Tony I think you will find it is most useful when in the field and writing
down everything you see. I personally use only a small notepad for most
surveys, and abbreviated names help you fit more on each page, and are
quicker to write, leaving more time for concentrating on listening for
calls and watching for movement. It may seem like only a small thing, but
using codes definitely help me be a lot more efficient on surveys. When I
get home to enter data into the Atlas or my own files they go in as full
common and scientific name. Think of it like secretarial shorthand.
I use a slightly different system to the four/five letter system (which is
more elegant than mine). Where clashes exist I do things like MLark/MLap,
CBrC/CBiC, GFan/GFal etc. I just use enough letters to help me distinguish
each species individually. Often with honeyeaters I just write the full
descriptor followed by HE (eg. Fuscous HE, Painted HE, etc.) though
sometimes I use a code such as for White-throated Honeyeater (WTHE), Brown
Honeyeater (BrHE) or Scarlet Honeyeater (ScHE, as opposed to SCHE which
would be Spiny-cheeked). Not as elegant or particularly internally
consistent, but it works for me.
On Wed, Mar 21, 2012 at 9:25 AM, Tony Russel <> wrote:
> This discussion has been going on for years. I'm not sure why people want (
> or need) to develop codes , I find using the full scientific and common
> names to be a perfectly satisfactory way of of identifying and talking
> birds. Why learn three names for everything ?? I suppose it's for quicker
> data entry into computers and taking up less file space but surely computer
> storage is so huge nowadays that it just becomes another academic exercise.
> As Harvey says below, he made up a code system several years ago but barely
> bothers with it anymore.
> aka Russellius antonius adelaidei.
> -----Original Message-----
> On Behalf Of Perkins,
> Sent: Wednesday, 21 March 2012 9:31 AM
> Subject: Re: [Birding-Aus] RFI Bird species codes [SEC=UNOFFICIAL]
> 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
> also resolves several conflicts.
> 2. I split two-component names even if they are normally considered a
> 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
> 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: [Birding-Aus] 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
> 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
> based on some very simple rules that related to the basic principles of
> 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
> an unfamiliar acronym, unambiguously to a single species.?
> Acronyms were used in Australia at that time, but there was little
> consistency. BFCS for Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike conforms to those rules
> 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
> 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 America).
> MALA is the most common clash followed by GRFA, most others are usually not
> 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.
> 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
> 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,
> 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,
> 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: Re: [Birding-Aus] 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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