not part of the US when you travel. When you return to the “lower 48” from PR or other territories, you must go through customs. When you return from Hawaii or Alaska, you do not. I was surprised when I returned from my first trip to Midway and had to go through customs in Honolulu!

    2) Hawaii is not as far away as you think. It is further from any point on the US West Coast to Anchorage than it is to Honolulu. Note that the westernmost US state is Alaska, not Hawaii (HI is the southernmost). In fact, Hawaii is a much easier weekend birding trip for West Coast birders than is Alaska. The “it’s so far away..” whine may have applied a half century ago when you had to go by ship, but now we have direct flights even from Atlanta and Minneapolis, and it’s a lot less expensive than Attu.

    3) Midway IS part of the Hawaiian Islands. It’s NOT part of the State of Hawaii or the US.

    4) We now know (from DNA) that almost all of Hawaii’s native avifauna is derived from the north (Asia and North America). The only Polynesian holdout among land birds are the 3 elepaios. The ‘o’os (all extinct), once thought to be honeyeaters, are related to waxwings and silky flycatchers. The honeycreepers are cardueline finches related to Asian rosefinches. The native thrushes are solitaires. Based on the number of successful colonizers from each area, one could make a good case for inclusion of the Hawaiian Is. in the Nearctic realm, and they certainly belong to the Holarctic. This information is just “for what it’s worth” and is NOT part of my argument for adding Hawaii to the ABA Area.

  • Eric VanderWerf

    I have been an ABA member since 1984. I moved to Hawaii in 1992, and I support adding Hawaii to the ABA area. In my opinion the conservation argument is the most important reason to add Hawaii to the ABA area. Another reason is because it will allow birders IN HAWAII to become a more integral part of the the birding community.
    My preferred definition of the ABA area is:

    B. United States plus Canada plus adjacent waters

    I would like to see the following places added, whatever else happens: Hawaii

    3. I would like to see the following places excluded, whatever else happens: none

    4. It is important to me that St Pierre et Miquelon, France, be retained: no, and I see no real reason to exclude it.

  • I’ve been an ABA member briefly in the 1990s and again in the past couple years (thanks to Jeff’s great leadership). The ABA-Area seems to be the only list that ABA members really care about even though there are United States and Hawaii lists. Hawaii achieved statehood in 1959 (same year as Alaska), it’s WAY overdue to include Hawaii into the ABA-Area.

    Conservation is a very important reason to add Hawaii to the ABA Area. Here’s a reminder about Hawaii’s endemic birds:
    a) 70% of all native Hawaiian birds are either listed as threatened or endangered or of conservation concern
    b) ONE-THIRD of U.S. Endangered Species Act’s bird species list are from Hawaii, however most haven’t been seen in a very long time. Time is running out. I’iwi is under consideration for being proposed to be listed. ONLY nine Hawaiian endemic species are ‘common’.

    If Ducks Unlimited can play a large role in the conservation of Hawaii’s wetlands for our endangered waterbirds then ABA can pay more attention to conservation of birds. The positive spin on Hawaii’s established non-native birds is it’s a cheaper way of traveling around the world. Some species are listed in other states.

    1. My preferred definition of the ABA area is: B. United States plus Canada plus adjacent waters
    2. I would like to see the following places added, whatever else happens: HAWAII & MIDWAY ATOLL
    3. I would like to see the following places excluded, whatever else happens:
    4. It is important to me that St Pierre et Miquelon, France, be retained: NOT IMPORTANT BUT IT MAKES SENSE TO BE RETAINED.
    5. If your preferred definition for the ABA Area isn’t addressed above, please describe it below: USA + CANADA + U.S. TERRITORIES and U.S. COMMONWEALTHS

  • Thank you for bringing this topic up. I will answer the questions then provide my personal view. For those who know me, I usually don’t pull punches…

    0. Member: Yes – 20+ years
    1. B. United States plus Canada plus adjacent waters
    2. Hawaii
    3. Mexico
    4. no
    5. n/a

    There is no good reason (that I have read) not to include Hawaii. I am not much of a lister yet I keep a life list. What I care most about are the birds. Period.

    By including HI, the ABA is becoming whole – the American Birding Association. I am going to HI for two weeks coming up. Spending time on the Big Island and Maui. For all the reading and research I’ve done, HI’s avifauna is in great peril. I really don’t care if the Hawaiian Petrel I hopefully hear a top Haleakala is countable in the ABA or not. However, if the inclusion of HI into the ABA area brings hope and information about the perilous status Hawaiian birds via education and communication alone, then it is a no brainer.

    Steve Arena

  • Chris W

    Ok, true. Point taken. However, my point still stands that adding Hawaii to the ABA area (which actually should’ve been done the first time around, even though Hawaii was probably still a territory then) will only bring attention to it in the short term and cause a major upset in the playing field.

    IMO, if you’re going to add Hawaii to the ABA area (as well as add a few other islands) call it the “ABA area and outlying islands” or something to that effect. Then, “ABA area” still retains the same definition.

  • Chris W

    Justyn, whether or not I travel to Hawaii doesn’t depend on whether or not it’s part of the ABA area. It depends mostly on how cheap an airline ticket I can get and whether or not I can get one for under $1000…..

  • Chris W

    On the other side though, I should also say that my Facebook Rarities page does welcome and include sightings from Hawaii. Hawaiian birds should be included in the ABA’s regular conservation plans, but changing the game for listers could get a little messy. Maybe it’s good in the long-term. Who knows.

  • Like Alaska, Hawaii became a state in 1959. The ABA was formed in 1968.

  • Mel Goff

    This is a topic I have asked about since I was first cajoled into joining the ABA. I am now a member and volunteer at the ABA HQs in Colorado Springs as the librarian.

    I have heard all the arguments for not putting Hawai’i in the ABA, but they seem to be weaker than the arguments in favor.

    Let me say that I have birded the four main islands – Kaua’i (7 times), Maui(3), Oahu (2), and the Big Island (4) – and have seen more of those islands than my friends, just because of birding.

    A point I feel is important for the ABA to consider is that membership of Hawai’i birders would climb if the ABA Area was inclusive of the islands. When I ask local birders I meet there if they are ABA members, they rarely say yes. I even tried to sign up some folks on a birding tour I took on the Big Island, but met with little success – despite my persuasive charms.

    When I return to Kaua’i and Oahu in 2014, I would like it to be to our newest ABA region.

    Good birding, everyone!


  • In reply to Chris W.

    A very good point about changing the focus. I agree 100%.

    WRT “don’t change the game, don’t change the rules”. Games change and rules are updated all the time in sports and leisure activities. If folks are concerned about their species list for the ABA area, then maybe that is a focus that also needs to shift.

    In Jeff’s final thoughts, he states:

    “Remember that all of us, members, board, and staff, should be thinking of what’s best for the organization as a whole as we move into the heart of the 21st Century. Thank you in advance for your thoughts. It is both an honor and a privilege to serve the ABA community.”

    By updating the ABA area and changing the focus like you suggest, I think that it is a win-win for all involved.


  • Morgan Churchill

    Just to add some more information:

    First, would Hawaii really be that expensive of an addition to the ABA?

    I was able to find a roundtrip flight from Denver to Honolulu for $560 on Expedia.

    For the same time interval, I found a roundtrip flight to Anchorage starting at $480. somewhat cheaper, but not by much.

    Both destinations would require additional flights. If you wanted to make a clean sweep of all the gettable endemics, you would need to further travel to the Big Island, Kaui, Maui, and Midway. If you want to hit up all the migrant traps/specialities in Alaska, you would need to hit up the outer Aleutians, Gambell, Nome, and the Pribilofs. So travel differences overall seem pretty slight. Accommodations are probably much more variable in price in Hawaii, and while some key areas require permits, a lot of the birding could be done solo. ON the other hand, most birders seem to do the Alaskan remote regions as part of a tour group. Again I see the costs as equivalent.

    I would guess…if you were too mostly camp, were good at budgeting, and focus on only a few of the islands at a time, you could bird Hawaii much more cheaply than Alaska. Another point in favor; Much of the Alaskan specialties are vagrants, which if the wind is blowing wrong on your trip, you could completely luck out on. In contrast, most the Hawaiian specialties are residents, so it’s probably a cheaper place to visit if you look at lifer/ABA bird per dollar. Also Hawaii is good year round, providing much more flexibility than Alaska, which because of uncertainty in travel, expense, and timing of migration, is really best in spring and fall, and to a lesser extent summer.

    Finally, as far as growing a list is concerned, I would guess that Hawaii is a much easier sell to a non-birding spouse or kids than Gambell. So someone who wants to add some new birds to an ABA list could probably much more easily pull a Hawaii trip than an outer Aleutians trip

  • Rich Stanton

    I have commented on this topic in the past as a non-member. I just joined because I want to be a part of the process and do what I can to see American birds represented by the A.B.A. That is, I want to see Hawaii added regardless of what happens (option B is my preference).

    Honestly, aside from some quibbling about the expense and my preference for an electronic magazine, the exclusion of Hawaii was the only thing holding me back. As Americans, Hawaii’s birds are our birds.

    I have to admit though, I am not familiar with the reasons for retaining St Pierre et Miquelon, and would defer to the preferences of others, especially if such a compromise would contribute to Hawaii receiving the proper recognition.

  • Todd Morris

    Former member (economy to blame for the qualifier)

    I would like to see U.S. + Canada. I do think Midway should be included for much the same reason as St. Pierre et Miquelon – it just seems weird to draw lines around it to include the rest.

    I think we should also address the status of territories. If Canadian territories (Northwest, Nunavut) are included, why not Puerto Rico? I’m sure language could be drafted to include all US states & Canadian provinces + ‘adjoining territories’ or something like that which would allow DC & the Canadian territories while keeping out Guam & PR (but still leaving the door open for PR if it ever becomes a state). I’m also open to having them added (drawing the line at least somewhere short of embassies & prisons).

    I think we do a disservice to the birders of Hawaii by excluding their state from the ABA listing area. People have talked a lot about whether inclusion will or will not boost birding travel TO Hawaii, but what about how much it might boost resident birding IN Hawaii?

  • Birding in Hawaii is just simply awesome. Every native and non-native species have their own very interesting story. Did you know that there were at least 113 endemic (found nowhere else in the world) species? Did you also know that there were more than 30 endemic waterbird species in the islands? The most recent description of a prehistoric waterbird had similar characteristics to a Platypus. In comparison, there are only six native waterbird species today, an 80% loss since the first Polynesians (1000 years ago) and Captain Cook (1778) arrived.

    For those interested in birding in Hawaii check out:
    HawaiiBirding listserve on Yahoo!Groups
    Hawaii Birdwatching on Facebook.
    Official Hawaii Checklist –

    For those interested in conservation in Hawaii check out HAWAII CONSERVATION on Facebook.

  • I am a member of the ABA.
    My preferred definition of the ABA area is:

    ___X___ A. United States minus Hawaii plus Canada plus St Pierre et Miquelon, France plus adjacent waters (status quo).


  • Bird Nut

    I think Jeff is right on that we need simple criteria for the ABA area boundary. Making the boundary ad hoc is just favoritism and arbitrary.
    So one of the essential questions here for ABA members is:
    “Should the ABA area have a biogeographical, or political, or ad hoc boundary?”

    • If ABA members want a biogeographical boundary, then perhaps add Greenland, and northern Mexico.
    • If ABA members want a political boundary (and that makes sense if we want to invite Hawaiians to the ABA), then it makes sense to say USA + Canada.

    In order to handle the fringe cases of St Pierre et Miquelon (SP&M), or Midway, without being ad hoc, then I like Doug Pratt’s “enclave provision” as follows:

    • US and Canada out to 200 miles, plus any enclaves within those two countries and their waters. That way, Midway and SP&M would be included.

    This enclave provision is a simple way for us to “have it both ways” to a large extent (ie. both biogeographical and political), and yet the criteria can still be simply stated and is not ad hoc.

  • Rob

    I am enjoying this discussion, but have a hard time thinking about it without considering the larger political, cultural and racial issues involved with the history of U.S. imperialism and territorial expansion. I suspect that these are probably unwelcome additions to this discussion, so I’m nervous to bring them up. But here goes…

    Even discussions of adding Hawaii because it is a state, begs the question of what it means for a geographical location to be considered part of the United States. Other U.S. possessions (isn’t that a nice word?) are excluded from statehood for political, racial, and other sometimes ugly reasons. Why should we accept Hawaii in the ABA area (or the US, for that matter) as a state, but exclude Puerto Rico or Guam or any of the other U.S. possessions (as Corey brought up to start off this discussion)? While we are really mostly just playing a game with this discussion, these questions about statehood or political autonomy are real and serious issues that have a huge impact on residents of these other areas–including the birds.

    If we want to include Hawaii for conservation reasons, there are equally valid conservation reasons to include, for example, Puerto Rico and Guam. Why not include in the ABA area all geographic areas that the U.S. Congress is responsible for funding conservation? Why do we think the ABA should throw it’s weight behind Hawaiian Honeycreeper conservation, but leave Puerto Rico’s critically endangered birds or the messed up Guam avifauna to twist in the wind? They both depend on the U.S. government for conservation funding. As much as I appreciate Doug Pratt’s discussion about defining the U.S. as those areas where you don’t need a passport to visit, this again just begs the question about what we should consider part of the U.S., and for our purposes, the ABA area already includes Canada and SP&M which require passports.

    There’s much more to say about all this (including language and cultural differences in some of the U.S. possessions to be considered, this is probably enough for now to start (or terminate interest in) a wider discussion about some of our prejudices or at least unstated racial, political, or other assumptions underlying our choices in this matter.

  • Bird Nut

    If someone doesn’t want to accept political boundaries because he/she feels they are prejudiced or racist, then I can respect that they would vote for a biogeographical boundary. But political boundaries do exist in the real world, so even if they were erected imperialistically, I don’t think that means the ABA is condoning imperialism or racism or prejudice. I think its just a matter of practicality.

  • Rob, I am puzzled by this statement: “Other U.S. possessions…are excluded from statehood…”

    How are they excluded? Article IV of the Constitution is a little vague on this, but in recent practice, the U.S. Congress doesn’t ask territories/U.S. Commonwealths/possessions to become states. Rather, the people in those areas petition the U.S. Congress for statehood after they themselves vote in favor of statehood. That’s how both Hawaii and Alaska become states. In contrast, I am aware of no such efforts in any U.S. possessions other than Puerto Rico. Without a possession voting for statehood and them being rejected by Congress, one cannot truthfully say it has been “excluded” from statehood. Puerto Rico’s citizens are voting on statehood again this year, after three previous failed attempts, and this one doesn’t seem likely to pass either.,_2012

  • What is or is not part of the United States should not be in dispute.

    “In a series of opinions by the Supreme Court of the United States, referred to as the Insular Cases, the Court ruled that territories belonged to, but were not part of the United States.”

  • This “enclave provision” is the not silver bullet some seem to think it is.

    In effect, it would make any island within 200 miles of U.S. or Canadian shoreline part of the ABA Area. Many of the islands of The Bahamas are completely within this range, as are offshore islands of Cuba, Greenland, and Russia. And then there’s the problem of Cuba, Russia, and Green themsleves–they are also within 200 miles of U.S. or Canadian land.

    And for another, neither Midway nor Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon is an enclave of the U.S. or Canada, since neither is surrounded by the U.S. or Canada, respectively: “A country surrounded by another but having access to the sea is not considered to be an enclave, regardless of size. For this reason Portugal is not an enclave of Spain, and Gambia is not an enclave of Senegal.”

  • Todd Morris

    Which then begs the question, why do we include Canadian territories while excluding US territories? If we adopt political boundaries, should we then carve out the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, & Nunavut? Is there a difference in political structure between the two countries that would allow a reasonable definition to include the territories of one while excluding the territories of the other?

  • Thor Manson

    As a Canadian ABA member I have followed this thread with interest. After reading the posts of the other members, the only arguement that makes sense to me for including Hawaii is the islands comprise a state in the United States, and, to exclude its birds from being part of the ” American ” birding scene seems awkward. On the other hand the Hawaiian Islands are a very isolated group of islands thousands of kilometres from any part of North America. It is really part of the Oceanic area, and, for this reason, in my opinion, its endemic, resident, and ” visiting ” birds should not be countable as part of the ABA region.
    I think the argument that including these islands would encourage conservation of habitat is a ” red herring ” point of view, and totally misses the essence of the discussion. I have visited the Hawaiian Islands on a number of occasions, and love to go birding there. Conservation issues there, to me, represent a different theme, certainly worthy of discussion, but separate from the issue as to whether the state should be included in the ABA region.
    I have also visited the interesting French Islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon on a number of occasions, which, obviously are a lot closer to North America. However, if nationality issues are a deciding factor, I would have no worries about excluding them from the ABA region.
    My vote will be to retain the status quo; Option A.

  • One major difference is that Canadian territories are considered an integral part of Canada. Indeed, they send voting members to parliament just as the provinces do. Another big difference is that, since they are part of Canada, one does not have to have a passport and go through Canadian customs when entering a province from one of the territories. There have been no such territories in the U.S. since 1959.

  • Ron Holland

    I have been a member off and on for 25 years (just rejoined after a brief hiatus due to finances, not dissatisfaction with the organization.)

    My preference would be to change the ABA Area to option B.

    I would include Midway (based on the response of Douglas Pratt since I have no personal experience there.)

    I would exclude Mexico since adding it would beg the question about the rest of Central America.

    I am ambivalent about St Pierre et Miquelon, France, but I would include it due to its location and tradition.

    The questions as stated seem pretty clear cut.


    My reasons for these choices are pretty simple. Adding Hawaii sounds like fun and that is why I am a lister. Conservation is critical, but where conservation dollars go can be handled with or without the addition. I think the issue of excluding Hawaii from our “national” birding organization is an important one.

    If Hawaii is added, I think some care must be taken when deciding how to handle the introduced birds. I think at the very least the ABA Exotics Committee must formalize where the countable exotics are (by state).

  • Regarding exotics, it is a common misconception that the ABA Checklist Committee (CLC), of which the “Exotics Committee” is a part, has purview over what exotics are countable where within the ABA Area. On the contrary, the function of the CLC is solely to add or remove species from the Checklist. The CLC’s own webpage doesn’t help. It is misleading in that it suggests that it does have the power to set state-by-state rules for listing introduced species. In fact, it does not. Its only function is to “maintain a checklist”. If the Recording Standards and Ethics Committee wanted to dive into this subject, though, it would have the authority to do so.

  • Ron Holland

    Thanks Michael for that information!

    So if an exotic is on the checklist then it is countable anywhere in the ABA Area regardless of whether that local population meets the guidelines for inclusion? That feels like cheating to me. I guess that’s why the No Introduced Birds (NIB) list we use for our county birding makes a lot of sense.

  • Delawaretwitcher

    As I see it, this issue is basically do we or do we not include Hawaii in the ABA area list?

    I have just received the ABA 2011 List Report. By far the most popular lists for ABA members to report their bird species lists are for the ABA area (829 reports), the Lower 48 states (606 reports) and the US (563 reports). The lower reporting level for all three lists is 500 spp.

    All three lists (ABA, L48, US) include the Lower 48 states and territorial waters. The ABA list adds Canada, Alaska and St. Pierre & Miquelon. The US list adds Alaska and Hawaii. The leaders of these lists are at 933 (US), 887 (ABA) and 810 (L48) species. Canada and SP&M have no endemic species, so it would appear to a simple mathematician and lister like myself that HI could add up to 46 spp (US minus ABA). As we all are aware, HI does boast a big, and sadly rapidly declining, bunch of endemics, many of which are getting increasingly difficult to find for the visiting birder.

    My views are:

    For listers not wanting to go to AK or HI, they have the existing L48 list to work on.
    For listers able to travel to Canada and Alaska, they have the existing ABA list to work on.
    For listers able to travel to Alaska and Hawaii, they have the existing US list to work on.

    That leaves those who want to bird Hawaii, but not Alaska, out on a limb, listwise. I wonder how many ABA members are in this group?

    I support the status quo.

    BTW, I very strongly support the preservation of declining species. I do not think the ABA should get into this financially, other than promote birding in the areas where such efforts are in force, such as Hawaii. I support the American Bird Conservancy to this aim.

  • Ron, you asked. “So if an exotic is on the checklist then it is countable anywhere in the ABA Area regardless of whether that local population meets the guidelines for inclusion?”

    In theory, the answer lies in this document:

    And the answer is, “well, sort of.” 2.B.iii states that “an introduced species may be counted only where and when it meets the ABA Checklist’s definition for being an established population. An introduced species observed well away from the accepted geographic area is not counted if it is more likely to be a local escape or release rather than an individual straying from the distant population.”

    But the ABA CLC does not have the authority to rule on whether separate populations are established or not, so unless the RSEC makes that determination, it is up to the observer to decide. A real-life example of this issue is the population of Aplomado Falcons in coastal Texas. The species is already on the checklist, so it’s up to the observer to decide if that population meets ABA’s criteria for an established population. (Or if the bird (s)he saw was a genuine Mexican vagrant!) For what it’s worth, it’s on this birder’s list!

  • Pete Donaldson

    I am a long-time ABA member and I live in Hawaii. I strongly support Jeff Gordon’s suggestion that the ABA area be expanded to include the state of Hawaii. I don’t have a very strong opinion about St. Pierre et Miquelon.

    I used to think that adding Hawaii to the ABA area might be detrimental to the endangered native birds since it might increase the number of people tramping around in sensitive habitat and disturbing the rare species. However, several species of Hawaiian birds have become extinct anyway over the 30+ years I’ve lived in Hawaii. On the other hand, conservation successes such as the increasing numbers of Whooping Cranes and California Condors seem to be linked to well-funded programs tied to widespread popular support. I believe that the endangered Hawaiian birds have lacked similar public support, at least partly due to lack of awareness. I think adding Hawaii to the ABA area would promote heightened awareness of the plight of Hawaii’s native birds and help support recovery efforts. Other considerations seem trivial to me compared to the survival of these species.

  • Alan Wormington

    “For listers able to travel to Canada and Alaska, they have the existing ABA list to work on.”

    That is a very strange statement (!) considering that ABA includes both Canada and the U.S.

    Is Delaware the centre of the universe?

  • Dave Davis

    My family is heading for Peru in September, and though it will not be exclusively a birding trip, it will be substantially a birding trip (or as my young adult daughter frequently notes, “all our family trips are birding trips.”) At least 2 of us are serious listers, the other 2 less so. And, guess what, Peru is not in the ABA Area! After reading all these posts, I wonder if we made a mistake and should have planned a trip to Hawaii (where some of us have been and birded) or, for that matter, Nebraska, which is indisputably in the ABAA. Facetiousness aside, my point is that there seems to be much too much being made of the precise definition/scope of a particular listing area-the ABA Area. What we see in Peru will go on our Peru lists, our South America lists, our World Lists, our Departemento Cuzco lists, etc., and we will shed no tears whatsoever that our ABAA lists will remain unchanged. Among the birders I know personally, I believe that many feel the same way. Sure, I keep an ABAA list (which actually happens automatically whenever I enter a sighting into eBird and AviSys), but for some years now I have really been more interested in just seeing the birds and adding them to my World List. Part of this stems from age (67) and part from not being a very competitive person. With time, birding my personal patch and contributing to conservation have come to dominate my birding interests and behavior. So, for me, it really doesn’t much matter how/whether you change the ABAA definition, and it won’t affect my behavior one bit. As a career environmentalist/conservationist, I see the argument for bringing more attention to Hawaii, but I also agree with those commenters who have pointed out that it just really doesn’t fit into a reasonably “natural” definition of the area. Hawaii really is part of the Pacific Ocean Region. Likewise, I really question just how many birders (not limited to ABA members) will adjust their travel plans and priorities to take in Hawaii just because it is added to the ABA Area. I suspect that it is a very small number of birders who will do so, and as someone pointed out, it is a zero sum game, such that trips/dollars redirected to Hawaii are taken from other areas of the world also in need of enhanced conservation support. Bottom line: I’d prefer to leave the ABAA as is, but won’t lose a wink of sleep if you change it. And I hope that not too much of ABA’s limited time, energy, and money goes into the whole process of deciding and acting on this question. I have been an ABA member since 1976 or 77 and a birder/lister since the early 1950s. Best regards to all,

  • Pete Donaldson

    Some bloggers seem to miss the point that Hawaii is not just a place that ABA members go to visit, it is a place where many of them live! The online ABA Directory currently lists 28 members from Hawaii (more than either North Dakota or South Dakota and more than all but 4 of Canada’s provinces and territories). Hawaii is the only place in the 50 states or Canada where an ABA member can’t put birds from her own yard on her ABA area list. Does this bother me? Yes! Do I think this issue might affect ABA membership in Hawaii? It just might.

    By the way, the online ABA Directory lists no members from Peru (and none from St Pierre et Miquelon).

  • I am an ABA member (have been since the 1980’s). I am a birder. One aspect of my birding is listing (but certainly not the only aspect.) I maintain a world list (woefully low, due to economic considerations), ABA list, Lower 48 list, ABA Photo list, state lists for thirty-eight states (including Hawaii), lists for six Canadian provinces/territories, a number of county lists, and a whole bunch more. I thoroughly enjoy all of them. I want to keep all of them. If the ABA wants to create a new list that comprises the current ABA area plus Hawaii, I’m all for it.

    But I am adamantly opposed to doing away with the current ABA area definition and replacing it with a new one. As some others have suggested, let’s have both. ABA-Classic and ABA-Extended (or any names you like.) Put the ABA-Extended list as the first list in the ABA List Report if you want to give it more attention.

    I’d very much appreciate it if that option were included in the voting.


  • I have been an ABA member since 1982.

    I would like to see Hawaii added to the ABA list. I don’t have a preference for St. Pierre and Miquelon.

    I visited Hawaii in earlier this summer for the first time, and had a great time birding. Since that trip, I have read a number of conservationists write that the biggest problem in conserving Hawaiian birds involves education, and it is my impression that most North American birders (myself included until recently) are almost completely ignorant of Hawaiian birds. I can’t help but suspect that including Hawaii in the ABA area, complemented by the major North American field guides including Hawaiian birds, would lead to a big boost in the knowledge, awareness, and appreciation by North American birders of these fantastic birds, which in turn would help their conservation. Furthermore, because of their adaptive radiation, I would argue that perhaps that most exciting birds in the US are Hawaiian Honeycreepers, and it is a shame that most ABA members, the best birders in North America, don’t know this.

    In summary, as others have suggested, I hope that the ABA will include Hawaii in its primary ABA area list, while retaining the traditional ABA area on a secondary list.


  • Thane Pratt

    Thanks for again taking up the issue of whether to add Hawaii to the ABA area. As a Hawaii resident, I too support option B, United States (all 50), Canada, and surrounding waters. This inclusive area could make a real difference to birding and bird conservation in the Islands and lead to a unified concept of American birds.

    One of the main obstacles for conservation of Hawaiian birds has been that the endemic birds are scarcely recognized and poorly known by people living outside the islands. The American public, including birders, have no easy way to find out about birds like Iiwi or Palila (or learn their tongue-twisting names). As every birder knows, Hawaiian birds are not featured in North American field guides.

    I was born in the Islands in 1950. Statehood came in 1959. Shortly after Roger Tory Peterson published his Field Guide to Western Birds, and, Wow!, it had everything for me—mainland and Hawaiian birds inclusive. So, that was my birding bible as a kid; I could use it both at home and on mainland trips. That’s how I learned my birds, and so did an entire generation of young birders, many of whom grew up to become active in avian research, conservation, and recreation.

    Unfortunately, Peterson dropped Hawaii from subsequent editions of his field guides, and all other American field guides have followed suit. I think it is fair to say that many Hawaiian birders see the future inclusion of Hawaiian birds in American field guides as a worthy goal. Not only would it be convenient to us, but more importantly, a complete American field guide covering all 50 states would also enable mainland US birders to learn this part of their national bird fauna. It’s a wonder there isn’t already a field guide to ALL 50 states, or at least to all the western states.

    I realize that the ABA list and American field guides are not the same thing, but no doubt they are linked by a common view point, and the ABA list serves as the backbone for the field guides. I believe adding Hawaii to the ABA list is a necessary step towards developing a complete American field guide.

    If the ABA list were to include Hawaii, it would fall in step with other national organizations such as the National Audubon Society, American Bird Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, and branches of the federal government, such as the Fish and Wildlife Service, that fully embrace Hawaii in their regional scope. The State of the Birds Report and The American Bird Conservancy’s Guide to Bird Conservation also prominently feature Hawaii.

    People sometimes wonder how many more birds would Hawaii add to the ABA list. I ran the numbers in 2008, using the Bob Pyle’s 2002 Hawaiian checklist and the current ABA list. At the time, 71% of Hawaiian birds were already on the ABA list, including mainly North American and Palaearctic migrants, but also seabirds and introduced species. Missing from the ABA list were 86 species composed of 41 surviving native species, 34 alien species, 8 Pacific seabirds, and 3 Palearctic migrants. By the way, the native land-based avifauna has little in common with Oceania and instead is derived mainly from Nearactic and Palaeactic fauna. So, this insular avifauna is closer to the North American continental fauna than one might at first think.

    Lastly, although we are a small state (1.2 mil people), we host a great many visitors every year. The number of US mainland visitors coming to Hawaii in 2010 (most recent year for which statistics are available) was 4.5 million, out of 7 million visitors total. Resident and visitor populations combined would make us the 18th largest state! Plus we host about 400,000 visitors from Canada as well. With so many Mainland visitors each year, a significant percentage of US citizens see Hawaii at some point in their lifetime. We aren’t all that remote. Hawaii is now a significant part of the American experience. And Hawaiian birds are, too.

    I hope these points will help convince ABA members to vote for adding Hawaii to the North American region.

    Thank you!

  • Anonymous

    Is adding Hawaii to the ABA Area really going to make a big impact on conservation? My plane ticket to Hawaii certainly wouldn’t impact conservation, not directly anyway, although I’m sure Orbitz would be happy to take the money. There are probably some dedicated birding lodges where I could spend my money, although they are probably quite expensive. This would lead me to choose a cheap hotel instead, which doesn’t seem like it will affect conservation much at all. I’ll probably eat at local restaurants, which, while benefiting the Hawaiian economy, doesn’t seem like it would benefit conservation.

    So, what money that I spend is going to be used for conservation? Perhaps park fees, if there are any.

    If the ABA is really concerned with Hawaiian bird conservation, it seems there are more direct ways that will make a bigger impact. Endorse some ABA tours to Hawaii and donate the profits to conservation. Fundraisers, social media, ect. Run a special in Birding magazine on one or two endangered species of Hawaii per issue with ways to donate and support conservation that way. In my opinion, these would have a much bigger impact than my $5-10 park fees.

    I am an ABA member and just don’t see the need to add Hawaii to the ABA Area. If it does get added, it would be very important to have “ABA Classic” and “ABA Extended” area lists.

  • No One

    Seriously, what can we possibly LOSE by adding Hawaii?

    My answers to the questions above:
    B. United States plus Canada plus adjacent waters

    2. I would like to see the following places added, whatever else happens: Hawaii, Greenland, The Bahamas

    3. I would like to see the following places excluded, whatever else happens: Mexico, Bermuda

    4. It is important to me that St Pierre et Miquelon, France, be retained. YES

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