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Birders often find themselves "put on the spot" to produce details for rare species observed.

Those unfamiliar with the concept of producing written details or providing documentation of a sighting may feel somewhat persecuted when informed that their "say-so" is not good enough to make a record legitimate.



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The initial enthusiasm and excitement of finding and reporting a good bird can quickly turn to disappointment, discouragement, and depression when their undocumented record is treated with skepticism by the local or regional "experts." Unfortunately, this treatment is something that most of us have had to endure during developmental stages of our bird-watching skills. Many birders understand the importance of taking field notes and documenting rarities but may only rarely or irregularly practice such good habits because they find it tedious, it requires "work" that takes the fun out of their hobby, they are too busy to "get around to it," they assume that someone else will do it, or they just are not sure what is needed or how to write up such details.

At some point, all birders have probably been guilty of observing a rarity for which they have never written notes or supplied any documentation. Many undoubtedly valid records have not been documented beyond mention in the local newsletter or American Birds, if the record even made it that far. Numerous historical sight-records, especially those prior to the mid-197Os, are missing supporting details. Many others are supported by details gleaned from observers' rusty memories decades after the observation. Although the recent trend is toward more and better documentation, some birders are still not recording information on their sightings beyond keeping simple lists of species and numbers. This omission is unfortunate because each observation of an unusual bird could become an important contribution to the ornithological record; unsupported "hearsay" records (e.g., "tick marks" on checklists) must remain hypothetical or be ignored. If observers make no effort to document unusual birds, then they should not be surprised if these records fail to gain acceptance or be published.

Birders now generate many of today's data on species' distributions and field-identification aspects of North American ornithology. Most professional ornithologists recognize that the large volume of data generated by birders, especially that involving extralimital records, cannot and should not be ignored just because most of it is not based on specimen evidence. There has been considerable debate, however, over what sorts of other documentation are acceptable. In recent years, rare-bird committees (RBCs) have been formed in most states, provinces, and many foreign countries (Roberson 1990) to help bridge the gap between specimen and non-specimen records. RBCs are composed of experienced amateur and professional ornithologists. The RBC process includes acquisition and protection of rare-bird documentation, evaluation by a panel of knowledgeable peers, and publication of proceedings. Many RBCs that must limit the volume of records they receive (or be overwhelmed) compile a review list. Review lists typically contain species that average only a few occurrences annually, representing the rarest of the rare species. Documentation for "lesser" rarities may be requested by some RBCs, as well as by regional ornithological societies and bird clubs, American Birds regional editors, and Christmas Bird Count compilers. Although a particular species may not be on its respective state or provincial review list, records pertaining to unusual seasonal occurrences (e.g., early or late migrants, unusual summer or winter records) may also require documentation for evaluation and subsequent acceptance.

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