ABA Recording Rules and Interpretations
Members who submit a life list and/or other lists to the American Birding Association’s “Listing Central” must observe the ABA Recording Rules. Many non-members who enjoy maintaining lists may also find these rules useful. The member submitting a list is henceforth in these Rules termed the “recorder”.
A recorder may include a species in totals submitted for ABA lists if the recorder has encountered a bird that is a member of the species in accordance with the following ABA Recording Rules.
(1) The bird must have been within the prescribed area when encountered, and the encounter must have occurred within the prescribed time period.
(2) The bird must have been a member of a species currently listed on the ABA Checklist for lists within the ABA Area, on the AOS Check-list for lists outside the ABA Area and within the AOS Area, or on the Clements Checklist for all other areas.
(3) The bird must have been alive, wild, and unrestrained when encountered.
(4) Diagnostic characteristics, sufficient for the recorder to identify it to species, must have been seen and/or heard and/or documented for the bird encountered.
(5) The bird must have been encountered under conditions that conform to the ABA Code of Birding Ethics.
Interpretations of the Recording Rules
(originally published in 1996, and modified in 1999, 2003, 2004, and 2014,
by the ABA Recording Standards & Ethics Committee)
The five ABA Recording Rules should define what is countable in the vast majority of circumstances. The ABA Recording Standards & Ethics Committee has developed the following definitions and interpretations to guide recorders in those few special situations where the Rules may not be sufficiently comprehensive.
RULE 1: The bird must have been within the prescribed area when encountered, and the encounter must have occurred within the prescribed time period.
A. “Within” means that the bird must be within the prescribed area when observed, although the observer need not be. For example, if an observer on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande identifies a bird across the river on the Mexican side, the bird may be counted on his Mexican list but not on his/her ABA Area list.
B. Prescribed area and time period are defined for the particular list:
(i) The ABA Area is defined in the ABA’s bylaws and in the current ABA Checklist as the 49 continental United States, Hawaii, Canada, the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, and adjacent waters to a distance of 200 miles from land or half the distance to a neighboring country, whichever is less. Excluded by these boundaries are Bermuda, the Bahamas, and Greenland.
(ii) A subarea of the ABA Area, or other prescribed area, is as defined by its legal boundaries. If not legally defined otherwise, it includes adjacent waters (rivers, lakes, bays, sounds, etc.) out to half the distance to a neighboring area, but not beyond 200 miles.
(iii) Birds observed on or over an ocean are counted for the area having jurisdiction over the nearest land, if within 200 miles.
C. “Encounter” means seen and/or heard live and not remotely.
(i) A bird seen on a webcam or other remote camera may not be counted, except for lists specifically defined to include birds seen remotely.
(ii) A bird heard via a sound augmentation device may be counted only if the recorder is present at the location of the device and hears the vocalization in real-time.
RULE 2: The bird must have been a member of a species currently listed on the ABA Checklist for lists within the ABA Area, on the AOS Check-list for lists outside the ABA Area and within the AOS Area, or on the Clements Checklist for all other areas.
A. “Species” means that each full species is counted only once on most ABA lists. Additional subspecies or color morphs are not counted as additional entries except on lists specifically defined to include such identifiable forms.
B. “Currently listed on the ABA Checklist” means:
(i) the species must be (a) included in the current published ABA Checklist, as modified by subsequent Supplements, or (b) formally accepted by the ABA Checklist Committee for inclusion in the next published ABA Checklist or Supplement;
(ii) species listed in Appendix: Part 2, Provenance Uncertain, are not considered countable;
(iii) a species listed in Appendix: Part 1, Extirpated Exotics, may be counted if encountered prior to its removal from the main Checklist;
(iv) an indigenous species currently listed on the Checklist but observed in the past when it was not considered a valid full species may be counted;
(v) an individual of an introduced species may be counted only when part of, or straying from, a population that meets the first seven criteria of the ABA Checklist Committee’s Criteria for Determining Establishment of Exotics;
(vi) an individual of a reintroduced indigenous species may be counted if it is part of a population that has successfully hatched young in the wild or when it is not possible to reasonably separate the reintroduced individual from a wild-born individual;
(vii) hybrids are not countable. Any bird with physical characteristics outside the natural range of variation for the species and clearly suggesting that it is a hybrid should be treated as a hybrid under the ABA Recording Rules. Song in oscine passerines is a learned behavior and should not be used as evidence of hybridization with that group.
C. “AOS Check-list“ means the latest edition of the American Ornithological Society Check-list of North American Birds and its Supplements.
D. “AOS Area” means the geographic area covered by the AOS Check-list of North American Birds.
E. “Clements Checklist“ means the latest edition of The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World and its Updates and Corrections.
F. The taxonomic status of a bird as a full species, and thus its countability, is determined by the standard for the list on which the bird is to be counted. The ABA Checklist is the standard for all list areas contained completely within the ABA Area. The AOS Check-list of North American Birds is the standard for all list areas contained completely within the Check-list‘s area covered and with at least some portion outside the ABA Area. The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World is the standard for all list areas with at least some portion outside the AOS Check-list area. Thus, it is possible that two birds seen in the continental USA would be counted as one species on state and ABA Area lists, and as two species on a World List, or vice versa, if their taxonomic treatment differs between the ABA Checklist and the Clements Checklist.
G. Updated supplements will be issued annually for the ABA Checklist, the AOS Check-list, and the Clements Checklist. Should updating supplements be overdue by one year for any of these three standards, recorders may petition the ABA Recording Standards and Ethics Committee for exceptions to the standards, based on recent publication of a significant taxonomic change.
RULE 3: The bird must have been alive, wild, and unrestrained when encountered.
A. “Alive” means after hatching. Eggs are not counted as live birds.
B. “Wild” means that the bird’s occurrence at the time and place of observation is not because it, or its recent ancestors, has ever been transported or otherwise assisted by man for reasons other than for rehabilitation purposes.
(i) An otherwise wild bird that voluntarily uses or is attracted to a feeder, nest box, audio playback, ship at sea, or other nonnatural device, without being captured, is still considered wild. Physical contact between an observer and a bird does not automatically preclude a bird from being counted, as there are situations where wild birds have learned to eat from outstretched hands or have used people as temporary perches.
(ii) A species observed far from its normal range may be counted if, in the observer’s best judgment and knowledge, it arrived there unassisted by man. A wild bird following or riding a ship at sea, without being captured, is considered traveling unassisted by man.
(iii) Individuals of exotic species descended from escapees or released birds are considered “wild” when they are part of a population that meets the ABA Checklist Committee’s definition of established.
(iv) A bird that is not wild and which later moves unassisted to a new location or undergoes a natural migration is still not wild.
C. “Unrestrained” means not held captive in a cage, trap, mist net, hand, or by any other means, and not under the influence of such captivity. A bird is considered under the influence of captivity after its release until it regains the activities and movements of a bird that has not been captured.
(i) A bird is under the influence of captivity during its initial movement away from its release point and during subsequent activity reasonably influenced by the captivity.
(ii) A wild bird that is injured, sick, oiled, or otherwise incapacitated may be counted.
D. “When encountered” means that a bird alive and unrestrained when observed, but which later dies or is collected or captured, may be counted.
RULE 4: Diagnostic characteristics, sufficient for the recorder to identify it to species, must have been seen and/or heard and/or documented for the bird encountered.
A. “Diagnostic characteristics” means the natural characteristics needed to uniquely determine the species of the bird. It is not necessary to experience every possible diagnostic characteristic, but simply sufficient characteristics to eliminate the possibility of the bird being any other species.
(i) Identification of the bird may be made after the initial encounter. It is not always possible to secure a positive identification initially, but, using physical and/or written documentation, identification is sometimes possible after the fact, upon consultation of references and/or other authorities. With very tricky identifications, for example, photographs or recordings sometimes reveal minute, yet critical, details that were not discernible during the initial encounter. Furthermore, our knowledge of how to separate similar species in the field is continually advancing. On rare occasions, a species may not be identifiable until after it has been captured and studied in the hand, or had feather and blood samples analyzed. In such instances of “after-the-fact” ID, the bird may be counted on one’s lists.
(ii) A recorder may identify the bird encountered based on information and/or documentation provided by other observers.
B. For a first encounter with a species, no matter which list is involved, identification may be by sight or sound. The encounter may be brief, but in combination, characteristics seen or heard must be sufficiently distinctive to distinguish the bird from all other species. Recorders must also assure themselves that audio playbacks are not being mistaken for birds.
RULE 5: The bird must have been encountered under conditions that conform to the ABA Code of Birding Ethics.
A. The bird must have been encountered under conditions that conform to the ABA Code of Birding Ethics version current at the time of the encounter. In any situation for any list, a species may not be counted if the attempts to see or hear the bird are in violation of this ethical Code.
Previous versions of the Recording Rules and Interpretations
2014a – v.2014b changed Rule 2.B(vi) to allow the counting of reintroduced indigenous species in some cases.
2004 – v.2014a contains many amendments to v.2004, the most prominent of which are outlined in Birder’s Guide.
2014b – v.2020 updated Rule 2.B(v) to clarify which populations of introduced species are countable.