The recent communication regarding possible name changes to the Records
Appraisal Committee has resulted in a number of requests for more
information about the committee and the way it works. Consequently I have
put together below a frequently asked questions page that may assist those
interested in the committee and in particular those contemplating a
Records Appraisal Committee FAQ's
1. What is the function of the RAOU Rarities committee in Australia?
Basically it is to provide an informed, discerning and impartial appraisal
on submissions relating to reports of rare birds in Australia and its
2. Why have an appraisal committee at all?
There are many reports of rare birds which are never published in any
form. In time these are often forgotten or at best treated as unconfirmed.
In many countries files of the rarities committee act as an accepted
repository for such records and help to resolve this problem. It is hoped
that in the future the same will apply here in Australia. Not that long
ago, a record of a rarity was not considered adequately documented unless
it was collected and retained as a museum specimen. Today the
ornithological community has a lot more confidence in field observations,
but this does not obviate the need for field notes to help authenticate
sightings. Even the best observers make mistakes and many rare birds
pose identification problems that are often relatively unfamiliar to
Rarities are worth reporting. They provide interesting distributional
records that add to our knowledge of how migration systems work and
improve our knowledge of field identification techniques. New records for
a country are particularly important, as they influence what goes into
checklists and field guides.
3. How many members are there to the committee?
There are eight members one of whom is the chairman; proxy members are
also used should any of the eight on the committee be unavailable. All
members of the committee work voluntarily in their own time on behalf of
4. Which species are reviewed?
A review list of national rarities is maintained and revised annually and
published in the annual report currently available from Birds Australia.
It is hoped to have this report available on a web site in the near future.
Copies of the Review List can be obtained on request from the Secretary or
the Chairman of the Committee.
5. What happens once a submission is received?
Confirmation of receipt is sent to the originator. The submission is
duplicated and distributed to committee members for voting. Votes of
acceptance or non-acceptance are forwarded together with reasons for
decision to the secretary who collates the votes and passes on the case
file to the committee Chairman. The Chairman then prepares a case summary
outlining the decision and copies are then distributed to the originator,
the Director of the RAOU and the Chairman of the Taxonomic Advisory
6. What happens if members votes differ?
A count of seven or more votes in favour will result in an accepted
submission and votes totalling four or more against will result in non-
acceptance. Five or six votes in favour will result in a second round of
voting, this time with other members comments available for review. If
after two rounds of voting there are still only five or six in favour,
the case will be decided by the committee in a discussion forum, following
which a final vote will be taken. If the case then receives no more than
six votes in favour of acceptance, it will be deemed to be one of
7. What happens if a member cannot decide how to vote?
It is mandatory that all members vote either for acceptance or non-
acceptance. The only other avenue that can be taken in appropriate cases
is to request expert opinion. For example from an overseas ornithologist
with recognised specialist knowledge of a particular species or group of
birds. The second or third round of voting will then be based on this
information in addition to that already available.
8. How can a member vote on a species he knows very little about?
In the absence of personal field experience with the species concerned,
committee members are expected to research an identification topic using
available literature, museum specimens or other sources of information to
objectively appraise any report under consideration to the best of his or
her ability. Other members views are not available during the first round
9. What is expected from the observer in the way of a submission?
The most common reason for the non-acceptance of a record is lack of
information. Ideally, any birder submitting a report for appraisal should
have as documentation a set of field notes made at the time of the
observation or as soon as possible thereafter. Accompanying field
sketches, no matter how rudimentary or crude, are an invaluable adjunct to
any submission and are strongly encouraged, as are corroborating field
notes from other birders. Photographs are, of course, very desirable
provided they accompany a submission. Claims of species new to Australia
or of those involving a very difficult identification problem (e.g. Cook's
versus Pycroft's Petrel) naturally require a very high standard of
documentation. Copies of field notes from more than one observer,
sketches and photo's where possible are all strongly encouraged.
10. Where should I send a submission once it has been completed?
Submissions should be sent directly to David W Eades, Secretary, Records
Appraisal Committee, Birds Australia, East Hawthorn, VIC 3123.
Submissions can also be passed on to any member of the committee.
11. What happens if a record is not accepted?
Records are not REJECTED; rather they are NOT ACCEPTED. A final vote of
non-acceptance does not mean that the observer(s) did not site the species
claimed; rather, that the information submitted is, in the opinion of the
committee, insufficient to establish beyond reasonable doubt the
identification or natural occurrence of the species being claimed. It
should be noted that submissions of non-acceptance are not a waste of time.
All submissions are filed for future reference and become part of a
permanent archive what will serve researchers in the future.
12. How long does it take for a Committee decision to become available?
This has been an ongoing problem for the committee particularly with the
more difficult cases. This topic was discussed at our recent annual
meeting and we are striving to improve our procedures and efficiency in
order to reduce waiting times. A straightforward case should take no
longer than two to three months. Submissions that involve more than one
round of voting, require expert opinion or have only one set of
photographs may take longer. In such instances the originator will be
notified in writing. Birders whose submissions include photographs could
help us by including additional copies (7 if possible) this would enable
us to circulate the case more quickly.
Our thanks to all for their interest and support.
Chairman RAOU Records Appraisal Committee.
Phone.....+61 2 9900 1678 or Home +61 2 9427 7563
Fax.......+61 2 9900 1669