re: collecting birds

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: re: collecting birds
From: Lawrie Conole <>
Date: Wed, 30 Jul 2003 12:21:54 +1000
Hi birders

Tony Russell and I have been having a brief chat offline about this matter.  We've agreed to disagree and be civil with each other!!! .... but Tony has also been good enough to scan & send me a copy of the paper in question.

At the outset I should reveal my position.  I'm in favour of collecting birds if there are sound scientific reasons to do so, and so long as the application has been thoroughly vetted to make sure that this action will not unduly endanger a species or population; that the research question is one worth pursuing; that the research question could not be addressed in non-lethal ways, etc.  I have a part time interest in bird systematics and phylogeny - and so well curated, representative museum bird collections are indispensible for that purpose.  Tony and I also discussed how ready people are to "tick" new taxa, but it seems they don't always take much notice of the process by which new taxa are raised (ie. how dead birds for study are procured!!!).  There - that's where I stand.

The paper that Tony raised on this list is:

Eckert, J. & Ludewigs, M. (2003). Yellow Chat Epthianura crocea at Tolderol Game Reserve.  South Australian Ornithologist 34: 83-84.

My remarks to Tony are as follows:

"...  Though I previously stated that I have no objection to collecting birds for sound reasons, etc. - this example is as far as I can see unnecessary and unsupportable.  Though I don't see any threat to the Yellow Chat population from collecting a vagrant, I can't see what was gained from doing so!  They don't offer any real justification for collecting this one - there was never any suggestion that it was other than a vagrant (ie. not a previously undiscovered population).  I don't feel any moral indignation, but I do question their scientific judgement.  ...".

I think the collection of the Yellow Chat was misguided and unjustified.  A quick reading of the paper shows that the Yellow Chat was something like 1,000km out of range - clearly a vagrant, and therefore of little real ornithological interest.  The paper also contains a rather lame discussion of the difficulties associated with verifying a sight record of Yellow (versus Orange) Chat in an extralimital location - but then goes on to elaborate on how approachable the bird was, and how unequivocal the sight ID was!!!  Even speculation on the subspecific affinity of the specimen made from the field observations was not particularly enhanced by closer examination of the dead bird (DNA analysis might help there).

I don't share Tony's moral indignation at the collection of this bird, but I do think it was an unsupportable and gratuitous collection - one which adds almost nothing to the information collected in the field from the live, free-flying bird.  Bad science this time - but don't tar us all with that brush please ...

Lawrie Conole
Senior Ecologist
Ornithology & Terrestrial Ecology
Ecology Australia Pty. Ltd.
Flora and Fauna Consultants
88B Station Street
FAIRFIELD VIC 3078 Australia
E-mail: m("","lconole");">
Ph: (03) 9489 4191; Mob: (0419) 588 993
Fax: (03) 9481 7679
ABN 83 006 757 142

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