American Birding Podcast



The ABA adds Hawaii – Now What?

At the ABA’s annual membership meeting at the organization headquarters in Delaware City, Delaware, last week, the ABA membership officially voted to include Hawaii in the ABA Area by a significant margin. About 80% of the ballots received were in support of this change, and we’d like to thank all members who cared enough to return their proxy ballots and make their voices heard. We recognize that this issue is felt strongly by many in our membership, and skeptically by others, but we feel that our mission – to inspire people to enjoy and protect wild birds – is better served with Hawaiian birds and birders in the fold, and we’re excited to welcome both.


All that said, there are clearly some logistical questions that come from adding an entire state’s avifauna to what has generally been a steadily, but slowly, growing list. I hope that this post will help answer some of those questions.

So Can I Count Hawaiian Birds Immediately?

No. Officially the ABA Checklist Committee (CLC), with input from the Hawaiian Bird Records Committee, will address which birds will be included on the ABA Checklist. We expect this process to take a few months, and hopefully no longer than a year. The updated ABA Checklist, including all countable Hawaiian birds, will be included in the next issue of Birder’s Guide to Listing & Taxonomy. We estimate that Hawaii will add something on the order of 100-115 species to the ABA Checklist. Of course this doesn’t preclude anyone from making provisional estimates now, based on what is likely to be included. All native birds, for instance, are shoe-ins.

What About the Exotics?

Incorporation of Hawaii also means incorporating the established populations of introduced exotics on the islands. In fact, upwards of 30% of the new species added to the ABA Checklist will be introduced, and it’s figuring out which ones will count and which ones won’t that will be the biggest challenge. In 2014, the ABA’s Recording Standards and Ethics Committee (RSEC) clarified that an exotic species on the ABA list can be counted if it meets the CLC’s standard for “established”. This standard intentionally does not set any threshold for range. That standard is determined by the individual birder. For instance, a birder could conceivably count a Muscovy Duck away from Texas or Florida if they wanted to (though few likely would), though the CLC has stated that creating a list of places where certain introduced species are established is a priority.

What this means for Hawaii is that there are a number of species that are well-established on the islands but not established, even if present, on the mainland. Determining how to handle those species will be the work of both the RSEC and the CLC in the coming months.

What About the Ongoing Big Years?

John Weigel, Olaf Danielson, Laura Keene, and Christian Hagenlocher will not need to immediately make plans to travel to Hawaii before the end of the year. Until the birds are officially included on the ABA Checklist, they do not officially count for any Big Year. The final totals of the current Big Year birders will stand in the new ABA-Continental category. Time will tell whether birders will choose that as the gold standard as opposed to a Big Year that includes Hawaii.

What about Midway?

Technically a US unincorporated territory, Midway Atoll lies between the main Hawaiian Islands and Kure Atoll, which is politically part of the State of Hawaii. This makes Midway an enclave, as are the District of Columbia, St. Pierre et Michelon, and the Canadian Territories, all of which the ABA considers part of the ABA Area. We will likely follow the lead of the Hawaiian birding community, which includes Midway as part of the state for listing purposes. This allows us to be consistent in saying that the ABA Area includes all US states and Canadian provinces, plus territorial enclaves.

Will ABA Rarity Codes Change?

Possibly. There are a number of seabird species that are common on the Hawaiian Islands, but still quite rare on the mainland – Laysan Albatross, Hawaiian Petrel, and Red-tailed Tropicbird, to give a few examples. While the ABA Codes are little more than useful shorthand to determine the relative rarity of a species, people enjoy using them. The decision as to what bird deserves which code is made by ABA CLC, and these codes will be evaluated before Hawaiian birds are included on the ABA Checklist. Whether this means that there will be separate Hawaii and mainland codes, incorporation into the existing rarity code structure, or elimination of the code system completely, is entirely up to the CLC.


I hope that this helps clarify some of the outstanding questions regarding the inclusion of Hawaii. If there are any other questions that you’d like covered, but which aren’t included here, please let us know in the comments. We welcome questions about how this process will unfold, but we kindly ask that commenters not rehash this settled issue as we work on moving forward.

Welcome Hawaii, and welcome Hawaiian birds!