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The new North American Birds takes flight!

North American Birds has begun a metamorphosis!

Starting with the next volume (67), the journal will be paperless—that is, an electronic journal, like so many familiar publications in the world of ornithology already are.

Though many of us—your editorial group included—will miss the feel of paper in the hand, and all the pleasures and memories that come with it, we recognize that paper publications like ours are critically endangered. With the digital revolution, reading practices are changing rapidly, and the rapid movement away from paper has had stark economic impacts on enterprises like the North American Birds tradition. Not just reading itself, indeed, the circulation of information has changed radically, which also affects our tradition. In decades past, many readers have looked to the journal for information of a particular kind, and some of that information (raw data) can be located in more timely fashion, indeed almost instantaneously, online in this new century. Much of the analysis the journal provides, of course, cannot be found online, at least not yet.

The reinvented North American Birds moves into a new environment, then, attempting to retain what has been most valuable to readers while shedding what is less relevant, necessary, or desirable.

We won’t be catapulting into a format that is unrecognizable to our readers. For the foreseeable future, North American Birds will have its core components—the regional reports, Changing Seasons, Pictorial Highlights, feature articles, Photo Essays, Photo Salons, Birding Journals—but all material will be presented in full color, including regional maps. The journal will be downloaded by subscribers, using a passcode, to personal computers (or other devices), and so will be searchable and portable. Subscription rates will be lower, to reflect the savings on printing, paper, and postage. We will still function as a real publication: with page numbers, peer review, and careful attention to accurate reporting (not always
the case with online content!). But in the future, we will likely incorporate hyperlinks, videos, and interactive material, as we learn to work with the software chosen to publish the journal electronically.

NAB 66-3 cover

For the current issue, we have provided both subscribers and nonsubscribers a chance to practice downloading an issue in full color (you can also browse the issue at this site, but we suggest first learning how to download a pdf, if that is a new experience). We should note that this is not how we will furnish the issue to subscribers in the future—this is just our current press providing a site for people to see and download a  full-color version of Volume 66, No. 3. Also, this is not how Volume 67 will appear; subscribers will need to wait a bit longer to see all the bells and whistles. This is just an opportunity to learn how to download content from the web.

To download the current issue in color, go to:

Click image of the cover with rosy-finch.

On the navigation bar at the top, put cursor over the third icon from the right (it has “PDF” and a squiggle).

When you put your cursor there, two more icons appear below it.

Click the right-hand icon of these two.

Your download should begin right away. It takes between 2 and 5 minutes to download an issue, depending on the speed of your internet connection.

If you would like to read this issue more as you would a regular journal, and you don’t already have an application to do so, consider (for
free, or for the price of a fancy cup of coffee), trying out one of the wonderful PDF readers/viewers that are available now:


a free trial is available here:

Adobe Mobile PDF Reader

PDF Expert 4.5.1

We are very sympathetic to all of the trepidation our readers may experience during this transition, and we share those feelings. Change
involves feelings of loss, of risk, of fear as we move into the unfamiliar. But our choice, at the end of the day, is between surely fading out and possibly thriving again. Our decision is to go Once more unto the breach, dear friends.

We will have more information on the metamorphosis in the coming issue, Volume 66, No. 4, the final paper issue of North American Birds. As a former editor of the journal was so fond of saying, “Stay tuned!”

Ned Brinkley, Editor

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Ned Brinkley

Ned Brinkley

Ned Brinkley has edited North American Birds, ABA's journal of ornithology, full time since 2001 and contributed over 120 articles to birding journals and magazines since 1982. He started birding at age six in southeastern Virginia, with the Great Dismal Swamp and the Gulf Stream being perennial favorite patches. In the subsequent 40 years, he has birded and led birding tours on five continents, taught European literature and film at the University of Virginia, opened a birding bed-and-breakfast inn on Virginia's Eastern Shore, participated in research projects on seabirds, and written a few books, including Virginia's Birdlife: An Annotated Checklist (with Steve Rottenborn), The National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, and a children's book on birds in the Reader's Digest Pathfinders series.
  • Birder37

    Is there any way you guys can change your mind about this, because I can barely read the words and I’m confused about what’s going on in the magazine. I really appreciate what you are trying to do for nature by not using paper and I understand about stamp and envelope costs, but it kind of bothers me not having the magazine in my hand. (Welcome to the 21 century, I guess.) 😉

  • Madeline

    Hi Ned, download works (3 minutes). I have the commercial version of Acrobat so I can use the + to enlarge the page view. I also have the option of displaying 2 pages at a time (“2-up”). Choosing the option to “show cover page during 2-up” shows the 2 pages that would be visible in a print journal. Now if I want to take the journal with me to the dentist’s office or the reading room, I guess I have to buy an iPad or some such. 🙁 On the other hand, I really like that I can keep coming back to the issues and search for previous articles!

  • So will there still be a fee to subscribe to NA Birds even though its going to digital?

  • Ted Floyd

    This is tremendously exciting–truly, one of the most thrilling developments in my nearly 33 (gasp) years as a birder.

    I confess: I didn’t join the ABA and start reading Birding until I was a young adult. But I’ve been an “NAB” (North American Birds) junkie since my early teen years. (The journal went by a different name back then.) One of the reasons I got a paper route was to support my new habit: I needed a pair of binoculars, I need to to take trips to Tinicum National Wildlife Refuge (there’s a bit of a story there), and I needed to subscribe to what we now call North American Birds.

    I’m trying to picture myself coming of birderly age now in the year 2013, and everything about Ned’s news would be so gratifying to me: more content, better content, much better functionality, more timely, less expensive. If I’m suddenly 12 years old in the year 2013, I’m subscribing to NAB! And I’ll probably be hooked for the next 30+ years, and then some.

    And to inject some real-time realism into the proceedings, I’m fantastically pleased with the change, even from my vantage point as a decidedly middle age reader. The acid test: I expect to be spending even more time with the new NAB (sorry, Kei; sorry, kids) than I used to.

    This is so wonderful!

  • Ted Floyd

    Hi, Birder37. True, the new NAB will kill fewer trees and cost less to produce, but that’s not really the point. The point is this: The new NAB is a tremendous improvement.

    Like you, I was initially confused by the new NAB, but I stuck with it for a few minutes, and after no time at all (seriously, somewhere in the neighborhood of 100-200 seconds), I was completely hooked. You mention not being able to read the words, and, I, too, was initially concerned; but there are many ways to customize/increase screen size (screen resolution). I calmed down for a few seconds, hunted around for the make-this-bigger icon, and–voila!–all was well.

    And, hey, you can’t increase the type in the old NAB unless you’re using a real magnifying glass, and that’s not very fun.

    Welcome to the 21st century, as you say, and, to be sure, there are some thing about the 21st century I could do without. But the new NAB, if you’ll give it just a few minutes of test-driving, is well worth the price of admission.

  • Hi Birder37 and Landon – Thanks for your comments! We are committed to joining the publications world of the twenty-first century now, yes, and to leaving paper behind. The paper, printing, and postage costs are higher and higher all the time, and the journal is not a sustainable enterprise as a print publication. That is true of most ornithological journals, as many of our subscribers know. We do want to emphasize that we will continue to be a journal in all other respects, and the many thousands of hours of labor that go into the editing, review, and layout do have some costs associated with them, so the journal will be available only with paid subscription, as has always been the case. The subscription rates will be reduced to reflect the lower cost of production, for sure. We’ll have more information on rates in months ahead.

  • Ted Floyd

    From Ned’s post:

      “Subscription rates will be lower, to reflect the savings on printing, paper, and postage.”


      “…in the future, we will likely incorporate hyperlinks, videos, and interactive material, as we learn to work with the software chosen to publish the journal electronically.”


      “…all material will be presented in full color, including regional maps.”

    And, best of all, as far as I’m concerned, the new NAB:

      “…will be searchable and portable.”

    Think about that. We’re being delivered a substantially improved product, in terms of both content and functionality; and we’re being asked to pay less for it.

    Pinch me.

  • Andy Jones

    I think this is a great move – with so many of us documenting birds with digital cameras and even with video, this makes a lot of sense.

    The issue just released is a little over 50 MB as a PDF, which means that it is too large to transfer to a Kindle (unless you manually connect it, which excludes those of us that just use Kindle apps rather than the actual Kindle).

    Could the issues perhaps be broken into two or more parts? I manually broke it up into four parts myself using your new website – you have a maximum of 50 pages per download when you grab subsets of the journal – but that was a bit tedious.

    Regardless, I’ll continue subscribing and I look forward to the NAB’s new digital future.

  • Richard Hubacek

    I have not subscribed to NAB for many years. When I retired and moved to a smaller home I had to unload all my copies of NAB and many years of Audubon Magazine. They are now taking up space at the Chico State University Library. You should mention, in this promotion, about all the fine trees that will be saved.

    The first article I read in the download was, “The Weather”. The full color picture of the vanishing sea ice caught my eye. It was the most comprehensive read on “climate change” that I’ve read in an ABA publication. Climate change should be covered in all your publications.

    I just may try NAB again now that it’s going to be in digital form.

  • Alan Wormington

    I suspect it would also be difficult to download (if not impossible) the entire file in PDF if one only had dial-up, which many people still have. I really hope that each issue converts to having single PDFs for each reporting region and each article, and Changing Seasons, etc. That way each PDF download would be in the range of 5-8 pages each, which seems like the correct size to easily handle, not to mention the fact that each article/region is what most people will want to download (that is, reading sections one at a time would seem to make sense). Not really sure why it is currently set up to download in PDF either (1) the entire journal; or (2) just single pages. However, the first issue online is just a test, so I am sure in the future things will be “tweeked” to everyone’s satisfaction. As usual, Ned and others do a supreme job in getting the whole thing put together, regardless of the format.

  • john kendall

    Ok, great but no more paper mag for easy airplanes and hotel reading–But if, how and when will photos be embedded in the regional field reports?
    In the last 3-4 years, I have noticed that in most issues, photos have not been submitted from our region and had been absent to the point of where they became almost an afterthought. I was going to let my subscription run out, as you say, we can get sightings data from several local and online sources.
    Is there still a 10-day deadline between end of season and regional reports due? Will the regional editors still collect and submit photos (and now videos are possible)?
    Why not allow subscribers to at least submit photos directly online (under a specified pic format (dpi, etc.) to the website instead of waiting and hoping for one of 30 regional editors to do it in time? Make it a bit more real-time and interactive perhaps?

  • I haven’t subscribed for many years but all the other magazines I read monthly are online in similar format. Count me in as one who appreciates saving precious birding habitat!

  • Ted Floyd

    This is a good point:

    “I have not subscribed to NAB for many years. When I retired and moved to a smaller home I had to unload all my copies of NAB and many years of Audubon Magazine. They are now taking up space at the Chico State University Library.”

    I confess: Even though Jon Dunn will kill me, I do not keep my copies of Western Birds. I read them, then donate them to the ABA library.

    I further confess: Even though Ned Brinkly will kill me, I do not keep my copies of North American Birds. I read them, then pawn them off on two brilliant teen birders who live nearby.

    And even this: The only reason I keep back issues of Birding is job-related.

    Mind you, Western Birds, North American Birds, and Birding are the three greatest journals in the history of the world… 🙂

    But I think we’re seeing a very broad trend in our society toward getting rid of paper in our lives. Another bird organization I’m affiliated with is fielding inquiries from folks who tell us: “I’ll join, but only if you promise not to send me print magazines; I just want it digital (and even a clunky PDF is superior to anything in print).” A recent inquiry cheered me: It was from an old white male, served in the military, etc., etc.

    You know what this sorta reminds me of? It reminds me of one of the greatest moments in one of the greatest episodes from The Simpsons. Here:

      A bunch of men are working in the mill when Roscoe, Homer, and Bart
      walk in.

      Roscoe: [to all] Hey! Listen up! I want all of youse to say hello to the Simpsons.

      All: [waving in a cliche, sissy-like attitude] Hello-o.

      Homer: [gasps] Has the whole world gone insane?!

      Worker: [sissy-like] Stand still, there’s a spark in your hair!

      Worker: Get it! Get it!

      Homer: [whimpers]
      [another guy walks past Homer holding a vat of hot steel in hot pants]

      Worker: Hot stuff, comin’ through!

      Homer: [screams]

      Bart: Dad, why’d you bring me to a gay steel mill?

      Homer: [frightened] I don’t know! This is a NIGHTMARE! YOU’RE ALL SICK!

      Worker: [waving his hand] Oh be nice!

      Homer: Oh! My son doesn’t stand a chance! The whole world’s gone gay!

      [a whistle goes off]

      Oh my god! What’s happening now?

      Roscoe: We work hard. We play hard. [pulls a chain]

      [“Everybody Dance Now” starts playing]

    The times, they are a’changin’.

  • Nancy Magnusson

    This will be such an improvement that I’ll never read it. Please reconsider.

  • Andy, Richard, Gail – many thanks! And yes, we will try to provide as many flexible options as possible when we go 100% electronic/digital. Nancy – we would hate to lose you as a reader and subscriber! If there is anything we can do to ease the transition, please let us know. We are not abandoning paper for reasons that are environmental (though because we have never used recycled paper, the trees probably appreciate the change) but instead for reasons that are economic. We appreciate all the donations to the Friends fund, but they are not sufficient to keep up with the rapidly rising costs of printing and mailing. We hope that you understand, even if you are, as we are, not entirely happy with the change. We will definitely be lowering the cost of a subscription, so hopefully that will ease the transition for some.

  • I have been a subscriber for over 40 years and a donor for a while. I’d like to stay that way. My main concern is file size. All that color and new features says Huge Files to me.

    I am not going to stay a supporter or even a subscriber unless I can download only the sections that interest me. There is no way – zero chance – that I will use a journal, however nice it is online, if I have to download all or nothing.

    If you think that all users will be content to use the journal solely online without being able to download articles of interest to have them locally available, you need to plan for a loss of a segment of subscribers, including me. If you can build in article-by-article extraction capacity, I think this effort will succeed.

  • This is awesome! Now I have something other than field guides to load onto my iPad. I hope more and more bird journals go this direction. The improvement in having all color itself is worth it. Any word when the new lower cost for subscribing will be announced? I just recently got my renewal reminder and am wondering if I should hold out a little longer.

  • Hey Drew – I will ask the folks in the Subscriptions Department tomorrow morning and get back to you. Good question, and one I anticipated but don’t know how to answer right off the bat!

  • Great move! Thanks.

    Over the last few years we have been shedding memberships to publications that offered them in the only in the dead tree format. We too appreciate that the pdfs are searchable.

    With this change I hope that (1) regional editors will be free to distribute pdfs of regional reports to the non-members who have contributed content and (2) back issues will be made freely available on-line (and visible to search engines) after a relatively short period in the members-only section.

  • David C.

    I have been a subscriber for many years. Even though I am somewhat computer literate I still prefer a real paper magazine. I have every issue saved & refer to them often. As I recently resubscribed for 2 years & don’t want the computer version. I would like a refund of my unused subscriptin. I know this makes me old fashioned but as a birder for over 50 years this is what I prefer.

  • Rod Spangle

    My NAB subscription was a Xmas present from my sister – I’ve been waiting patiently for my fist issue to arrive in the mail – waiting in vain, as I’ve now learned. As an old Audubon Field Notes subscriber, I was very much looking forward to a return to that experience – one that an “on-line download” is never going to duplicate. Paper & print does have its’ place and I believe ABA has dropped the ball on this one. I’m not asking for a refund, but I will not be renewing.

  • Hi Rod – You should have two paper issues (with corresponding all-color electronic versions, if you like, as well), and then two issues that are fully electronic. I wish I could suggest an alternative journal for you that would give you the ability to return to the experience of Audubon Field Notes (1947-1969); as far as I know, there is no journal on paper (or otherwise) that attempts to do anything like what AFN did then or what we do now. I hope you’ll at least give the new medium a try! We have all been a great big team, a big family of friends, and we hate to lose teammates and friends.

  • Niels

    One problem with this: I tried downloading to my iPad mini, and there was no direct download link. Someone thinks it is because the download link is a Flash link and therefore not allowed on apple products. I can download on my PC, but I would rather be reading this type of material on the ipad


  • Madeline

    Having just used the PDF version to read the articles on Kirtland’s Warbler and Siberian Chiffchaff,I have some suggestions for the future layout of the web-only version:
    (1)Put the figures close to the point in text where each figure is cited. Use more white space (it’s free in the PDF version!) to keep the text and figures together. Maybe even find a way to let the reader double-click on the “[Figure 1].” And/or let the reader double-click on the figure to get a higher resolution. This will surely work if reading the article on line.

    (2) Maybe make the aspect ratio of the page relate to the aspect ratio of our monitors, so we don’t have to scroll down to finish column 1, then back up to start column 2, then down to finish column 2, …

    (3) Maybe change the layout for “Pictorial Highlights” to put the caption with each photo. It be really great to fix it so we could look at each photo without the caption so we could see if we recognized the bird!! and then click on something to see if we were right! OK, OK, I know that’s not the photo quiz.

    Bottom line despite my quibbles, it is really cool to see all the photos in color and great to have the entire issue at my fingertips on my laptop!

  • Joel Haas

    I have tried dozens of times since the original “ABA Blog” appearance of the “pdf” version of NAB. I cannot download it using this link:

    If I need to be a subscriber perhaps that is the problem. But when I attempt the download, I am not asked if I am a current subscriber.

    Bad publicity for the noble effort to convert ABA pub’s to digital format, Jeff, Ted, Ned, etc.

  • First off, there’s been far too much complaining about this transition, this is an effort deserving of praise! I’m so happy to hear that NAB is going digital, as its format demands copious space for links, graphics, and sounds. I’m excited!

    On my Android phone, I was able to access the PDF and it took me awhile to learn that learn that I had to double-click a page to zoom in for it to be big enough to read. In Chrome, it works like a charm.

    Most importantly, now that we’re taking NAB to a digital format, could we open it up a bit more? While this has been a great peer-reviewed publication, I’ve never found it very good for fostering discussion. Fantastic at sharing synthesis, summary, news, research, and findings, but always one-directional.

    In the last issue, I wanted to offer some counter-points to Ned’s editorial on climate change, but where was I to do that? Twitter? Facebook? My blog that nobody reads? Here in these comments? We have a similar issue with material produced by eBird and BirdCast, content systems are a one directional mouthpiece for the knowledgeable, but far from a forum for engagement, which is the real strength of our digital age. It would be nice a discussional element adopted as part of NAB’s new direction.

  • Joel Haas

    Apologies. My fault, my Firefox browser problem. Internet explorer downloads the file.

    Good work in the effort to convert ABA pub’s from paper to digital format. I will re-subscribe to NAB at the lower price.

  • Thanks, Joel! Yes, old Firefox can be fast for some things (really fast!) but has all sorts of interface ‘issues’. Life!

  • Hey Tom – Many thanks for the comments! The issue with journals that stop being journals (that is, become part of the blogosphere) is that they then require almost constant mediation, really almost daily. When that is done by volunteers, well, things often fall apart. The way we have tried to remain multi-directional is to keep the “Changing Seasons” essay open to all comers. But since the 2006 recession, very few people feel that they have the time to invest (a few hundred hours) in writing the essay. So the task has fallen to the core, the hard core, mostly Associate Editors, Regional Editors, eBird Team Leaders, and myself. I’d be delighted if you’d join the fray! To become interactive is certainly a near-term possibility, but ABA already has many venues for member (and non-member) discussion and debate, including on issues like global warming. Ornithological journals tend to be mostly for digesting and interpreting information; almost none have ‘letters to the editor’ section even! But magazines and blogs (ABA has “Open Mic” even!) are perfect for getting something off the chest – and it can be a quick comment, rather than taking you out of the field for a few hundred hours!

  • Hi Madeline – Sorry I missed your notes earlier. Reading content online and reading it on a downloaded object take some getting used to, as they say. We have not yet settled upon the system for downloading the pdf to the device, but we do know that we won’t be able to create an object in pdf that will be perfectly suited to every screen on every device. Basically, larger screens will always make for a more comfortable reading experience – for almost any media. So although iPad minis and Samsung Galaxy Note and others are fun for watching movies on a plane, they might be on the small side for reading journals like North American Birds. I don’t think the iPad mini will end up being a “staple” for most of us, but I do think tablets (or laptop-tablet hybrids) will be more and more part of the standard kit for field birders in this century. Can you imagine carrying not just all issues of the journal but all of your field guides in a slender tablet? I think this is the library of the future, and with connective devices, the sky is the limit. We will make every effort to make your reading experience a pleasant one with the new journal, and we welcome constant feedback through at least the first few years! But I don’t think that comfortable reading on small screens will be feasible soon. But who knows?!

  • Madeline

    Hi Ned, thanks for the reply. Screen size aside, I still suggest that the layout pay attention to putting each figure as close to the relevant text as possible, even if that means more blank space on a page (remember that will be cyberspace not paper). And if this is the library of the future, then maybe rethinking the aspect ratio of the page. Maybe have the page layout similar a blog page. I am used to reading other journal articles on my computer but trying to make sense of the figures in the Siberian Chiffchaff article was a real test of page manipulation!

  • I think it took me three weeks to respond to Ned’s reply would be a good example of the lesser amount of time some of us have to devote to these kind of efforts.

    Your points about interactivity are very good ones and I think it’s making me realize that my wishfulness was for a more active forum of any kind for discussing distribution. That said, I’m grateful that we have North American Birds at all. It’s my favorite bird publication of any kind.

    If you’re still interested in having some help with North American Birds, I’d love to enter the fray and contribute in any way needed.

  • Andy Birch

    Fantastic news! Can’t wait to read it on my iPad and save all that paper and shipping energy. I personally hate clutter and piles of magazines. It will open it up to potentially more subscribers, esp. overseas. It’s a great resource, so deserves to be more available to more subscribers. Hopefully, you’ll be able to search past issues…which would also make for a tremendous resource and makes it much easier way to find that article from a few years ago. Well done!

  • Me, too.


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