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Whose List Is It Anyway?

Record-keeping is the way that you write your birdwatching story. It is also a way to contribute data that ultimately can be utilized by ornithologists in preserving bird populations. Make it a habit to keep thorough notes.

It may not be your intention, but at its core birdwatching is a competitive sport. When you start your first list you enter the fray. Your only competition may be the calendar, but the race is on to get the number as large as possible. In any competition there are rules. In most competitions, those rules are designed to keep things fair. In the keeping of bird lists, the primary reason for rules is consistency. If we all keep our lists by the same standards then we can compare apples to apples. This is important if the data is being aggregate for research. That is the beauty of the on-line database eBird. Average amateur birders can not only keep their own lists in the cloud, helping to create targets to chase, but the accumulation of data is valuable to the ornitholigists at Cornell University. There are actual birding competitions called Big Days. Rules are necessary to determine winners. Obviously limits on time and geography are important, but how and even if a team identifies a bird is hard to regulate. Any rule can truly only be enforced on the honor system. In the end, any list reflects the integrity of the lister, whether the competition is 24 hours against other teams, or simply your personal list against the time limit you set, e.g. year list, life list, etc. Having to prove your sighting to another, say a reviewer or a committee, can be frustrating. You know what you saw/heard, but do you have the evidence to confirm it? Frustration can lead to disappointment, even anger, but it can also lead to resolve, which can make you a better birder. Even if it doesn't lead to better skills, the commitment to improvement has value. Confidence in identification can be measured by your answer to "if it were a mushroom would you eat it?" Ultimately, holding yourself to higher standards becomes its own reward when you no longer worry about what others think instead contending with the internal judge. Prayer: Righteous One, give us the wisdom to follow the conscience you have given each of us...without beating ourselves up. Amen.


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