RFI Bird species codes [SEC=UNOFFICIAL]

To: <>
Subject: RFI Bird species codes [SEC=UNOFFICIAL]
From: "Perkins, Harvey" <>
Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2012 10:01:07 +1100
Martin et al

Several years ago I made up for my own use a variation of the system
described by David James below. The main differences were:
1. I retained a four-letter code for non-passerines but used a
five-letter code for passerines. This immediately splits your
interpretive challenge and also resolves several conflicts.
2. I split two-component names even if they are normally considered a
single non-hyphenated word - so using one of David's examples,
Malleefowl becomes MAFO rather than MALL.

It had its own issues (eg I ended up using bk for black to distinguish
it from bl for blue, green and grey had to be similarly distinguished)
and there were still issues around interpretation of compound words (eg
I used HAHE for Hardhead, SILEY for Silvereye, but had concerns over
whether Goshawk should be GO or GH).
And there were still a few unresolved double-ups such as WHBWS for both
White-browed and White-breasted Woodswallows; and of course EMU was
still EMU.

I barely bother to use it anymore, but still think the 4- and 5-letter
code distinction would be valuable to any such coding system.


Harvey Perkins

Message: 15
Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2012 14:24:14 -0700 (PDT)
From: David James <>
To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: RFI Bird species codes
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=utf-8

Hi Martin,
(...following Alan Richard's reply with some overlap and some
Sorry I don't have a file to send you. I don't know of the national
system you refer to. However, I have used a four-letter acronym code for
Australian birds for about 25 years. 
When I was in North America for a few years in mid 80s I learnt of a
quite formal and official 4-letter acronym code that was widely used
there. It was based on some very simple rules that related to the basic
principles of bird names. Bird names mostly have two parts, a descriptor
followed by a group name, but sometimes there is only one name.
Sometimes there are two words to one or both parts of the name. The rule
divides the acronym evenly between the two parts of the name. Hyphens
are treated as spaces (i.e. hyphenated words are treated as two words);
case is ignored (some of these might be my own rules?). If there is one
word in a part of the name then the first two letters of that word are
used. If there are 2 words in a part then the first letter of each word
is used. The importance of the rules is that it should be possible to
work backwards from an unfamiliar acronym, unambiguously to a single
Acronyms were used in Australia at that time, but there was little
consistency. BFCS for Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike conforms to those rules
from America. YFH or YFHE for Yellow-faced Honeyeater did not conform.
It would be YFHO. Black-shouldered Kite is not BSKT (pronounced
'biscuit') but BSKI.
Mistletoebird is one word (someone decided to remove the space) so it is
MIST, Malleefowl MALL, Galah GALA, ROCK, PILO, FERN, SCRU, etc.
In 1989 (I think) I typed up all the acronyms according to the American
rules in a spreadsheet which I no longer have. It was based on the 1975
checklists (Condon, Schodde) and the 1977 list or recommended English
names, so now it would be 2 or 3 checklists out of date. I was dismayed
to find quite a lot of problems:
Emu is EMU, not four letters, trivial these days but troubling for some
computer programs back then.
Some things go against the grain. Fairy-wrens are FW, but Scrubwrens,
Grasswrens and Thronbills are SC, GR and TH (e.g. WBSC and BLGR)
Duplicates are out of control (I can't remember them all just now but
here are most of them):
WBWO: White-breasted and White-browed Woodswallows
WBRO: White-breasted and White-browed Robins
BHHO: Brown-headed and Black-headed Honeyeaters
BBHO: Brown-backed and Bar-breasted Honeyeaters
BBBQ: Buff-breasted and Black-breasted Button-quails
YTHO: Yellow-throated, Yellow-tufted and Yellow-tinted Honeyeaters
MAHO: Mangrove and Macleay's Honeyeaters
STSA: Sharp-tailed and Stilt Sandpipers
STSH: Short-tailed and Streaked Shearwaters
KEPE: Kerguelan and Kermadec Petrels
MAPE: Macaroni and Magellanic Penguins (I've not yet found this one a
BLPE: Black and Blue Petrels (that's 2 petrels, not a single bruised
LBCO: Little-black Cormorant, Long-billed Corella
GRFA: Grey Fantail, Grey Falcon
MALA: Masked Lapwing, Magpie-lark
RNPH: Red-necked Phalarope, Ring-necked Pheasant (no duplicate now that
the later is COPH, but the only duplicate I was aware of in North
MALA is the most common clash followed by GRFA, most others are usually
not sympatric.
I've not found a simple rule to sort out the clashes, and have usually
ignored most of them because of the location. For Masked Lapwing and
Magpie-lark I have used MALAP and MALAR (substituting the first
non-conflicting letters in the group part; i.e. using the first non
conflicting letters whilst still restricting it to 4 letters). However
for BBBQ and most others the rule needs to be applied to the descriptor
part. It doesn't work at all well for YTHO: (YHHO YUHO and YIHO? ? who
could ever figure out what those are from a field note book?). I do like
the old bushies? name Cranky Fanny... Nevertheless, to resolve GRFA I
have fallen into the habit of using GRFAN (5 letters) all the time and
?***GREY FALCON!? about 5 times. However, the conflicts are many and I
have found no simple rule to resolve them all. It's a nuisance that
Long-billed Corellas are so widely established these days. 
Changes to English names potentially render the code suddenly out-dated,
and without recognition of the code as a standard, those who change
English names do damage that they are unaware of. Most importantly, the
decision to remove hyphens (See the IOC list) can change so much (e.g.
if Cuckoo-shrike becomes Cuckooshrike then BFCS becomes BFCO, which then
clashes with Black-faced Cormorant; BBBQ and BBBQ become BBBU and create
a 3-way clash with you-know-what)
This 4-letter code has saved maybe millions of letters in my note books,
and therefore lots of time and space and books, and I keep using it
despite all the faults. However, I have never used it in a data base
situation. I've often given my notes to others to transcribe to Atlas
sheets or for writing-up fauna surveys. They usually complain at first,
but with instructions of the rules that I follow they usually do well,
query a few things, and after a little practice they always interpret
the code easily. 
I hope you can take it a step or two further. The three challenges I
recognise are: 
1) Simple rules for resolving the conflicts
2) Stability in the face of changing English names
3) National standardisation.
I hope this information helps

David James, 


From: Allan Richardson <>
Cc: birding-aus Aus <> 
Sent: Tuesday, 20 March 2012 11:20 PM
Subject: RFI Bird species codes

Hi Martin,

I first came across a four letter code for bird records when doing some
survey work for State forests in NSW in the 90's.

The basic format is this: the code represents the first four letters in
the bird's formal name, with variations on the theme where required, as

A single word bird name such as Galah would be Gala

A double word bird name such as Striated Thornbill would be St Th

A three word bird name such as Gang-Gang Cockatoo would be GG Co

A four word bird name such as Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike would be Bf Cs,
although when I use the code I always put in the hyphens as an added cue
to the bird's identity - e.g. B-f C-s or G-G Co for the Gang-Gangs

The hyphens also help to separate some species that? would otherwise be
difficult to separate, such as Brown Thornbill (Br Th), and Buff-rumped
Thornbill? (B-r Th), or Masked Lapwing (Ma La), and Magpie-lark (Ma-la),
or Little Black Cormorant (L B Co), and Long-billed Corella, (L-b Co).
Using capitalisation where it falls also helps to separate species as
you can see from these examples.

There will always be those species that you can't easily separated,
because their codes are the same, such as White-breasted Woodswallow
(W-b Wo), and White-browed Woodswallow (W-b Wo), so you might have to
add another digit, such as W-bs Wo and W-bw Wo respectively. It won't
ring true if you're trying to develop a four letter code database but
neither would the hyphens in such a case. Overlaps are not that frequent
for local lists, but they do add an element of ambiguity for referencing
down the track or when you are listing or surveying on a large trip or
large area, where many species will be encountered.

I do know of a number of folk who give birds their own four letter codes
as their imagination dictates, but the above code is one more formal
approach that I have used now for many years. I find it very useful for
saving on note pad paper and being able to get down many species when
activity is high. it does take some getting used to, especially when you
have to interpret them later, or worse still, you pass them on to have
someone else interpret them.

i have noticed lately, while entering bird names into datbases
(encompassing all fauna guilds) that many species have sequences of
letters that bring only one species up very quickly with few characters
entered, such as ie- for Magpie-lark, toeb for Mistletoebird, er-ey for
Silver-eye or llarb for Dollarbird. A difficult method to take on board,
because you would have to remember all of the codes without a format
formula to follow, but especially powerful when others may have to enter
your data into a database and you are not around to give them help when
they get stuck.

I would guess that most four letter codes are similar or a variation on
the above more formal theme.

All the best,

Allan Richardson
Morisset, NSW

On 20/03/2012, at 2:25 PM,  wrote:

> A request for list members.
> Would the people/person who developed short acronyms or 'series of 
> letters' for Australian species codes please send me a copy of their
> list or direct me to where this can be found?
> Martin O'Brien
> Melbourne

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