Decline in Ornithology

To: "Birding-aus" <>
Subject: Decline in Ornithology
From: "Greg & Val Clancy" <>
Date: Sun, 22 Jun 2008 22:14:44 +1000
Stephen asked me to post this response to the recent disussion on BIrding-aus:

The decline of ornithology

I never said that rarities shouldn't be documented.  First occurrences of 
rarities should be documented properly in the published literature, and AFO 
encourages it.  What I would question is the value of hordes of other birders 
then rushing off to tick the latest blow-in.  Surely it's enough that the 
species is adequately confirmed for the Australian list (via BARC and a 
supporting paper in AFO)?  In the current environmental and oil crisis, we 
should be much smarter about our carbon footprint and fuel consumption, and 
'giving back' to the birds in whatever way we can, so we still have birds to 
watch.  For people who like ticking and listing (and that's fine if it's 
directed to a useful end), there are the various atlas schemes and surveys, 
with a good chance of 'ticks' if under-surveyed grids are targeted.  One can 
also supplement the fund of knowledge on bird behaviour, biology and ecology.  
Anyone can publish valuable distributional or behavioural notes or papers on 
birds, or conduct more detailed studies, and AFO encourages that too (and yes, 
there's editorial help available).  The last word has not been said even on 
common species (see how many HANZAB accounts, e.g. on social organisation, 
social behaviour, food or breeding, say 'poorly known' or 'no detailed 
studies').  And we need more specific information, for conservation purposes, 
than the general information in Wikipedia or the popular bird books.  One 
doesn't have to be a scientist or academic, but published observations should 
be placed in the context of existing knowledge.

Birding-Aus is not for research, but there's much information that could be 
publishable.  E.g., the Osprey nest at Ulladulla: a southerly breeding 
extension by 100s of km that should be documented properly.  Already many 
snippets have appeared in 'Field notes' in Boobook (journal of the Raptor 
Association).  Birding-Ausers might be published authors without knowing it 
(check out Boobook since 2004), but even that source is drying up now as 
birders seem to be taking less notice of what birds are actually doing.  If you 
don't take AFO (shame on you!  .No, just kidding), check it out.  It might be 
available online soon, although the Web is an Achilles' heel (like state 
electricity grids, municipal water reservoirs, fossil fuels, etc.).

Much good ornithology has been done by unfunded amateurs, through journals such 
as AFO.  'Amateur' means 'for the love of it' (i.e. unpaid), but it certainly 
need not mean unprofessional.  And about that Black Swan wearing a neck band: 
if birds weren't banded or marked, we wouldn't have information on their 
longevity, movements or social structure (data needed for conservation).  
Research projects using marking must have ethical clearance, researchers love 
their birds and try to minimise adverse effects, and the disturbance is 
temporary.  And of course good observational studies can be done without 
marking (see AFO).

Stephen Debus

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