by Noel Pettingell
10 YEARS AGO/FROM JUNE 1979 SPOONBILL
"The Contribution of the Amateur to Ornithology by
Allen R. Phillips (from the Colorado Field Ornithologists' Quarterly Journal, Winter 1979)
There is often a quite unwarranted diffidence
among amateur birdwatchers regarding their contributions to ornithology. The only real requirement,
if one wishes to contribute to the science, is a sincere interest in the birds. Science is a search for
truth and understanding, which frequently implies
abandoning our own preconceived ideas (as well as
others') as we learn better. Theoretically, training
in ornithology in a university should give one an advantage; but this is not mandatory, for the great
and lesser classics that fill our libraries were practically entirely written by men untrained in zoology.
If they had any training at all, it was as doctor
(Coues, A.K. Fisher, Mearns, Roberts, and many
others), dentist (Vaurle), or artist (Peterson). Some
perhaps qualified as 'professionals' by holding jobs
as ornithologists, like the great Ridgway and Ober-
holser; but most worked for the love of science,
just like Wilson and Audubon. The greatest life-history study was done by a housewife, Mrs. Margaret
Morse Nice (who also wrote the first 'Birds of Oklahoma'). So just who is an amateur?
This is not to say that- we_have no irainecL
professional ornithologists today, or to deny their
competence. But they are few and scattered. More
often than not, too, the professional is burdened
with administrative duties, classes and perhaps public relations—a slave to the telephone. If he is to
keep abreast of the situation, particularly regarding
bird distributions and populations, and to give sound
advice when called upon, the 'amateur' must be his
eyes and ears.
Some, but not all, of the problems we now
face are obvious. All of us are well aware of urban
sprawl, 'developers' and bulldozers, obsessed dam-
builders, tree-cutters, concrete-layers, etc., and the
various chemical and physical poison advocates (the
end always justifies the means). How can we preserve the brushy habitat needed by Bell's and other
vireos? What is their present status? Do they raise
enough vireos to maintain themselves, or only cowbirds? Profesionals in wildlife conservation may
monitor waterfowl, but woodpeckers, orioles and
Yellow Warblers should also concern us.
All this depends, then, on the amateur and his
degree of organization. He alone has the time and
interest to watch and count common birds. His lists
of species and numbers will increase in value with
the passage of time.
[Ed. note: This article, while directed to Colorado
birders, is singularly apropos to birders everywhere.]"
(continued from page 1 )
should be restated so that "common" and "fairly
common" in the 6th Edition would be changed to
"abundant" and "common" in the 7th, with the definitions modified accordingly, as was also done for
the "uncommon" and "rare" categories. "Irregular"
was added to "very rare," and the definition shortened, while "vagrant" was changed to include 2 to
9 valid records instead of 1 to 10 in the 6th Edition.
The numerical key and breeding status were also revised, with a special symbol being added for species
which can only be identified by song or call.
Another innovation to be found in the 7th Edition is the year of the latest valid UTC record
(LVR) for all vagrant, accidental, extirpated and extinct species. Incidentally, the earliest LVR for any
accidental is 1877 for McCown's Longspur and the
earliest reference to any UTC species (under explanatory notes) is 1837 for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
Both records are cited in The Bird Life of Texas
(1974) on pages 959 and 530. The Committee also
decided to divide both families and sub-families with
heavy lines because of the extensive rearrangement
of families and species by the A.O.U. in 1982.
The major task of the Committee began with
the compilation of a list of some 470 species by
David Dauphin which were reviewed and researched
both during and in between a series of seven meetings at Ed Rozenburg's house from February 15 to
March 22. Seasonal status of all abundant to vagrant
species was decided, as well as the validity of every
accidental, with all final decisions being unanimous.
The first computer printout in graphic form was
presented by Ed on April 5, and final revisions of
species occurrence, definitions, codes, explanatory
notes and layout were made during the meetings on
April 17, May 10 and May 17 (there were 13 in all).
Some idea of the intense deliberations and
difficulties involved in producing a graphic checklist
of over 400 species may be grasped by keeping in
mind that seasonal occurrence is divided into 48
weeks and relative frequency into 6 categories from
"abundant" to "vagrant." Since there were also 10
supplemental codes to be considered, it was necessary to make up to 720 decisions for some of the
abundant to very rare species occurring year-round.
Although the 7th Edition has seven graphed
pages versus nine in the 6th Edition, the number of
species is nearly the same: 413 in 1989 (excluding
27 accidentals) versus 418 in 1980 (including 17
accidentals). Also appearing in the 7th Edition's
graphed section but not included in the total of 413
A.O.U. species are Empidonax/species, Brewster's and
Lawrence's Warbler hybrids and Bullock's (Northern)
Oriole. A total of 317 species fall into the abundant-to-rare category, i.e., occur annually, in the
7th Edition, including 36 warblers. Of the 58 wood-
warbler species which have been recorded north of
Mexico all but the following 11 have occurred in
the UTC area: Bachman's, Colima, Crescent-chested,
Kirtland's, Gray-crowned, Red-faced, Slate-throated,
Fan-tailed, Golden-crowned, Rufous-capped and Olive.
The cover illustration of the 7th Edition is
the same as that which was originally designed by
Ben Feltner for the 5th Edition (1974). Sharp-eyed
listers will note that the map still shows three UTC
"hotspots"—Galveston's South Jetty, Bolivar Peninsula's North Jetty and the Texas City Dike.