March 2020

ABA Online Resources

Many beginning birdwatchers are likely to be aware of the American Birding Association[1], even if they assume it's for more expert folk, a kind of American Ornithological Union for amateurs. While they might be partly right, the ABA offers a wealth of online information readily accessible not only to birders just starting out, but even available to non-members.

One delightful series of engaging articles, How to Know The Birds[2], is explicitly written for those who don't know a "big white egret" from a Little Blue Heron (you have to read No. 19!). Additionally, the ABA Blog[3], after 3000 posts since 2010, is morphing (moulting? mutating?) into something new this year, but will remain worthy of the attention of even non-members.

Thinking of becoming one of those "listers" you've heard about? As the ABA website puts it, they're Listing Central[4], and the range of lists, reporting options, and recording standards they offer can be daunting. Without needing to register or sign-in, it can enough for starters just to download the ABA Checklist[5], which is for most purposes the same as ones used by eBird, the AOU, Audubon, Cornell Labs, etc. The differences most likely will only make a difference to people already using them.

Despite some similarities in the use of checklists, posting, and reviewing, the entire ABA approach is different from eBird in many ways, and actually predates it by decades. The ABA Recording Rules[6], for example, are more about verifying an individual's claim to have seen a particular bird than about ensuring the accuracy of the Community Science mission to which eBird is dedicated. On a practical level, having a sighting questioned by the ABA might feel like more of a personal challenge than the common eBird experience of a computer-generated "This is a rarity", or "High count for this date", etc. response to a checklist item. But, of course, not all eBirders are listers; the "Celebrations" (formerly called "Milestones", with high species counts declared) section of the ABA's Birding[7] magazine suggests how many of its members actually are.

The magazine, published eight times a year, has six "regular" issues, and two "special" issues. The regular magazines are members-access only online, but the special publications, called Birder's Guides[8] are available to all, and have covered travel, gear, taxonomy, listing (of course), and more. This reviewer was pleased to find an important reference article on subspecies for a future column in the October 2014[9] issue (a Favorite) in the open-access PDF archive.

In sum, the extensive online resources freely offered by the ABA website, including podcasts, photo quizzes, ID tips (how about "temporal likelihood" as a field mark!), and much more not discussed here, make it a worthwhile destination for longer than a casual visit, even if you don't sign up.

The Bird Wide Web™ will be publishing a new article on the beginning of each month.

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