Re: Short Keys

To: birding-aus posts <>
Subject: Re: Short Keys
From: David McDonald <>
Date: Fri, 05 Jun 1998 10:10:41 +1000

I cannot see in the June 1998 issue of Wingspan the article by Hugo Phillipps
that Robert refers to. Nonetheless, I have been using the US Bird Banding Lab
four-letter coding system for some years, with reasonable success. (Many
Canberra Ornithologists Group members were introduced to it by Hugh
Possingham.) Its rules are similar (but not identical) to those Robert has
developed for his purposes. Using the BBL approach, only one collision exists
in the ACT bird list: BRTH is both Bown-rumped and Buff-rumped Thornbill. But
note that using upper & lower case is fine for the pocket notebook but
problematic for large-scale data entry.

The matter is fully discussed, with details on the US Bird Banding Lab
four-letter coding system, at the fine web site of John Shipman 'Overview of
systems for encoding bird names':  . Follow the links 'The Bird
Banding Lab (BBL) system' and 'Rules for forming BBL codes'. He strongly
recommends a six letter code to minimise collisions. This makes sense for a
large list such as Australia's national list.


Robert Berry wrote:

> Hi Everyone
> To-day I received my RAOU - sorry, Birds Australia, magazine and, since I
> live in Victoria, my Vic Babbler ( convened by the amazing Dr. Doris
> Graham).
> In it, our very own Hugo Phillipps writes of a recently developed 5 letter
> key to birds at Melbourne airport devised by Will Steele. With 26 possible
> alleles at each locus a 5 letter key would suffice for all the insects in
> the universe let alone Australian birds! For quite a few years now I have
> used a 3 to 4 letter key for entering my sightings onto computer. The
> advantage of letters over numbers is that they can have some meaning and
> are easily remembered.
> For birds with two names I have used the first two letters of each name
> thus - Spotted Pardalote = SpPa, (the capitalisation is only for ease of
> interpretation), for double barrelled names, e.g. Shrike-tit the first
> letter of each barrel gets a guernsey - CrST. There are double double
> barrels such as Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo = YTBC. It is desirable that
> often used components are treated the same all the time thus Pied = Pd,
> Grey = Gy, Black = Bk.
> Birds with just one name are represented by the first three letters.
> Honeyeaters are the biggest family in Oz and in most instances I have
> represented these with three letters.
> When a collision occurs by applying these "rules" it is best if both
> colliders are given an irregular name and there are a few common birds
> which have ended up with irregular keys just to remind me of my pommy youth
> spent studying French.
> If anyone would find a checklist to the birds of Australia useful I would
> be happy to forward one, complete with a short key that has stood the test
> of a few years use.
> Robert Berry.


David McDonald
PO Box 1355, Woden ACT 2606, Australia
Tel: +61 2 6231 8904 (h); +61 2 6249 5618 (w)
Fax: +61 2 6249 0740

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