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Birder's Lifelist - should heard birds be counted?

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Old Wednesday 10th June 2020, 17:09   #1
Shumi
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Birder's Lifelist - should heard birds be counted?

Hi All, hope all is well with you guys in these challenging times!

Ukraine birding community is working on creating a single list/database of all birders in the country and their respective lifelist totals. Obviously we encounter some questions and in this respect I would be grateful for your comments/thoughts on the following:

- do you count only SEEN birds for your lifelists or do you include HEARD species as well? Is there some internationally established "code of ethics" for this matter?
- does the number of photographed species play any role in your lifelists, or do you only count seen birds? Or seen and photographed separately?
- and, lastly, do you guys have some centralized birder's list/database in your home countries/regions? If yes, could you comment briefly on how that is organized?

Thanks so much beforehand for your helpful insights,

Alex
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Old Wednesday 10th June 2020, 17:54   #2
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I know that many people don't count birds that were heard only because of a tradition of not doing so in their community, but if you are creating a system from scratch, I urge you to consider the conservation aspect of this. Not counting birds that are only heard needlessly motivates the birders to try to actually see them. Yes, you will for sure have a code of ethics and whatnot to not disturb birds, but this is really a simple thing you can do for zero cost to influence your birders in the right direction, because observing birds by sound can be much less disturbing - just consider the obvious case of owls.

In general, every person likes to keep track of different things - I for example do keep a separate record of birds that were only heard, only seen and then have a gallery of photographs that serves to catalogue the rest. But again, in the very same way, photographing birds is usually more disturbing than observing them from a distance with a scope, or seeing them for a fleeting moment flying around, so it is again good to consider not needlessly motivating your birders to take photos.

In the Czech Republic, we have a club for birders at http://www.klub300.cz where everyone (after a tiny payment for server costs) can keep their lists and compare themselves with the others and a similar thing is in Poland. In both countries, there are many people who are not members of those and keep lists in whatever manner they find comfortable - but if you want to be taken seriously as a competitor, you kinda have to be on these lists.
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Old Wednesday 10th June 2020, 18:15   #3
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Conventionally in the UK only seen birds are counted. However we have some partially sighted/completely unsighted birders who depend on calls.

There may well be a few birders who have birds on their lists that they identified by call having only got a poor view....

Putting aside for a moment those who have no alternative but to listen for birds, it is the case that if one has seen a bird, then there isn't any doubt about which bird one saw: whereas if one only heard it, then it could be a recording being played by someone else (either to encourage the original bird to call or even from a malicious sense of humour). So there is good reason to insist on visual confirmation of a record even if the call is the identification clincher.

The UK system for birders is essentially run on trust, photos are not an essential adjunct to a list. There is however a considerable literature on the subject of this trust failing and there are known cases of photos being faked to support a record.

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Old Wednesday 10th June 2020, 18:23   #4
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For a lifer I have to see it. After seeing one Iím happy to count heard on my year list. For example. I heard a Capercaillie approx. 5 years ago. Didnít see one until 2 years ago when it went on my life list.

Arrivals and rivals: a birding oddity is a very decent read if youíre looking at when it gets competitive.

Rich
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Old Wednesday 10th June 2020, 18:26   #5
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Originally Posted by Farnboro John View Post
Putting aside for a moment those who have no alternative but to listen for birds, it is the case that if one has seen a bird, then there isn't any doubt about which bird one saw: whereas if one only heard it, then it could be a recording being played by someone else (either to encourage the original bird to call or even from a malicious sense of humour). So there is good reason to insist on visual confirmation of a record even if the call is the identification clincher.
John
My first Sumatran Cochoa unfortunately turned out to be Neil Bostock's tape recorder!

Scandinavians typically tick heard only birds for their life lists. I don't, but it's just personal preference at the end of the day.
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Old Wednesday 10th June 2020, 18:36   #6
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Hmm a bit of a mix for me: I record all the birds I encounter in the Bird Reserve I look after including heard only - Cetti's Warbler is a good example of 'easy to hear, but NOT to see' Also at this time of year, the leaves on the trees are great for birds to hide behind, but if I hear them, they go on the list too. However for the dreaded year list, it's got to be seen!
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Old Wednesday 10th June 2020, 18:48   #7
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I count seen or heard - makes sense to me as has been mentioned a sighting is not always possible, and sometimes not without disturbing the bird.

I was also thinking for certain species such as Marsh/Willow Tit, where a sighting can obtain confirmation of ID from voice, should you count a Willow Tit that you wouldn’t have been able to ID without it making a sound?

All personal preference, but I definitely think counting heard only is as valid as counting a seen and confirmed by sound, for example.
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Old Thursday 11th June 2020, 05:43   #8
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For a life list I have to see it, but for a simple year list I will count birds I hear such as maybe Cetti's Warbler or Nightingale that can be tricky to see. Similarly I've often been on trips in Europe or central Europe & have heard birds like Quail & Corncrake, both of which I've seen for my life list, so as they are so distinctive they will go on my trip list, though marked as heard only.
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Old Thursday 11th June 2020, 06:16   #9
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Keeping lists is down to you, meaning you can include what you want and record how you want. Essentially a list is purely a record of your memories.

That said this may change over time - you may become involved in a competition on a friendly basis and therefore the list becomes more open to scrutiny.

I would recommend marking heard only against birds 'heard only' or even devise a system of your own - heard only, seen poorly etc. It sounds silly but I used quarantine time to go through lists that I haven't really paid much attention to - I was surprised with some of the birds I had seen that I couldn't actually remember seeing! They were like 35 plus years ago. Luckily my father keeps more complete records so I could cross reference the birds and in fact some of my written notes of days out were in his note book whereas I just have the tick on a bird list...

Once your list becomes more complete over time it may inspire you 'upgrade' the heard birds or the poorly seen but as a rule the opportunity will come round again.

My River Warbler falls into the poorly seen but heard well category. I have Tengmalms in heard only.
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Old Thursday 11th June 2020, 08:49   #10
Euan Buchan
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For me I would rather see it though when I was in a Nature Reserve in Mallorca I wanted to see a Hoopoe only I just heard it calling I was tempted to write it down but I didn't. It all paid off when I finally saw one in Lagos Portugal in February this year.
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Old Thursday 11th June 2020, 09:08   #11
dantheman
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Originally Posted by Shumi View Post
Hi All, hope all is well with you guys in these challenging times!

Ukraine birding community is working on creating a single list/database of all birders in the country and their respective lifelist totals. Obviously we encounter some questions and in this respect I would be grateful for your comments/thoughts on the following:

- do you count only SEEN birds for your lifelists or do you include HEARD species as well? Is there some internationally established "code of ethics" for this matter?
- does the number of photographed species play any role in your lifelists, or do you only count seen birds? Or seen and photographed separately?
- and, lastly, do you guys have some centralized birder's list/database in your home countries/regions? If yes, could you comment briefly on how that is organized?

Thanks so much beforehand for your helpful insights,

Alex
Not an easy one. In the UK historically people would not count heard only for a life list generally ... conversely in a competition listing they might.

Photographed birds would tend to be an irrelevance, or a totally different thing (eg like birds seen by public transport or from the garden).

If you're concerned over photographs from the standpoint of 'verifying records' that's a different matter - generally only country accepted birds can count - but do you want to have to police it, or just go on trust?? You will get a number of 'single observer records' - don't know how other databases/groups deal with.

Since a heard record is a record of the bird (ie it was there), then I'd imagine that there is an argument that one can count it - on the other hand it is lazy birding to not have sight records of common birds such as Tawny Owl on (?). What I think they do in the USA for year listing is to have a published list of vulnerable species that birders can tick without having to go into the habitat and disturb them - this tends to be rare breeders such as night callers and especially fragile environments - any species that fit that criteria in Ukraine? Otherwise there's no excuse not to see them ...

(No idea what my Ukraine list is but expect it's less than 50 that I could recall from one visit )
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Old Thursday 11th June 2020, 09:18   #12
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Not an easy one. In the UK historically people would not count heard only for a life list generally ... conversely in a competition listing they might.

Photographed birds would tend to be an irrelevance, or a totally different thing (eg like birds seen by public transport or from the garden).

If you're concerned over photographs from the standpoint of 'verifying records' that's a different matter - generally only country accepted birds can count - but do you want to have to police it, or just go on trust?? You will get a number of 'single observer records' - don't know how other databases/groups deal with.

Since a heard record is a record of the bird (ie it was there), then I'd imagine that there is an argument that one can count it - on the other hand it is lazy birding to not have sight records of common birds such as Tawny Owl on (?). What I think they do in the USA for year listing is to have a published list of vulnerable species that birders can tick without having to go into the habitat and disturb them - this tends to be rare breeders such as night callers and especially fragile environments - any species that fit that criteria in Ukraine? Otherwise there's no excuse not to see them ...

(No idea what my Ukraine list is but expect it's less than 50 that I could recall from one visit )
Thew clue is in the name of the hobby, it's not 'bird listening' is it?
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Old Thursday 11th June 2020, 12:20   #13
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Surely the most sensible and useful thing is to not only record which species but some information about how you identified each. For example, a very brief glimpse of a species may well be less firm evidence than a well heard song. If you do this then a) your records have more value as a scientific resource, and b) you can "cut" them according to the criteria of the listers you're trying to match. For example, you'll be able to compare your list to those of people who count both heard and seen, but also to those who only count birds "seen well".

I try to do this myself: I think the downside is it means more extensive notes which can eat lots of time if you're in a species-rich place..... I won't tell you how many I've marked as "ngv" ("not good view").

The other good thing this does is make you think about sound. Now I'm a bit more familiar with common calls, I'm amazed at the birders I meet who are completely ignorant of them. Even in this biodiversity-poor place (UK), if you go for a walk in a park and don't know the calls you'll miss about 50-80% of the species.
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Old Thursday 11th June 2020, 12:35   #14
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For a life list I, along with the vast majority of other birders, count only birds that have been seen.

If you check the published life lists on sites such as BUBO listing and Surfbirds you will see that nearly everyone stipulates no heard-only birds. Some sites show heard-only birds separate from the main list, which is what I do - my life list is around 5000 species plus another 75 or so heard-only.

When day-to-day birding I count heard birds just the same as seen ones. But that wasn't the original question.

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Old Thursday 11th June 2020, 14:10   #15
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It's a bit of both. Italian birders usually count heard birds, but as others have said I don't tick a lifer unless I have seen it, although a heard only known species will go on my year list. There are some exceptions though: I have ticked Corncrake even if we only heard it in Scotland, but it couldn't have been anything else and it was literally one metre away. This said, I will not be happy until I do see one.

In Italy, being Italy , there are 3 (as far as I know) national databases. One is Ornitho.it which is the same platform that they have in France, Austria and Switzerland I think. Then there's eBird (of course), and the newest one is uBird , which was launched by EBN Italy (the largest birding organisation here, which we are members of) in 2018. My OH used to use Ornitho, but has now stopped logging his observations, which he only inputs in a file on his computer. I have started using uBird in March during our lockdown, and I think I will continue this way, as it's very straightforward, although the features (like sorting data etc) are a bit basic. Some people also use iNaturalist, obviously those who take an interest in other creatures, too.

EDIT: there are also some regional databases.

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Old Thursday 11th June 2020, 15:35   #16
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Thew clue is in the name of the hobby, it's not 'bird listening' is it?
It is if your eyes don't work. Inclusion, right?

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Old Thursday 11th June 2020, 16:09   #17
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I don't count heard only birds. Tropical birding would become too easy that way. I find it kind of nice that some birds stay out of reach, with only a tiny chance of actually spotting one. Some rare endemics that are only heard but not spotted.

Obviously, I don't have many nocturnal birds on my list either, even some common owls that I've heard almost every night on some trips. I'm also reluctant to aim big torches at nocturnal birds, so I'll just have a shorter list than some. But that is OK, because I know my own rules and conditions (including not using guides, minimising use of private transport, etc) so I see my "achievement" in that light. Of course I try to see birds, but for me birding is usually part of a more holistic nature experience that often includes hiking and wilderness camping so while I'm trying to see as much as possible I'm not obsessed with getting every possible bird.

However, if the purpose is science (establishing the presence of a certain species at a specific location) then counting heard only is of course valid, but I'm not doing that kind of stuff.

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Old Thursday 11th June 2020, 16:39   #18
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The official listing rules of the American Birding Association (ABA) state that in order to be counted: Diagnostic characteristics, sufficient for the recorder to identify it to species, must have been seen and/or heard and/or documented for the bird encountered.

To me, the requirement that a bird be seen in order to be counted can lead to more bird disturbance.

The ABA also requires that: The bird must have been encountered under conditions that conform to the ABA Code of Birding Ethics. This includes rules about stressing birds and exposing them to danger. Using playback to see a bird so that you can count it would mean that you have exposed it to danger. To me that means that you can no longer count it.

It is all about the welfare of the birds.
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Old Thursday 11th June 2020, 17:12   #19
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In Italy, being Italy , there are 3 (as far as I know) national databases. One is Ornitho.it which is the same platform that they have in France, Austria and Switzerland I think. Then there's eBird (of course), and the newest one is uBird , which was launched by EBN Italy (the largest birding organisation here, which we are members of) in 2018. My OH used to use Ornitho, but has now stopped logging his observations, which he only inputs in a file on his computer. I have started using uBird in March during our lockdown, and I think I will continue this way, as it's very straightforward, although the features (like sorting data etc) are a bit basic. Some people also use iNaturalist, obviously those who take an interest in other creatures, too.

EDIT: there are also some regional databases.
That paragraph makes my eyes water! A friend of mine once said tongue in cheek/sarcastically to a poster on this forum a year or so back: "nothing sums up the excitement, spontaneity and joy of twitching more than a bunch of statistics" In that vein I might add: "nothing sums up the beauty, joy and spiritual satisfaction that I get from my encounters with the Natural World quite like a bloody database!"

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Old Thursday 11th June 2020, 17:30   #20
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The official listing rules of the American Birding Association (ABA) state that in order to be counted: Diagnostic characteristics, sufficient for the recorder to identify it to species, must have been seen and/or heard and/or documented for the bird encountered.

To me, the requirement that a bird be seen in order to be counted can lead to more bird disturbance.

The ABA also requires that: The bird must have been encountered under conditions that conform to the ABA Code of Birding Ethics. This includes rules about stressing birds and exposing them to danger. Using playback to see a bird so that you can count it would mean that you have exposed it to danger. To me that means that you can no longer count it.

It is all about the welfare of the birds.
If I read the bold bit correctly then the record doesn't have to be good enough to "get anything" on the bird if the call is diagnostic? Do they have to see it at all? That "and/or" very much suggests not.

As an aside and perhaps risking thread drift, in the UK there is no national birding authority, and the birdwatcher's code is purely voluntary. Why, in the land of the free, do people feel the need to belong to something, as well as have someone make up rules and tell them what to do and how to list? Our own dear BOU, for all its faults, tells us our lists are our own business and so is what we put on them.

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Old Thursday 11th June 2020, 20:47   #21
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I personally count heard only. In Britain I have 2 on my list, quail and corncrake that I have seen abroad but only heard here. I did have a policy of seeing everything for my, small, world list until I heard an odd crake in western sahara. 5 of us checked the tiny reed bed for about 40 mins but nothing emerged........ till the next day, in front of someone else who happened to have a camera handy. This is the only Allen's Galinule on my list and its staying on. Ultimately, as has been said before, your list your rules, unless you wish to be competitive when a set of criteria must be generally agreed.
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Old Thursday 11th June 2020, 21:02   #22
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Thew clue is in the name of the hobby, it's not 'bird listening' is it?

Read post #1 again. Birding ...
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Old Friday 12th June 2020, 00:07   #23
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If I read the bold bit correctly then the record doesn't have to be good enough to "get anything" on the bird if the call is diagnostic? Do they have to see it at all? That "and/or" very much suggests not.

John
That is correct John. You are not required to see the bird at all, just be able to make a positive identification. This can be by sight or sound. It can also be done after the fact, based on photos or audio recordings. The only caveat on photos and recordings is that you have had to make them in person. No remote observations such as webcams.
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Old Friday 12th June 2020, 02:15   #24
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I should not be drawn into this antiquated discussion, but: the average British birder is much more likely to make an error on Willow W/Chiffchaff identification by sight than by sound. In addition, I strongly support Jan in post two on what he said regarding the conservation/disturbance aspect of this.

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Old Friday 12th June 2020, 06:56   #25
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There was a time that you could only count birds that you shot. With increased knowledge of field recognition, seen only became acceptable, preferably with a photograph. In recent times, bird sounds have become much better known and documented, making heard only an accepted way of recording. So, yes!
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