Recording Standards and Ethics Committee

Chicago, IL

Columbus, OH

Fort Myers, FL

Grafton, WI

Washington, DC

Honolulu, HI

Greg Neise*
Berwyn, IL

*-Non-voting staff liaison

Past Voting Members

Laura Keene 2019-2023

Asher Gorbet 2017-2022

Greg Miller 2016-2021

Matt Fraker, 2015–2020

Nick Block, 2015–2020

Holly Merker, 2017–2019

Jennifer Rycenga, 2013–2018

Shawneen Finnegan, 2013–2016



Here you should be able to find answers to most of your questions regarding birding ethics and bird “countability”. Please find below several links to information produced by and/or related to the RSEC. If you don’t find an answer to your birding question, please let us know! We would like to be as accessible to the ABA membership as possible, and we encourage your feedback on issues under our purview. Our email is

Mission Statement and Purpose
The Recording Standards and Ethics Committee (RSEC) shall establish and amend the rules and procedures for the submission to, and publication by, the American Birding Association (ABA), of bird life lists, Big Year Reports, Big Day Reports, and defined listing regions, and shall be responsible for the dissemination, utility, and respect of the ABA Code of Birding Ethics, and will address policy concerns regarding issues of birding ethics as they apply to the ABA.

Code of Birding Ethics – These are the principles that all birders are asked to follow when in the field. All species submitted on official lists to the ABA must have been encountered in accordance with this Code. Please share this ethical Code with your birding friends! If you have any questions or concerns regarding the Code of Ethics, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Communications – Blog posts, annual reports, and other communiqués from the Committee.

Blog Posts

News from the ABA Recording Standards and Ethics Committee, Supplemental – 10/8/2014 – Matt Fraker
The Return of RSEC, Recording Standards take Center Stage – 12/11/2013 – Matt Fraker
2016 Big Year Competition Final Determination – 12/27/2017 – RSEC


News from the ABA Recording Standards and Ethics Committee – Nick Block – Birder’s Guide, October 2014

Explanations of Countability

To help you understand what is countable for your life lists, click here [87K PDF] for a flow chart.

Clarifying What Counts: A Birder’s Guide Interview with the Secretary of the Recording Standards and Ethics Committee – Sheridan Coffey – Birder’s Guide, October 2015

What Counts? And Why? Says Who? – Jeff Skrentny – Winging It, December 2013 [This article was written before the 2014 update to the Recording Rules but is still applicable.]

One of the most common listing misconceptions we encounter among birders is regarding the role of state records committees in determining the countability of a species or individual record. Here are some quotes from Sheridan Coffey’s article (linked to above) that address this issue:

Regarding introduced species
“I think both the RSEC and the CLC would love to see a list of officially established (i.e., countable) populations for each introduced species on the Checklist, but such a list is nowhere near fruition. Until then, the RSEC prefers to leave decisions about the countability of introduced species on the Checklist to the individual birder. Many birders (including myself most of the time!) look to local records committees for guidance in making these decisions, but local committee decisions technically do not affect whether a birder may count something on a list submitted to the ABA.”

Regarding whether records rejected by a state committee may be counted
“Unambiguously, yes, as long as that rarity is on the ABA Checklist. As I mentioned above, many (most?) birders look to records committees for guidance in what they decide to count on a life list, but they technically don’t have to do so when reporting totals to the ABA. As long as a birder encounters a species in a way that adheres to the ABA’s Recording Rules, the birder may choose to count the species.”

Basically, rejected state records of species that are on the ABA Checklist are countable, just like heard-only and established introduced species are.

Recording Rules and Interpretations – Updated in 2014, these Rules and interpretations should answer most questions you might have about the countability of a particular bird you observed. If your particular scenario is not addressed here, please don’t hesitate to contact us! We are happy to help clarify things and make any necessary updates to the Rule interpretations. We will generate a FAQ page if certain questions continue to pop up.

Big Year Rules – Created in 2014, these rules establish official standards for Big Years. Any ABA Area Big Year lists submitted to the ABA must be in accordance with these rules.

Big Day Rules – Any Big Day Count lists submitted to the ABA must be in accordance with these rules. These rules are currently in the process of being updated.

Votes – Committee voting results for various proposals, rule changes, etc.

Each RSEC vote on a change, proposal, etc., receives a unique number. These votes are listed here in chronological order, sorted by year:


2014.01 – Accept original voting procedures put forth in RSEC Bylaws – PASS (5-0)

2014.02 – Accept original ABA Area Big Year Rules – PASS (5-0)

2014.03 – Accept version 2014a of the Recording Rules and Interpretations – PASS (5-0)

2014.04 – Accept change to Recording Rule 2.B(vi) that would allow the counting of unestablished reintroduced indigenous species in some cases – PASS (4-1, 4-1, 4-1)

2020.01 – Accept change to Recording Rule 2.B(v) to clarify that introduced species populations are countable if they meet the first seven criteria of the ABA Checklist Committee’s Criteria for Determining Establishment of Exotics – PASS (5-0)

Proposing a Change to the Code of Ethics or the Recording Rules and Interpretations
In an effort to make the RSEC more accessible and transparent, the Committee Bylaws (see Section E) stipulate that anyone may submit a relevant question or proposal requesting a change to the existing Code of Ethics and/or Recording Rules. Changes proposed are welcome to range from a small, clarifying edit/addition to a Rule interpretation to sweeping alterations to the ethical Code. Ideally, the language of the submitted proposal should make it such that the RSEC can give Yes or No votes on the issue. ABA members may submit their questions and/or proposals to us at We look forward to hearing from you!



Bylaws of the ABA Recording Standards and Ethics Committee

A. Mission Statement and Purpose of the Committee

The Recording Standards and Ethics Committee (RSEC) shall establish and amend the rules and procedures for the submission to, and publication by, the American Birding Association (ABA), of bird life lists, Big Year Reports, Big Day Reports, and defined listing regions, and shall be responsible for the dissemination, utility, and respect of the ABA Code of Birding Ethics, and will address policy concerns regarding issues of birding ethics as they apply to the ABA.

B. Membership

The RSEC will consist of no fewer than five members. The ABA President shall be an ex-officio member of the RSEC but shall not have voting privileges. Committee members must be ABA members to be members of the RSEC. The RSEC may invite individuals to advise and participate in setting policies or executing duties. These individuals will not have voting privileges and may include members of the ABA staff. All committee members shall be knowledgeable birders, possessing diverse experience with other birders, listing and listers, the spectrum of birding situations, bird conservation, bird behavior, and shall be well-versed in the ethics necessary for proper observation of wildlife.

C. Nomination

  1. Potential members may be recommended for nomination to the committee by the ABA membership, by members of the committee, and/or by the Board.
  2. Nominees must be approved by a majority vote of the current voting members of the committee. If approved, a nomination will be forwarded to the ABA Chairperson for official appointment to the committee.
  3. Advisers to the RSEC will be selected by the Committee in consultation with the ABA Chairperson.

D. Terms

  1. Term lengths for members will be three years. Member terms will be staggered.
  2. Each member can serve a maximum of two consecutive terms, after which the member will be required to step down from the committee for at least two years before being a candidate for re-nomination to the committee. If for any reason a member starts serving on the committee during a partial term, that partial term will not count as a full term, and that person may serve two full three-year terms subsequent to the partial term.

E. Voting

RSEC decisions will be reached through the voting of all voting members. After an issue is presented to the RSEC Secretary (hereafter, “the Secretary”) and after the Secretary and the RSEC Chairperson together deem it sufficiently significant to the ABA membership that it requires a decision by the RSEC, a vote shall be called by the Secretary, typically following preliminary discussion by the Committee. The Secretary shall circulate the question or proposal to be voted upon, asking for votes of approval or denial. Amendments to the construct or wording of a voting issue may be suggested by any Committee member and are subject to the unanimous approval of both the RSEC Chairperson and the Secretary. An issue not deemed sufficiently significant for a vote shall be archived after the Secretary notifies the Committee that the issue will be archived.

The RSEC Chairperson and the Secretary may consult with advisory members and/or the voting members in deciding whether a presented issue requires an RSEC decision. Issues may be presented by anyone to the Secretary for consideration.

A decision will be after one to three rounds of voting. Votes shall be sent confidentially to the Secretary, who shall distribute them to the Committee after all votes have been submitted. If after the preliminary round of voting all voting members are unanimous in favor or against, then no more voting will be required, and an official decision will have been reached. If the voting is not unanimous in the first round, a second round of voting shall occur during which members may consider the varying opinions and then vote again. If unanimity is still not achieved in the second round, then a third round of voting shall be called for, after which a simple majority will decide the issue, and an official decision will have been reached.

Each round’s vote requires a voting member to state their position and their reasoning in succinct fashion. If their position is unchanged from a previous round, they may simply say as much.

F. Meeting and Reporting to the Membership

  1. The RSEC shall meet via teleconference call or via on-site meetings at any time determined by the RSEC Chairperson and the Secretary.
  2. All voting on any ABA recording standard or ethical principle will be summarized in detail and presented to the membership via an on-line communication through the ABA website. This communication will require approval by simple majority of the committee and must be presented no more than 60 days after a vote transpires. Approval of membership communications may take place electronically.
  3. Any voting on committee nominees will remain confidential to the members of the committee and to the ABA Chairperson.
  4. The RSEC will provide an annual summary report to the ABA Board due at the meeting of the ABA Board that precedes the Annual Meeting. The RSEC Chairperson or a Committee member selected by the RSEC Chairperson will be present at the annual meeting.

G. RSEC Chairperson

  1. The ABA Chairperson will appoint a Chairperson for the RSEC. This appointment will be done annually.
  2. At the end of the RSEC Chairperson’s term, the other RSEC members have the option of re-nominating the RSEC Chairperson for a consecutive term or nominating a new RSEC Chairperson. Prior to the RSEC Chairperson’s term ending, he/she will pass the committee’s recommendation to the ABA Chairperson for final approval.
  3. Duties of the RSEC Chairperson will include organizing and running the bi-monthly meetings, appointing the Secretary, insuring the timely presentation of RSEC summary decisions (as per F.2), writing or appointing a committee member to write the RSEC annual report that will be provided to the ABA Board due at the meeting of the ABA Board that precedes the Annual Meeting, and assisting the Secretary with his/her duties.

H. RSEC Secretary

  1. The RSEC Chairperson shall appoint the Secretary The Secretary must be a member of the ABA and must be a voting member of the RSEC.
  2. Duties of the Secretary will include taking and distributing minutes of the meetings, acting as the “point person” for communication from the membership to the RSEC, and assisting the RSEC Chairperson with his/her duties.

I. Member Removal

  1. If any member of the RSEC chooses to resign from the committee prior to the end of a term, they will be recommended to give a 30-day courtesy notice to the RSEC Chairperson.
  2. Members of the RSEC may be removed in accordance with the current bylaws of the ABA.