RFC: Bird Record Database

To: "SABirdNet" <>, "Birding-Aus List" <>, "Ukbirdnet" <>, "Birdchat" <>
Subject: RFC: Bird Record Database
From: "Peter Wragg" <>
Date: Sat, 19 Dec 1998 19:15:06 +0200
Dear Birders

I am a South African birder currently designing a new database, which I will
be developing over the next month or so, in which to store my bird records.
It will run on virtually any Windows 95, 98 or NT computer, and will
hopefully also be of use to some of you.

I am writing this email to find out how many people, if any, are not
satisfied with their current record-keeping system and would be interested
in using this program.  Please let me know if you would be interested.  I
would also appreciate it if you could help me with various questions on the
data that you would want to store in such a database.  My current plan for
the data to be stored is outlined below.  If you have any suggestions that
would make it more useful to you, I would like to hear them.  I am
especially interested in additional or different fields that you would
require to store information that I have not considered, as well as systems
that implement a particular feature more effectively than does my proposed
system.  Even if you will not actually use it, I would still be interested
in your opinions.  If there is a fairly uniform response I will add the
requested fields; if there is a wide scatter of requirements I will consider
adding user-definable fields to some tables, though this would complicate
form and report design among other things.

The below outline of the proposed data structure may seem complicated, but
the data-entry system will make it easy to enter the required information.
I believe it will be a very flexible and versatile database system that
people will be able to use in a wide variety of situations, anywhere in the

Geographic Levels and Locations:
There will be a fully customisable hierarchy of geographic levels of
organisation.  This will mean that birders confined to South Africa might
have a hierarchy such as Province-Region-Reserve/Area-Spot, while an
American birder might have State-County-Reserve-Spot and an International
birder might have
Birders can have any number of area entries at each level, each containing
the Name of the location and a Notes field.  What other fields would be
useful?  In Southern Africa a system of 1/4-degree squares was used for the
Atlas of Southern African Birds, and this code (e.g. 2934AB) is widely used.
Do other areas have a similar system?  Would a co-ordinate field be useful?

Any number of "visits" (a period of time spent at a particular location) can
be defined for each area, each with Start and End dates(the End Date can be
the same as the Start Date for 1-day visits), Start and End times, and
Weather and Notes fields.

(Sub)Species Records:
Now for the actual bird records.  This is how I have it planned at the
moment: Each subspecies (or species, if the species is monotypic or if you
prefer not to go down to the subspecies level) recorded during a visit will
have a record containing the species' and subspecies' names (actually the
code for that species' and subspecies' scientific names, as all names will
be stored as scientific names for language neutrality), the Visit on which
it was recorded and a Notes field.

Bird Records: General:
Each of these species/subspecies records can contain one or more records for
individual birds or a number birds of the same class(i.e. a group of birds
with the same values for the fields detailed below).  These records let you
specify whether or not the bird is a "lifer", the Age(Adult, Immature,
Juvenile, Chick or other user-defined classes), Plumage(Breeding,
non-breeding, transitional or other user-defined classes), Sex(male, female,
indeterminate), View(Seen only, Heard only, Seen and Heard or other
user-defined classes), and Breeding level of the bird.  For the latter, we
have 7 classes in South Africa that were used with the bird Atlas:
1 Present (seen or heard)
2 Suspected Breeding
3 Proven Breeding
4 Eggs
5 Chicks
6 Eggs & Chicks
7 Dependent Fledglings
If other countries have a similar system, I could include it in the
database, or if it is not standard then people could easily add their own
classes.  These records also allow you to include additional notes, and
specify the number of birds in the record, the Date(if the visit spans more
than one day), and the Time of the record.  It also includes an optional
field in which a location lower in the hierarchy than the location of the
Visit can be specified.  This may seem strange, but it means that you could,
for example, have a Visit record for a reserve or area, and then specify a
more precise location such as a pan or road for the more interesting birds.

Each bird record can contain references to any number of Observers, which
are people who have recorded the bird.  Each Observer can be stored with
their name, phone number, email address and postal address.  As well as
allowing you to store the details of other people who were in your birding
group or who saw a rare bird with you (which could be used in generating a
rarities report), it will allow many birders to store their records in the
same database.

I would like to know if there are any ringers who might use this program.
Apart from keeping sighting records, would it be of use for storing
measurements of each of the birds you catch (and ring)?  Could you tell me
which measurements are commonly recorded?  Is there a standard set of
measurements, or do different ringers, organisations, and countries take
different measurements?  I presume ringers would also want to record the
ring number of each bird.  What format is this in?  Again, is it standard or
variable?  I assume you do not ring a bird if you find it is already
ringed - if so, I suppose you would need a field to indicate whether you
ringed the bird or not, which would also indicate if the ring number was the
number of a ring you found on the bird or the number of a ring you placed on
the bird.  What other fields would ringers need?

You may wonder why I have chosen to use this system of a record for each
species for each visit, and more records for each individual bird.  I think
it gives you more flexibility - you could make a comment on your record of
the species in the Notes field, such as "a pair feeding a fledgling a worm"
and then enter details on each of the three birds with, for example,
"begging from parents with squeaking sound" in the notes field of the record
for the chick.  If you want to simply add one record per species, you can
leave out the details of the individual birds.  As well as letting you make
notes on each individual bird if it is rare or uncommon, it will let ringers
easily record data for multiple birds of the same species.

Bird Lists: Species:
There will be a master list of Latin Scientific species names which could be
the entire Sibley and Monroe list or a subset of that list or another list.
All species names will be stored as references to records in this list.
However, many people, including myself, will not want to enter and report
records using Latin names alone.  People will be able to import lists of
names of birds in other languages and also numbers into the program.  Each
area (for example, each country, or region) could have its own list of names
and/or numbers of the species found there, and these lists can be used for
entering and reporting records.  I have not yet decided exactly how to
organise these lists, and to help me do this I would like to know several
1.  Do you use a language other than English for your bird records?  If so,
do you use it in addition to English or instead of English?  How many
languages do you use for your records?  Do you use different languages when
birding in different areas?
2.  In each language you use, do you keep records using a single set of
names for that language, or do you use different names in different areas?
For example, many of the English names used in South Africa are different to
those used in East Africa - if you bird in these regions, do you use both
sets of names, or have you standardised on one set?
3.  In Southern Africa we have a standard numbering system, where each
species is assigned an integer value from 1 to over 900.  I believe this is
unusual.  Are there any people outside Southern Africa who use numbering
systems?  If so, what formats are these numbers in?

I am not yet sure if I will enable you to define your own language and
number fields or if I will include a standard set - it will depend on the
responses I get.  Each number or name will be linked to the master list of
Scientific names, so you will be able to select "White Stork" if you have an
English list containing that species, and the code for the Scientific name
"Ciconia ciconia" would be stored in the database.  This would let you view
the records in a different language or numbering system, if you wanted to.

Another naming issue is that of subspecies.  With bird taxonomy changing
constantly, it would be good to be able to specify which particular
subspecies of a polytypic species was recorded, so that if that subspecies
is later promoted to full specific status, you would simply tell the
database this and all records of that subspecies would automatically become
records for the new species.  To enable this, you will be able to store any
number of subspecies names (the third term in the Latin name) for each
species, and optionally specify a subspecies in each record.  If you do not
specify the subspecies because you do not know the it or do not want to, you
will still be able to split a species into 2 or more species, and for each
existing record of the original species you will be able to select which of
the new species the record belongs to.  You will be able to define names for
each subspecies in the same way as you will be able to for species.

You will be able to store details of each nest you find.  These will include
the physical location of the nest, the area in which the nest is situated
and any other Notes.  You will then be able to associate any number of "Nest
Reports" with each "visit" to the nest area.  What would these records need
to contain?  Number of nests present if it is a colony?  Number of eggs,
chicks and fledglings?  Number of parents present?  What else?

At this stage I am still deciding what data will be stored; if people
indicate that they would be interested then I will send another message
later outlining my plans for, and requesting comments on, entering and
reporting the data.  A high-level overview of the tables and their
relationships can be found at .
This contains all tables except those that enable you to store your own
names and numbers for each species, as I am not sure how they will look yet.

Thank you in advance for your response.

Best Wishes
Peter Wragg                              .-.
   email:                //
web site: //
   phone: (+27) 031 7655839             ((_.="""=.
 address: 7 Leinster Place               '.   ,.  \
          Gillitts                         '-._,)__\
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                                       jgs  =="-

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