Re: birding-aus Bird Names vs Code numbers: comments from a US birder--l

To: Birding-Aus <>
Subject: Re: birding-aus Bird Names vs Code numbers: comments from a US birder--long
From: Richard Tkachuck <>
Date: Fri, 05 Mar 1999 09:19:48 -0500

Comments from a US birder.

Wife and I will be in Australia for a month in July. I have been searching for
all the bird lists on the web that contain info about your birds in the hopes of
deciding which regons will be most productive in seeing species not yet located.
This will be my fourth birding trip to your wonderful land, so I have seen a
number of your beauties.

So far, I have about 25 lists and am looking for more. In looking at these, I
can emphasize the confusion that exists in comparing list with list. Using the
RAOU list as an Australian standard, I have compared this to several world lists
(Sibley/Monroe, Clemments, American Ornithological Union, etc) and all present
differences.  The age of the local list determines how closely the taxonomy
follows the present RAOU. Local lists published by guides and lodges often
follow the field guide that they prefer, many of which use local common names
that differ from the standard common name in the RAOU and have been a real
problem in identifying. Finding a list with a scientific name is rare.

With this preamble, I would like to comment on a numbering system. The bird list
of the Australian National Botanic Gardens (
uses a numbering system based on the atlas. The RAOU
( does not. The problem
with a numbering system is that it requires some stability in nomenclature. What
happens to the number when a species is split or lumped? Who determines the
standard and where is it kept so that visitors like ourselves, know what you are
talking about.

The people in southern Africa have attempted to solve  this by accepting the
taxonomy of  Roberts and many of the lists from that region contain "Roberts
Numbers". The problem with this system is that as taxonomy changes, a
standardized numbering list must be modified.  There are in fact, two different
Roberts Number lists.  An old one and a more recent one. In looking through
lists from this area (southern Africa), I have found both sets of numbers and
did not know which I was dealing with at first. To add to the confusion, the
dominant bird book for southern Africa is by Newman. Newman has also numbered
the birds and they are different from Roberts Numbers.  So I have seen lists
with both Roberts and Newman numbers!

What I have done with your bird lists and about 400 more is set up an arbitrary
world bird list based on Genus and species names in a standard table.(This
largely follows Clemants and Sibley/Monroe). I then took the RAOU list and found
their equivalents in my standard list and linked the two lists. Birds that are
found in the RAOU and not in my standard list are added with appropriate notes.
(These are species that are recognized by Australian authorities and not by
others who make up world lists.) Then I compare a species list from a local
region (say Niven's Darwin list) with the RAOU correlating his name with the
RAOU names which are already standardize with my arbitrary list.  In this way I
can look at the Darwin list and compare it with my life list, and determine if
Darwin is worth a visit. (It is and we will be there.) By combining all the
local Australian lists that I have  standardized (I now have about 5,500 records
of the location of Australian species.) I can start to predict where the best
places to visit will be. Using these records I can now determine that going the
Canberra region will be more profitable for me than going to the Sydney area.

Other problems arise when the Australian authorities do not accept a name when
others do. Take your Darter. Presently RAOU lumps this with the darters found
off the continent as Anhinga melanogaster. Clemants and Sibley/Monroe have
chosen to accept a split into two species and list it as Anhinga novaehollandiae
with Anhinga melanogaster for a bird farther north. More problems develop when
trying to take lists with only regional names (and no scientific names) and
trying to figure out what they are.  The Hardhead (Aythya australis) is an
example.  Almost every field guide that I have looked at it has it as as this so
does the RAOU list. Outside AU, it is the White-eyed Duck.

The main point of this extensive email, is to say: It would be nice to have an
easy standard taxonomy, especially for the visitor so that they can know where
to visit when they have a limited amount of time. Also nice would be a cross
reference this taxonomy with a couple standard field guides, (your rosellas are
a real puzzle) and you need to let people know where these standard data are

BTW: If anyone wants to talk Australian bird databases, would be willing to
share info.

Sorry for butting in on a local discussion.  But what you decide has some
implecations for us who live off-shore and visit occasionally.

Until July,


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