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News from the ABA Recording Standards and Ethics Committee, Supplemental

This blog post supplements the RSEC report, “News from the ABA Recording Standards and Ethics Committee”, published in the October 2014 issue of Birder’s Guide.

Many of the recent changes made to the Recording Rules and Interpretations were simply minor language updates or updates relating to where we are now, 10 years after the last update to these standards. The changes that actually directly affect how we count/list birds are discussed below. It is important to note all of these rule changes must be applied to official lists submitted to the ABA’s Listing Central. Thus, as examples, you may now add to your list(s) that Gray-cheeked Thrush you heard real-time via your house rooftop microphone in 2009, but you must remove from your list(s) the Northern Saw-whet Owl you banded but did not see released.

Acknowledgements – The RSEC received very helpful input from many birders leading up to these updates, and we are very grateful to all of you that shared your thoughts with us. In particular, we thank Michael Retter, Jeff Skrentny, and Geoff Williamson for the extensive food for thought they provided.


Rule 1.C – As remote audio-visual devices become more popular, the RSEC felt it was necessary to address their usage and when a bird may or may not count if detected by a remote device. We hope the language is pretty self-explanatory as to when the recorder may count a bird detected with remote devices. For Rule 1.C(ii), a microphone counts as a sound augmentation device.

Rule 2.B(iii) – It was the unanimous consent of the RSEC that once an exotic species is accepted to the ABA official checklist, if it is recorded during its time on that checklist, it should always count on a birder’s list, even if the exotic species becomes extirpated or is removed for other reasons at some future point from the official ABA checklist.

Crested Myna, here in China, was once an established species in the Vancouver, BC, area. Photo by Thomas Brown via flickr

Crested Myna, here in China, was once an established species in the Vancouver, BC, area. Photo by Thomas Brown via flickr

Some birders spend a considerable amount of time and effort locating ABA “official” exotic species to record on their lists. The RSEC felt strongly that a birder should not be penalized for taking the time and effort to record the species and then have that species removed from their list when it is taken off of the official ABA checklist. Although the Crested Myna is the prime example of this rule that everyone references, the same might someday be said about several of the ABA Area’s long-present exotic species, including, for example, Spot-breasted Oriole, Budgerigar, and Red-whiskered Bulbul in Florida. If a birder successfully makes the effort to record an exotic species during its tenure on the ABA checklist, then it is the decision of this RSEC that the birder should be entitled to keep that species on his/her list permanently.

Rule 2.B(v) – The RSEC, with three rounds of voting four in favor and one against, voted to allow native reintroduced species (NRIs) to be countable as soon as that species is documented successfully hatching young in the wild (we are working on compiling the threshold dates of countability for each population concerned). This primarily affects the countability of California Condor and Aplomado Falcon, as well as some populations of, for example, Trumpeter Swan and Whooping Crane. First and foremost, this decision is not a decision by the RSEC to redefine or argue the rules of successful establishment currently used by the ABA Checklist Committee (CLC) or by any state bird records committees (BRCs), such as Texas and the Aplomado Falcons. The previous recording standards required NRIs to meet the same set of standards of establishment as exotic species. It was the consensus of four of the RSEC members that listing should be more about the enjoyment and respect of the species involved, versus the science of establishment. The pure birding joy of seeing an Aplomado Falcon perched in that searing early morning Texas light, or hearing and seeing the immensity of a California Condor soaring up and out of the Grand Canyon – these native joys should not be marred by an asterisk of countability. It was also consensus among the four members that making these species countable could only improve awareness about the serious conservation issues facing these species.

Rule 3.B – The RSEC unanimously agreed that birds that are rehabilitated and then released may be counted upon their release. The RSEC also unanimously agreed in principle that to prevent a bird’s access to medical care that needs it so that other birders may count the species prior to its rehabilitation is completely unethical.

Rule 3.C(i) – The RSEC unanimously agreed to delete the “such as initial perching…” clause and the clause preventing the countability of nocturnal birds released during the day until the following evening. The previous clause is simply impractical in certain circumstances (as in the release of a rehabilitated Horned Grebe for example – how does one wait for an “initial perching” to count that species?). The RSEC also felt that preventing the counting of nocturnal species released during the day could result in that bird being subjected to undue stress the following evenings with birders’ attempts to locate it. The RSEC felt that it was in the nocturnal bird’s best interest to be countable upon release.

Rule 3.C(iv) – The RSEC unanimously agreed to remove the clause addressing banders in keeping with the above-noted changes to Rule 3.B and 3.C. The RSEC also agreed that a level “listing field” for all birders was the better option. Banders may still count the birds they band if they see them in accordance with Rule 3.C(i), of course.

Rule 4.A – The RSEC unanimously agreed to delete the “while it is wild and unrestrained” clause because a documentation may occur during banding.

Rule 4.A(ii) – The RSEC unanimously agreed that many birders learn about species by having a trip leader or a fellow birder tell them what they are seeing. The RSEC felt that this camaraderie represents much of what this hobby is about, and the language of the Recording Standards should reflect that sentiment. The previous Rule 4.C was removed for similar reasons.

The RSEC is currently addressing when an exotic species newly added to the ABA Checklist may be counted. We will post that ruling on our website as soon as we finish our discussions and voting. Additionally, we are working on compiling a file on extirpated exotic species and reintroduced native species that indicates the dates of countability for each species concerned.

Should anyone have any questions, concerns, feedback, etc., please feel free to bring them to us at rsec AT We will do our best to address them in a timely manner.

Submitted respectfully,

Matt Fraker

Chair pro-tem of the RSEC



ABA Recording Rules (as amended 1999 2014)

Lines crossed out are omitted. Lines in bold are added.

Members who submit lifelist and annual a life list totals and/or other lists to the American Birding Association for publication in the annual ABA List Report Association’s “Listing Central” must observe the ABA Recording Rules. Many non-members who enjoy maintaining lists may also find these rules useful. The member submitting a list is henceforth in these Rules termed the “recorder”.

A bird included A recorder may include a species in totals submitted for ABA lists must have been if the recorder has encountered a bird that is a member of the species in accordance with the following ABA Recording Rules.

  1.  The bird must have been within the prescribed area and time-period when encountered, and the encounter must have occurred within the prescribed time period.
  2.  The bird must have been a member of a species currently accepted by listed on the ABA Checklist Committee for lists within its area, or by the A.O.U. Checklist ABA Area, on the AOU Check-list for lists outside the ABA Area and within the A.O.U. AOU Area, or by on the Clements Checklist for all other areas.
  3. The bird must have been alive, wild, and unrestrained when encountered.
  4. Diagnostic field-marks for the bird characteristics, sufficient for the recorder to identify it to species, must have been seen and/or heard and/or documented by the recorder at the time of the encounter for the bird encountered.
  5. The bird must have been encountered under conditions that conform to the ABA Code of Birding Ethics.

Interpretations of the Recording Rules

originally published in the 1996, and modified in 1999, 2003, 2004, and 2004 2014 by the ABA Recording Standards & Ethics Committee

The five ABA Recording Rules should define what is countable in the vast majority of circumstances. The ABA Recording Standards & Ethics Committee has developed the following definitions and interpretations to guide recorders in those few special situations where the Rules may not be sufficiently comprehensive.

RULE 1: The bird must have been within the prescribed area and time-period when encountered, and the encounter must have occurred within the prescribed time period.

A. “Within” means that the bird must be within the prescribed area when observed, although the observer need not be. For example, if an observer on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande identifies a bird across the river on the Mexican side, the bird may be counted on his/her Mexican list but not on his/her ABA Area list.

B. Prescribed area and time period are defined for the particular list:

  • (i) The ABA Checklist Area is defined in the ABA’s bylaws and in the current ABA Checklist as the 49 continental United States, Canada, the French islands of St. Pierre et and Miquelon, and adjacent waters to a distance of 200 miles from land or half the distance to a neigh boring neighboring country, whichever is less. Excluded by these boundaries are Bermuda, the Bahamas, Hawaii, and Greenland.
  • (ii) A subarea of the ABA Checklist Area, or other prescribed area, is as defined by its legal boundaries. If not legally defined otherwise, it includes adjacent waters (rivers, lakes, bays, sounds, etc.) out to half the distance to a neighboring area, but not beyond 200 miles.
  • (iii) Birds observed on or over an ocean are counted for the area having jurisdiction over the nearest land, if within 200 miles.

C. “Encounter” means seen and/or heard live and not remotely.

  • (i) A bird seen on a webcam or other remote camera may not be counted, except for lists specifically defined to include birds seen remotely.
  • (ii) A bird heard via a sound augmentation device may be counted only if the recorder is present at the location of the device and hears the vocalization in real-time.

RULE 2: The bird must have been a species must be currently accepted by listed on the ABA Checklist Committee for lists within its area, or by the A.O.U. Checklist ABA Area, on the AOU Check-list for lists outside the ABA Area and within the A.O.U. AOU Area, or by on the Clements Checklist for all other areas.

A. “Species” means that each full species is counted only once on most ABA lists. Additional subspecies or color morphs are not counted as additional entries except on lists specifically defined to include such identifiable forms.

B. currently accepted by “Currently listed on the ABA Checklist Committee” means:

  • (i) the species must be (a) included in the current published ABA Checklist, as modified by subsequent Supplements, or (b) formally accepted by the ABA Checklist Committee for inclusion in the next published ABA Checklist or Supplement. Species listed as “species of hypothetical origin” and species that have been deleted from the main ABA Checklist are NOT considered to be accepted;;
  • (ii) an indigenous species currently accepted by the listed in Appendix: Part 2, Provenance Uncertain, are not considered countable;
  • (iii) a species listed in Appendix: Part 1, Extirpated Exotics, may be counted if encountered prior to its removal from the main Checklist Committee;
  • (iv) an indigenous species currently listed on the Checklist but observed in the past when it was not considered a valid full species may be counted;
  • (iii) (v) an individual of an introduced species may be counted only where and when it part of, or straying from, a population that meets the ABA Checklist’s Checklist Committee’s definition for of 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;
  • (vi) an individual straying from the distant of a reintroduced indigenous species may be counted if it is part of a population;
  • (iv) an indigenous species which is reintroduced into an historic range of the species may be counted when the population meets the ABA Checklist’s definition of being established that has successfully hatched young in the wild or when it is not possible to reasonably separate the reintroduced individuals individual from naturally occurring individuals a wild-born individual;
  • (vvii) hybrids are not countable. Any bird with physical characteristics outside the natural range of variation for the species and clearly suggesting that it is a hybrid should be treated as a hybrid under the ABA Recording Rules. Songs Song in oscine passerines are is a learned behavior and should not be used as evidence of hybridization; with that group.

C. A.O.U.“AOU Check-list means the latest edition of the A.O.U. Checklist American Ornithologists’ Union Check-list of North American Birds and its Supplements.

D. “AOU Area” means the geographic area covered by the AOU Check-list of North American Birds.

E. “Clements Checklist” means the latest edition of “The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: A Check List”, by James F. Clements, and its Supplements Updates and Corrections.

E F. The taxonomic status of a bird as a full species, and thus its countability, is determined by the standard for the list on which the bird is to be counted. The ABA Checklist is the standard for all list areas contained completely within its the ABA Area. The A.O.U. AOU Check-list of North American Birds is the standard for all list areas contained completely within its the Check-list‘s area, covered and with at least some portion outside the ABA Area. The Clements Checklist area. Clements of Birds of the World is the standard for all list areas with at least some portion outside the A.O.U. AOU Check-list area. (Updated supplements will be issued annually for the ABA Checklist, the A.O.U. Check-list and Clements.) Thus, it is possible that two birds seen in the continental USA would be counted as one species on state and ABA Area lists, and as two species on a World List, or vice versa (from Winging It, October 1992, p. 20)., if their taxonomic treatment differs between the ABA Checklist and the Clements Checklist.

F G. Updated supplements will be issued annually for the ABA Checklist, the A.O.U. Checklist AOU Check-list, and the Clements Checklist. Should updating supplements be overdue by one year for any of these three standards, recorders may petition the ABA Recording Rules Standards and Ethics Committee for exceptions to the standards, based on recent publication of a significant taxonomic change.

RULE 3: The bird must have been alive, wild, and unrestrained when encountered.

A. “Alive” means after hatching. Eggs are not counted as live birds.

B. “Wild” means that the bird’s occurrence at the time and place of observation is not because it, or its recent ancestors, has ever been transported or otherwise assisted by man for reasons other than for rehabilitation purposes.

  • (i) An otherwise wild bird that voluntarily uses or is attracted to a feeder, nest box, tape recorder audio playback, ship at sea, or other nonnatural device, without being captured, is still considered to be wild. Physical contact between an observer and a bird does not automatically preclude a bird from being counted, as there are situations where wild birds have learned to eat from outstretched hands, or have used people as temporary perches.
  • (ii) A species observed far from its normal range may be counted if, in the observer’s best judgment and knowledge, it arrived there unassisted by man. A wild bird following or riding a ship at sea, without being captured, is considered to be traveling unassisted by man.
  • (iii) Birds Individuals of exotic species descendant from escapes escapees or released birds are considered “wild” when they are part of a population which that meets the ABA Checklist Committee’s definition of an established introduced population.
  • (iv) A bird that is not wild and which later moves unassisted to a new location or undergoes a natural migration is still not wild.

C. “Unrestrained” means not held captive in a cage, trap, mistnet mist net, hand, or by any other means, and not under the influence of such captivity. A bird is considered under the influence of captivity after its release until it regains the activities and movements of a bird which that has not been captured.

  • (i) A bird is under the influence of captivity during its initial flight movement away from its release point and during subsequent activity reasonably influenced by the captivity, such as initial perching and preening or early sleeping or roosting near the release point.
  • (ii) A nocturnal species released during daylight which goes to roost near the point of release is considered under the influence of captivity until the next nightfall, when it has left its roost and begun normal nocturnal activities.
  • (iii) A wild bird that is injured, sick, oiled, or otherwise incapacitated, but which retains a reasonable freedom of movement, may be counted.
  • (iv) Banders working on licensed projects under proper permits may count, for their personal lists, the birds that they band, without the restrictions described in (i) and (ii).

D. “When observed” encountered” means that a bird alive and unrestrained when observed, but which later dies or is collected or captured, may be counted.

RULE 4: Diagnostic field-marks for the bird characteristics, sufficient for the recorder to identify it to species, must have been seen and/or heard and/or documented by the recorder at the time of the encounter for the bird encountered.

A. “Diagnostic field-marks” characteristics” means the natural characteristics needed to uniquely determine the species of the bird while it is wild and unrestrained.. It is not necessary to experience every possible field mark diagnostic characteristic, but simply sufficient field marks characteristics to eliminate the possibility of the bird being any other species.

  • (i) Identification is not valid if it is based on nonnatural characteristics, such as an injury, anomalous plumage modification, a leg band, or other artificial marking.
  • (ii) Identification of the bird may be made subsequent to after the initial encounter. It is not always possible to secure a positive identification initially, but, using physical and/or written documentation made at the time of the encounter, identification is sometimes possible after the fact, upon consultation with of references and/or other authorities. In rare, With very tricky identifications, for example, photographs or recordings sometimes reveal minute, yet critical, details, that were not visible discernible during the initial encounter. Furthermore, our knowledge of how to separate similar species in the field is continually advancing. On rare occasions, a species may not be identifiable until after it has been captured and studied in the hand, or had feather and blood samples analysed analyzed. In such instances of “after-the-fact” ID, the bird may be counted on one’s life-list lists.
  • (iii) Since all recorders, from time to time, have birds pointed out and identified to them by others, it is not necessary that the recorder be the one who identifies the bird species, merely that he/she sees and/or hears sufficient diagnostic field marks at the time of the encounter.
  • (ii) A recorder may identify the bird encountered based on information and/or documentation provided by other observers.

B. For a first encounter with a species, no matter which list is involved, identification may be by sight or sound. The sighting or sounding encounter may be brief, but in combination, field marks characteristics seen or heard must be sufficiently distinctive to distinguish the bird from all other species. Recorders must also assure themselves that tape recordings audio playbacks are not being mistaken for birds.

RULE 5: The bird must have been encountered under conditions that conform to the ABA Code of Birding Ethics version current at the time of the encounter. In any situation for any list, a species may not be counted if the attempts to see or hear the bird are in violation of the this ethical provisions of Rule 5.

C. “By the recorder” means that the recorder himself/herself must discern the distinguishing characteristics either visually or audibly. The recorder’s identification is not valid if it is based on characteristics seen, heard, or recognized by another person but not by the recorder, or if the recorder does not recognize the characteristics seen or heard as being uniquely distinctive to the particular species.

RULE 5: The bird must have been encountered under conditions that conform to the ABA Code of Birding Ethics.

A. “ABA Code of Birding Ethics” means the Code of Ethics adopted officially by the ABA at the time of the observation.

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Matt Fraker

Matt Fraker

In 2005, Matt Fraker and Sherri Thornton acquired the 160 acre Scovill-Ball farm in central Illinois' Mackinaw Valley, which along with a 52 acre property to the west, sits amidst the 2000 acre plus Mackinaw Bluffs Corridor Natural Area in southeast Woodford County of Illinois. Their ongoing conservation efforts include prairie restoration, bottomland forest restoration, savanna restoration and management of the ParkLands Foundation nature preserves. Matt owns the Prairie Oak Veterinary Center in Bloomington, IL and is very active with the ParkLands Foundation which protects and ecologically restores historic natural lands in the middle and upper Mackinaw Valley watershed in central Illinois. Matt has been birding longer than he can remember. His 100th bird was a Little Blue Heron he saw in Florida when he was six. After graduating from vet school, he spent 12 years using his free time travelling North America with his dog, "Hobbs". Now, with three children and his extremely patient wife, he has since been working his way towards "the 700 club", while keeping tabs on several birding hotspots in central Illinois. Matt is also a member of the ABA Board of Directors.
  • Rick Wright

    “Birds that are rehabilitated and then released may be counted upon their release.” BUT “A bird is considered under the influence of captivity after its release until it regains the activities and movements of a bird that has not been captured.”

    Which is it? This is the sort of thing that makes me glad to have shuffled off the coil of “listing.”

    • Nick Block

      Both. 🙂 Previously, if rehabilitated birds were released at a location other than where they were captured, they were not considered wild because they had been transported by man. Now you can count rehabbed birds, no matter if they are released at a different location than their capture site. Once they are released, they still need to meet the requirements of Rule 3.C, though. I suppose the first sentence you quoted could have made that clearer by adding “provided they also meet the requirements of Rule 3.C.”

  • Gerald

    So to confirm: If I attend a saw-whet banding as part of an education program, I cannot count the owls when they are in the net or as they fly away from the bander. However, if I see it land in a tree, watch it for two minutes, and it flies away from the tree when my back is turned, is that countable? Thank you.

    • Nick Block

      Hi Gerald,
      The maddeningly ambiguous answer is that it’s up to you. Basically, you can count a bird that has resumed “normal” activity not reasonably influenced by its captivity. If you think the perching in the tree meets this requirement, then you can count the owl. If you think the flight away from the initial perch is what meets the threshold, then you could not count it because you didn’t see that activity.

      We removed the “initial perching” phrase partially so that you could count nocturnal birds released during the day, because they often will fly to an initial roost and just remain there until dark. We thought that the initial daytime perching of a nocturnal species would reflect the normal activity of a wild bird. When you’ve seen that same nocturnal species released at night, then it’s not as clear cut. For now, that decision is up to the birder.

      If you would like us to make a formal “ruling” on this issue, though, we’d be happy to take it under consideration. Just send us an email at, ideally with a proposal that could result in a Yes or No vote (we can adjust the language of a question to make it such a proposal, though, so don’t worry too much about this).

    • Rick Wright

      Flying away from the bander is entirely “normal” activity. I’d suggest that you could count the bird the instant it leaves the hand.

      • Nick Block

        Well, maybe not the *instant* it leaves the hand. Rule 3.C(i): “A bird is under the influence of captivity during its initial movement away from its release point and during subsequent activity reasonably influenced by the captivity.”

        Where the line is drawn between “initial movement away” and activity not “reasonably influenced by the captivity”, though, is purposely ambiguous. It’s up to the birder. But I would suggest that “the instant it leaves the hand” would not qualify. 🙂

  • Elliot Schunke

    So, a bander that bands and releases a bird but does not see it regain normal activity cannot count the species, but the data that they collect (hummingbird or elaenia measurements or DNA as some examples) can be used by any others who saw the bird to count it on their lists?

    • Nick Block


  • Gordon Payne

    Many thanks to the RSEC for making these clarifications. I think that if you take the time to look at the rules, they are very clear. Of course, there will always be unique situations where judgement calls will need to be made (ie. “Can I tick it or not?”). Such decisions are clearly up to the individual birder based on the guidelines. If you are not comfortable with your sighting, don’t take the tick.

  • Pingback: I just picked up a lifer… | North Coast Diaries()

  • I would like to express my opinion regarding Rule 2 B (iii). I saw all 5 of the species in question when they were on the ABA Checklist but in my opinion only the Crested Myna should be allowed back on our respective personal ABA lists. The species was in fact established & was extirpated due to several factors regarding changes in it’s environment.

    The other 4 species were never really established & never should have gone on the ABA Checklist in the first place. Only the myna would meet the ABA Checklist standards of today when it went on the checklist.

    In my opinion Black Francolin was never established in Florida or Louisiana.

    The African Collared-Dove was established in St. Petersburg, (my home town) for 50 years & was extirpated primarily because the little old ladies & men who fed them passed away. Shortly after the people who fed them were gone the doves were gone as well. The advent of Eurasian Collared-Doves on the scene at that very time may have added to their demise as well. But the point is that there was never a wild self sustaining population. The species was only established in populated areas of St. Petersburg & were totally dependent on people to feed them. Other populations in the US died out in much shorter periods of time & were also dependent on human benefactors.

    Yellow-headed Parrot was never established in Florida & the California & Texas populations would never meet today’s ABA Checklist requirements.

    Blue-gray Tanager was never remotely close to being established in SE Florida & never should have gone on the checklist to begin with.

    I’m not advocating a return to the idea that if an introduced species becomes extirpated that fact alone is proof that the species never was really established & therefor never should have gone on the list & should be expunged from our personal lists. The Smooth-billed Ani for example is now extirpated from 99.9% of it’s Florida range where it was a well established range extender from the Caribbean. Any birds that we see in Florida at present are probably new range extenders from the Bahamas. BUT, if an exotic really NEVER should have gone on the list because it NEVER was established does it make any sense at all to count it on our lists now???

    By the way, when in the next few years the last Budgerigar bites the dust it should stay on our lists because it was really established for the last 65 years but has all but vanished for a number of unproven reasons.

    Keep in mind that when the first edition of the ABA Checklist came out in, (I think) 1972 there were no hard & fast rules in place. Imagine our shock when those of us in Florida found out that the 10 or 12 Blue-gray Tanagers made it on the Checklist & the thousands of Budgies did not.

    So, I’ll put 5 more birds on my ABA list, (I’m really close to 800) 4 on my Lower 48 list & 3 more on my Florida list if everyone else is going to do it, but it will be STUPID !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Nick Block

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Wes! I agree that some of the species in the Extirpated Exotics appendix likely were never established if using today’s criteria. But the Crested Myna is in the same appendix with the rest of the species you mention and thus is in the same category with them. Currently, the intro to that appendix says:
      “Because it seems more likely that these species were never truly established and that they never deserved a place on the Checklist, they were moved to this appendix once all individuals died out.”
      Thus, it seems like the Checklist Committee’s position is that Crested Myna also was never truly established. Ideally, perhaps the Checklist Committee might alter the appendices and put Crested Myna (and, eventually, Budgerigar) in a different category to reflect your opinion. But unless that happens, the RSEC currently prefers to treat all species in the appendix equally.

  • Terry Bronson

    I have comments on two matters.

    Part I: captivity

    It seems to me that the assumption that a bird caught in a banding operation is “captive” is inherently faulty, and the contortions and convolutions of deciding when a bird is “under the influence of captivity” and therefore countable all devolve from that. To me, captivity implies being held against one’s will for an extended period of time; it is more than the transitory few minutes a bird might be immobilized prior to and during banding.

    For example, say one is playing with one’s cat or dog in the yard and tosses a blanket on top of the pet. The animal wrestles with the blanket a bit before extricating itself. Was it captive during that brief period any more than it was before the incident occurred? Clearly no. Such a scenario is analagous to what happens with bird banding operations, except that almost all birds are just not strong enough to escape from the confining net, trap, or cage. (Granted, the trap or cage may be designed to make escape impossible.)

    Let me suggest, therefore, that the 99+% of birds caught in banding operations (including those such as hummingbirds that can’t be banded due to lack of a permit to do so) that were released immediately without being banded or after banding were not “captive” and therefore were “not under the influence of captivity” at any time. They were wild before being caught in the nets, they were wild while in the nets and during the banding process (though with restricted movement), and they were wild after release. They should thus be countable, because, well, they were wild. (Some might want to create a separate category for birds caught in banding operations to differentiate them from those not so caught; I would not be averse to that.)

    The exception to this would be birds not immediately released that are held for a significant period of time–e.g., sent to rehab for a few days, weeks, or even months before being released. Under such circumstances, I would agree they were “captive” in the normal understanding of the term. Upon release, they are again wild birds and thus countable.

    Part II, countability by banders (I am not a bander, but that is not relevant):

    When a bander releases a bird, he/she, unless it is an extremely slow day with few birds being caught, most of the time has to turn his/her attention immediately to the next bird awaiting banding. Also, many bird banding operations utilize several assistants not licensed to band birds to monitor the nets, extract caught birds, and bring them to the bander. Some of these persons may actually see birds flying into the net, or see them free-flying after release. Since they usually see and handle the same birds as banders do in immediately adjacent time periods, any language relating to banders should apply to them too.

    In WV we have a banding station where the bander sits in a small hut to band birds brought to the bander by such assistants. (I suspect there are many other such banding operations.) The hut is enclosed on 3 sides to protect the banders and their paperwork from the elements. What happens is that after banding, the bander sticks his/her hand containing the bird through a small hole in the side wall to release it, but does not actually see the bird fly away because there is no window on that wall. Even if there were a window or the bander was standing in the open air, the bander might not see the bird fly away if he/she had another bird to band.Thus, the bander never did see the bird free-flying, though one or more of the assistants may have.

    Another example: The bander is holding a just-banded bird and is standing next to another person while demonstrating the bird’s field marks, showing the band, letting the the bird be touched to feel feather texture, etc. Then the bird is released; the bander may not watch it fly away since he/she has seen such releases hundreds or thousands of times before, but the other person does, usually avidly, watch it. It defies common sense that only one of those two people, standing side by side, could be able to count the bird just released.

    Therefore, I would propose the following language for Rule 3 section C to get rid of the concepts of “captive” and “under the influence of captivity” and to make no differentiation between banders, their assistants, and non-banders encountering a bird during the same circumstances:

    C. “Unrestrained” means not held in a cage, trap, mist net, hand, or by any other means, or if so held, only during the few minutes necessary to complete the banding or demonstration that was the reason for which the bird was caught.

    (i) A wild bird that is injured, sick, oiled, or otherwise incapacitated may be counted while it retains a reasonable freedom of movement, but if captured for rehabilitation, it would not be countable again until it is released.

    (ii) A bird caught during a bird banding operation may be counted only by the persons present who saw the bird prior to capture, during the recovery and banding operation, or after release. (Optional: A separate category or checkbox shall be created on all lists for such birds.)

    • Nick Block

      Thanks for sharing your extensive thoughts, Terry! I want to pose some follow-up questions, but please let me know if some of my interpretations of your thoughts are incorrect.

      Captivity – I do not think anything in the rules implies that birds held for banding purposes are not considered wild. But the rules do consider such birds to be considered *restrained*. Whether “captive” is an appropriate word to use is definitely a valid point, but I do not think there’s any way to argue that such birds are unrestrained. Perhaps we should replace the word “captive” with “restrained” and “captivity” with “restraint”. Do you think that would make the rule clearer/better?

      Rehab – I think the new wording of Rule 3.B already establishes the status of rehabbed birds as still wild and countable upon release [and resumption of “normal” activity, in accordance with Rule 3.C(i)].

      Countability by banders – So are you proposing a return to the previous rules, which allowed banders to count the banded birds, but now with the addition of anyone present at the banding also being able to count the birds? This would keep the level “listing field”, but it would keep it on the side of counting birds being banded as opposed to making them uncountable by all (which is the route we went).

      “It defies common sense that only one of those two people, standing side by side, could be able to count the bird just released.”

      I disagree. One person saw the bird while it was unrestrained and showing “normal” unrestrained behavior, and one did not. From a birding perspective, I think these are fundamentally different things. But that’s just my current opinion, and I certainly don’t want to discourage you from submitting your proposal!

      In terms of officially submitting a proposal that you would like the RSEC to make a decision on, please send it to us at Thanks again for taking the time to comment!

      • Terry Bronson


        I do think if nothing else is changed that “restrained” is a better term than “captive.”

        However, my proposal, which I’ve already submitted to RSEC, is an attempt to just get rid of the concept of the bird being “restrained” for the short time period that it is in the net and being banded. It’s just the bird’s dumb luck that it blundered into the net, after all. I don’t think it is even capable of knowing it is “restrained”–that’s just something we humans have invented to describe the situation.

        To illustrate how absurd this can get, here’s an admittedly extreme, but not impossible example. A bird is caught in a net at 10:00 am, banded, and released 5 minutes later at 10:05. It is then caught again 10 minutes later at 10:15 (I have actually seen this happen, and I’ve read of other such instances.) and released 5 minutes later at 10:20. It is then caught a third time (some birds just don’t learn!) 10 minutes later at 10:30 and released 5 minutes later at 10:35.

        Thus, the bird is countable prior to 10:00 am, not countable from 10:00 to 10:05, countable from 10:05 to 10:15, not countable from 10:15 to 10:20, countable from 10:20 to 10:30, not countable from 10:30 to 10:35, then countable after 10:35. Is it just me, or this absolutely ludicrous?

        My proposed change also is an attempt to get rid of the language in Rule 3, section C (“A bird is considered under the influence of captivity after its release until it regains the activities and movements of a bird that has not been captured.”) and the language in subsection (i) (“A bird is under the influence of captivity during its initial flight movement away from its release point and during subsequent activity reasonably influenced by the captivity.”) Whether the bird immediately flies or walks away, goes to roost, preens, forages, attacks the person releasing it, etc. to me is immaterial. The bird has been released and is thus not captive or restrained, period. Thus, it should be countable regardless of what it does. To allow folks to interpret when exactly it meets the language quoted above means interpretations will vary, thus in effect making the rules different for different people. Better to just get rid of that language to eliminate the possibility of different interpretations.

        Finally, regarding the banding problem. My point is that all people at a banding station at the same time seeing the same bird under the same circumstances should be treated equally. The RSEC has opted for the negative option of no one counting the bird; I feel all should be able to count it. My view is that listing is all about COUNTING the birds–not NOT COUNTING them. We seem to be poles apart on this.

        One other factor that should be considered is that for quite a few people birds encountered at a banding station may be life birds, state life birds, or at least year birds. Just last week a WV banding station caught and photographed a Kirtland’s Warbler, which in all likelihood due to that documentation will be accepted by the state’s bird records committee as the first documented state record for that species (though there have been several undocumented records over the last 60 years or so). Under the current RSEC language requiring the bird to resume its normal activities, that bird should not be countable since it presumably flew off and disappeared immediately upon release, thus making it impossible to determine if it had resumed its normal activities. But does anyone doubt that interpretations will be made that it had resumed its normal activities and that it will be counted?

  • Edge Wade

    Matt, in reading the voting exchange, I read your comment about dumbass hillbillies who like to shoot big white birds. Yes, people who do that are dumbasses, but please check your facts. Those Kansans who shot the whoopers at Quivira NWR would accept the judgement of being dumbass for doing so, but they would likely risk being arrested again for shooting someone who called them hillbillies. Please don’t malign us hillbillies by associating us with them.

    • Matt Fraker

      Edge —

      I first want to make an admission of guilt here. When I wrote that opinion, it slipped my mind that in our efforts to be completely transparent not only would we be posting voting summaries of our decisions, but also the vote comments themselves. That opinion was meant only for the RSEC, and I grimaced when I saw it in the public forum (although I completely support this level of transparency). I agree 100% on the sentiment that this strongly worded opinion is inappropriate for an ABA public forum and for that I apologize. Since 2009, 13 of the “Eastern” Whooping Cranes have been shot under suspect malicious circumstances — WI x 1, KY x 2, IND x 4, ALA x 1, GA x 3, LA x 2. The level of ignorance behind these shootings is both dangerous and frightening, on top of disgustingly frustrating. AND…that’s probably how I should have worded my opinion in the first place. Lesson learned…

      I am a pro-hunting non-hunter, a gun owner, and a person who spends a lot of time looking like I just survived alone in the woods for a month eating grubs and roots. With that in mind, it would be a little hypocritical for me to be name-calling in such a general fashion that anyone who lives in a “rural” state, owns guns, or hunts should be taking offense at my comments, and again, my apologies for that unintended effect.

      Please feel free to backchannel me if you wish to discuss this any further.

      Matt Fraker

  • matt fraker

    I want to quickly thank Nick Block for being there both days the RSEC offerings “went public” so to speak. Contrary to popular belief, I did not go into hiding in some remote Wyoming mountain range as soon as I saw these published. It just so happened that on both days, I was as frustratingly far from my computer as I could possibly be.

    I was amused by Rick Wright’s point that when a bird flies away from a banding event it’s doing a pretty normal behavior — getting it’s rear end as far away as fast as possible from its captors (or “restrainers” 😉 ).

    Nick used the term “maddingly ambiguous” in response to Gerald’s inquiry, and I don’t know if I completely agree with the “maddingly”. Something had to be done with the previous standard concerning banders. It was an unwieldy standard that had all sorts of goofy issues. We were trying to simplify it and clarify what happens with a banded bird — and as with many of these standards, there were about 100 ways to amend it. “Officially”, we are a committee of five voting members with two advisory non-voting members. Truthfully, though, every ABA member is more or less unofficially a non-voting advisory member of the RSEC. Our next RSEC conference call will be sometime in November I believe, and trust me — most of that discussion will center on the membership responses to the updated standards.

    As a birder, I have always struggled with standards that keep birders from counting exceptional records. The discussion here concerning banding is excellent and most appreciated.

    Terry Bronson’s Kirtland’s Warbler example — a new state record is a pretty darn exciting event in our birding world and it seems counter-intuitive that we may have standards that prevent anyone from putting such a spectacular record on their lists. Elliot Schunke made a parallel point in noting that the person responsible for the ID of a species that 100 other birders might get to now list may not be able to count the record him/herself.

    Quoting Terry:

    “Finally, regarding the banding problem. My point is that all people at a banding station at the same time seeing the same bird under the same circumstances should be treated equally. The RSEC has opted for the negative option of no one counting the bird; I feel all should be able to count it. My view is that listing is all about COUNTING the birds–not NOT COUNTING them. We seem to be poles apart on this.”

    I personally feel that this is an excellent point. I do disagree with the “poles apart” statement even though with the specific issue of banding that may be the case. This RSEC agreed — and you will hear this a lot — that the ABA standards should be looking for a “tie goes to the birder” approach, while the Code of Ethics should be looking for a “tie goes to the bird” approach. Our treatment of native re-introductions, extirpated exotics, how one identifies a species for their list — these were all movements by this RSEC to open the window of countability of species away from the science of establishment, away from ID requirements that intimidate novice birders, and more towards the pure enjoyment of this hobby. These were all changes made with the idea, as Terry put it, “that listing is all about COUNTING the birds–not NOT COUNTING them.”

    As we mentioned, we will discuss many of these issues with our full RSEC in November, and we fully appreciate (and usually enjoy…) these discussions. I do ask of everyone, whether you agree, disagree, etc with the updated standards to please appreciate and respect the efforts of the members of this RSEC. These folks have committed a tremendous amount of finances, time, effort and passion to this project and they will continue to do so.

    • Paul Clapham

      Regarding rule 2.B(iii) — this essentially makes extirpated exotics countable again. So it would be helpful if they appeared in the published ABA checklist in some way, so people could tell what species were involved. I don’t see any way of telling what’s on the “extirpated exotics” short of trawling through old issues of Birding magazine.

  • John Green

    Looking at the six changes published last month, I see five that make it easier for people to count birds, and only one that takes that right away, directed only at banders. This change seems like a solution looking for a problem. Was there some uproar against banders being able to count birds that I don’t know about?

    The “level playing field for all birders” argument seems laughable when another rule change allows counting birds for people who have mounted microphones on their roof. Yes, I could go buy a rooftop microphone to level that field if I had an interest in that, but so can any birder become a bander to level the field. And really, there is no level field ever. For example, some birders have legal access to lands that are off limits to most birders, and their birds count, right? Some birders have the time and money to travel to places in the ABA Area that are out of reach of most birders, and their birds count, right? When will you level those fields?

    This rule change may not have been intended as vindictive, but it seems that way to me. For the record, I am a bander, but I am not going to lose any birds on my list because of this ruling. I just don’t think that people who work as hard for the birds as banders do, usually without pay, need to have a rule change directed against them for no apparent reason. I hope that this change is reconsidered, and soon.

  • Mark


    I can’t find a link to Appendix Part 2, Provenance Uncertain or a listing of what is contained therein on the ABA website. Is the appendix now empty?

    I’m specifically interested on the countability of a population supplemented by the annual release of captive-raised individuals. The population is endangered, but never became extirpated.

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