Thursday, July 18, 2002

Participation Rates by Ornithologists and Birders in Field Ornithology

In an earlier post, I opined that "a very small percentage of bird sightings made by listers find their way into publicly accessible data sets (databases and publications) where they could contribute to our knowledge of bird distribution and abundance, which are the building blocks of effective bird conservation," but lacked statistics to back up the claim. North American Birds, a journal published by the American Birding Association, strives to "provide a complete overview of the changing panorama of our continent's birdlife, including outstanding records, range extensions and contractions, population dynamics, and changes in migration patterns or seasonal occurrence." This is accomplished with the help of a cadre of field observers who voluntarily contribute their sightings to Regional Editors who, in turn, produce seasonal reports that highlight significant sightings and events. What do we know about these field observers?

To answer that question, I first focus on the Appalachia (sometimes referred to as Appalachian) Region. As defined by the NAB editorial staff, the Appalachia Region includes parts of 11 different States, extending from Pennsylvania to Alabama and Georgia. West Virginia is the only State that lies entirely within the Appalachia Region. The Appalachia seasonal report for fall 2001 (North American Birds 56:51-53, 2002) was comprised of information provided by 95 contributors. Males outnumbered females by 2.8 to 1. Nine (10%) of the 95 contributors were ornithologists (i.e., they were listed in the 2001 issue of The Flock, the membership directory of the Ornithological Societies of North America), 48 (or 50%) were birders (i.e., they were listed in the 2002 membership directory of the American Birding Association), 5 (5%) were members of both OSNA and the ABA, and 43 (45%) were members of neither organization.

And what about the situation in West Virginia? Of the 10 West Virginia residents who contributed observations, 6 were members of OSNA (3), the ABA (6), or both (3). Thus, participation by West Virginia OSNA and ABA members was rather low–11% (3 of 27) for OSNA members and 8% (6 of 78) for ABA members. The low rate of participation by West Virginia OSNA and ABA members is discouraging. It suggests either that (a) a fairly large percentage of the members of these organizations are not active field birders or (2) they are not motivated to submit their observations to North American Birds. On a positive note, these observations suggest that there is a fairly large and capable force of field birders outside the influence of OSNA and the ABA who are active participants in documenting the state of the birds in Appalachia. This indicates the existence of a core group of eager volunteers that can be tapped to participate in other citizen-science projects, and thus bodes well for the future of bird conservation in the region.

And for those who think I might be pontificating on this issue, let me assure you that my purpose is not to point fingers. I did not qualify as either an ornithologist or a birder, as defined above, and did not submit observations for the fall 2001 report. I'm not particularly proud of the latter, just stating a fact (I guess that makes me part of the "silent majority").


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