Birding Totals – the ‘’Rules”
I have been thinking since Grant posted the Totals thread that some people might find it useful to have a thread with the established rules of “competitive birding” ie: twitching/ticking/listing.
I know that I made many errors in my listing when I first started getting into birding and wasn’t sure about a number of things to do with what you can and can’t tick, not to mention the confusing world of Albatross taxonomy!!
So here goes and I hope this is helpful for everyone. For those more knowledgeable than me feel free to add anything that I have forgotten.
(Note that the numbers are not necessarily in order of importance although the points I make do become more about guidelines/tips/ethics etc)
1. First rule of listing you Australian bird sightings is to follow the same list as everyone else so that your list can actually be compared. This is assumed by everyone to be Christides & Boles 2008.
If for some reason you follow a different taxonomy then you will need to state that.
2. All birds must be wild and free. No captives or escapees can be counted.
For example: I saw a Cockatiel in Malabar (Sydney suburb) a few months ago. This is obviously way out of range and much more likely to be an escapee so can’t be counted. Escapees can be a tricky one of course as vagrants do indeed occur like Orange Chats also in Malabar a few years ago. Best to check with others before counting it.
3. Most people will agree that you have to have SEEN the bird to count it on your list. Just HEARING it isn’t enough for your first TICK. How you then manage your subsequent lists (state, year etc) is subjective and totally up to the individual.
4. Feral species. The established rules on ticking feral species are that it must be part of a self-sustaining breeding population that has been so for at least 10 years.
This means that you can’t tick the Greylag Goose you see on a farm dam. This is an often debated topic of course and some will tick where others won’t!
However there are known populations for most ferals such as Peacock on Rottnest Island WA, Helmeted Guineafowl in FNQ, ..even Ostrich in SA!!
5. Vagrants: There is often some confusion with some vagrants in that some won’t tick a “ship-assisted” bird. One of the problems with this rule of course is how do you tell that it is ship assisted? Even pelagic species like Petrels have often been seen resting on a ship so personally I find this a hard rule to work out. You can’t really ask the bird how it got here!
But for the most part rare vagrants like Grey-headed Lapwing or Eurasian Little Grebe will be counted without hesitation and get “twitchers” speeding across the country to see them!
6. Subspecies: As the world of bird taxonomy is constantly changing it is always a good idea to keep track of the subspecies you see. However you can’t count them on your Australian List. Sometimes a change will happen and a species will be “split” and a sub species elevated to species level. If you have previously seen both sub-species then you gain a tick without trying – often referred to as an “armchair tick”. Recent examples were White-lined Honeyeater splitting into Kimberley Honeyeater as well.
More disappointing is when 2 species are “lumped” into the same species (one becoming a sub-species of the other). Recent examples of this are Lesser Sooty and Sooty Owl. When this happens (and you have seen both …I wish!!) then you lose a tick
7. Albatross taxonomy: A very divided topic so be careful what you say to who!!
Basically Christides & Boles have stuck with a more traditional view and kept most taxa as sub-species. The majority of seabird enthusiasts (and a lot of scientists of course) classify these sub-species as various numbers of species. Eg: Wandering Albatross is one species in C&B whereas going on a pelagic from Wollongong you will hear them talking about “Gibson’s”, “Antipodean” etc.
So to be on the same page as per point #1, whatever you’re view you really need to stick with C&B. Unless you make the point to people that you have gone with the more progressive splitting concept.
To go into more detail really deserves its own thread so I’ll stop now!
Ethics & Tips
1. Make sure you are 100% on your ID before committing it to your list.
This may sound obvious but we all make mistakes and how you respond to those mistakes (or if you are honest enough to admit them) will define you as a birdwatcher. Reputations are earned in the long term by this more ethical part of birdwatching.
2. Making good use of your field guide is a must. You can usually rule out a lot of species when trying to ID that new bird by range/location alone. Yes vagrants do turn up but in the vast majority of cases that rare bird you think you are looking at is most likely something common that you have misidentified.
3. Never be afraid to ask for help when trying to ID a new bird. Also taking a photo or detailed notes is a must if you are not sure – especially if you think it might be something rare. I would hope that all the members here will be capable of taking a photo good enough for identification!
Some people frown on ticking from a photo although I personally did it a lot when I started as it was easier than taking notes and allowed me to be 100% confident. This is very much a personal thing. As long as you’re not ticking from someone elses photo when you weren’t even there!!
I’m sure there are other things that I haven’t mentioned that might be relevant but that’s all I can think of for now.
Of course this is all to do with your Australian List, which for those who have birded overseas will be a sub set of their Life List.
From here you can knock yourself out with State Lists, Year Lists, Birds Seen While Peeing in the bush List, Birds Banded List, and even Captive birds List if you want!
Anyway hope some find this useful.