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People watch birds for a variety of reasons - for recreation, to enhance their relationship with the natural world, for education, for socializing, for citizen science, and even for competition. Many birders keep lists - yard lists, state and province lists, and world lists both by year and for their lifetime. They enjoy discussing their sightings with others and comparing lists. The lists of different birders can only be truly comparable when there is a common set of standards that both birders share. One of ABA's original purposes was to establish such standards.
In 1972 ABA developed a Set of Recording Rules that have stood the test of time. The basic recording rules are very brief; in fact they have been successful partly because of their brevity. They have been so successful that they have been adopted by other organizations both nationally and internationally as the standard. However, a number of situations can arise that are not directly addressed in the rules; therefore in 1983 the standards were published with a series of interpretations. New interpretations have been added occasionally since then when a new question arises.
The "ABA Recording Rules and Interpretations" is published at the rear of the ABA big Day Report and ABA List Report. It can also be found on the ABA web-site in the section called ABA Big Day/List Report. Members are required to affirm that they have complied with these rules when they submit their list totals for comparison with the totals of fellow members. ABA has a Recording Standards and Ethics Committee that periodically reviews these rules and suggestions made by ABA members. It may then recommend changes to the ABA Board.
CODE OF ETHICS
The ABA rules make reference to the ABA Code of Birding Ethics. This code consists of four brief statements each accompanied by a series of specific directives. This code of ethics is even more widely accepted than the recording rules. They apply whether or not a birder is planning to compare his list with other people's. They are usually accompanied by a two sentence statement of principle. "Everyone who enjoys birds and birding must always respect wildlife, its environment, and the rights of others. In any conflict of interest between birds and birders, the welfare of the birds and their environment comes first." The Code of Ethics can be found in the same places as the Recording Rules.
STANDARDS FOR SPECIES
The ABA has approved a series of standard checklists for birders so that all can work from common lists of species. This is especially important in the time when genetic analysis is leading to reassessment of older taxonomy. The ABA Checklist is the standard for its area, the AOU checklist for regions outside the ABA area but within the AOU area, and Clements List of World Birds for the rest of the world. Species listed in these standard checklists are countable for the areas covered by the lists, other "species" are not.
Chair, ABA Recording Standards & Ethics Committee