The complete details of PORC’s procedures are in the committee’s bylaws, which can be read here. The following is a summary of the important provisions.
The committee consists of seven voting members whose qualifications should include expertise in identification of birds, knowledge of Pennsylvania birds, and familiarity with localities in Pennsylvania. A geographical balance to the committee is desirable, but should not override the other criteria. Members are nominated for terms of three years by the chair and other committee members. PORC elects its chair and non-voting secretary for one year at the committee’s annual meeting.
The members vote to place records they accept in one of three classes, which are divided into five categories depending on the nature of the evidence. Records in Class I are placed on the Official State List. Records in Classes II and III are placed on a Provisional List until the physical evidence of a specimen, photograph, or recording is obtained. Following are the classes and categories:
Class I-S: An existing identifiable specimen adequately labeled as to date, place, and collector, and available for public inspection.
Class I-P: A diagnostic photograph(s) adequately labeled as to date, place, and photographer, a copy of which is deposited with the committee.
Class I-R: a diagnostic recording or sonogram adequately labeled as to date, place and recorder, and available for public inspection.
Class II: An accepted sight record documented independently by two or more observers.
Class III: An accepted sight record documented by one observer. (The important word here is documented. Many people may have seen a bird but if only one observer submits documentation, it is considered a single-observer record.)
Records not accepted are placed into one of the following classes and categories:
Class IV-A: A record for which there exists a majority of evidence in support of the observer’s identification; the record is probably correct, but not beyond reasonable doubt.
Class IV-B: A record for which there exists insufficient evidence for evaluation.
Class IV-C: A record for which there exists a majority of evidence in favor of an identification other than what was submitted.
The bylaws also provide a special Class V: The identification is correct, but the bird represents or may represent an escape or an introduced bird not yet established in Pennsylvania.
eBird Expedited Review Process Within the bylaws revision of 2019, under “Article X” you will note that we now have an “eBird Expedited Review” process, in which species submitted to eBird checklists in PA with media, and which meet the criteria of having the assigned abundance code of 4 or 5 are eligible for this expedited review process (see: http://pabirds.org/records/index.php/pennsylvania-bird-list/) This new process falls in line with other state bird records committees, and helps keep the PORC and eBird united together in the combined goal of archiving Pennsylvania avifauna accounts.
- An eBird record shall be accepted so long as it meets the following criteria:
- The bird species or subspecies is included in the Pennsylvania Review List and is assigned with a numerical abundance code of 4 or 5 on the Pennsylvania Bird List.
- The record contains diagnostic photograph(s), audio, and/or video evidence.
- The eBird record has been reviewed and confirmed by the regional eBird Reviewer according to the eBird review process.
- Expedited review process
- The Secretary and/or any member of the Committee shall review eBird records for Pennsylvania and identify eligible records for expedited review.
- Eligible records as identified above shall be provisionally accepted and regularly (i.e. every 1-2 months) provided to the Committee.
- Any member of the Committee may object to any provisionally accepted eBird record and subject said record to full Committee review. If no Committee member objects, the record shall be formally accepted by the Committee.
- If a committee member objects to a record provisionally accepted through the expedited review process, the Secretary shall prepare said record for formal review by the Committee.
- All records formally accepted through the expedited review process shall be published annually by the Committee in the same fashion as other records that undergo the formal review process (Article VIII).
- Formally accepted records through eBird shall be designated with the corresponding class (as identified in Article VI) with the additional designation “e” (e.g. Class I-Pe) to indicate the record was accepted through the expedited review process.
- Formally accepted eBird records shall contain the following information:
- Bird species and/or subspecies, name of the observer(s), number of bird(s) observed, and location where the bird(s) was observed.
- A link to the eligible eBird checklist.
PORC Treatment of Hybrids
PORC has adopted a policy not to vote on reports of hybrids, but it welcomes detailed descriptions for archival purposes as potentially important ornithological records that might otherwise be lost to science. Exceptions to the hybrids for which documentation is desired are domesticated birds, Mallard x American Black Duck, and Black-capped x Carolina Chickadee.
Voting Results Determination
The voting process functions under detailed rules established in the bylaws to provide fair and consistent evaluations of all records. Voting consists of either one or two rounds. In the first round, members vote without discussion among themselves. In the second round, members see comments the others made on the first-round ballots, which may or may not change their original opinions for the final vote.
Voting results are determined as follows:
1. Acceptance requires a final vote of 7-0, 6-1, or in the case when a member abstains, 6-0.
2. If a record receives a vote of only 5-2 or 4-3 for acceptance, it goes to a second round of balloting for a final vote.
3. When the vote to accept is 6-1 and the dissenter provides arguments for the negative vote, the record also goes to a second round for re-evaluation in a final vote.
4. Upon a negative vote of 3-4, 2-5, or 1-6 on the first round, a record is not accepted nor is it normally circulated for a second round.
After a final vote has been cast, members may request at any time that a record be reconsidered in a new round of balloting. In a case where additional evidence has been received or new circumstances have arisen since the final vote, the Secretary is directed to schedule reconsideration in a new vote.
A member must abstain from voting when he/she was one of the primary persons who discovered the bird and considers the identification to be accurate. However, if the primary group includes three or more Committee members, then each member should vote. A member should vote also if he/she traveled to see a bird someone else found. Alternatively, a member who has seen a bird submitted as a record is always permitted to vote in Class IV or V not to accept it.
The committee emphasizes that it does not accept second-hand reports (i.e. written by someone describing what another person saw.
The committee’s basic principles of relations with observers were published in the PSO Newsletter of October 2001 and were patterned on a policy adopted by the British Birds Rarities Committee more than 40 years ago:
“The Committee is fully conscious it must command the ongoing confidence of the birding community including county compilers or it would not be able to function. PORC has no automatic or legal expectation that birders submit records to them. We can only perform our task of record assessment and keeping of the state record with the good will and cooperation of the majority of birders in Pennsylvania. Confidence in the Committee’s fairness and efficiency is essential. Any suggested improvements in its operation are always welcome and should be sent to the Secretary.”
PORC’s current Secretary is Tessa Rhinehart
A variety of specific policies not included in the bylaws have been adopted by the committee over the years, for example:
The committee sends an email to all observers who submit a record acknowledging that their documentation has been received. After the committee has made a decision, observers whose records were not accepted receive an email from the committee explaining the reasons.
In the committee’s annual report announcing its decisions, the observers’ names are published for accepted records but not for records failing to gain acceptance.
The committee emphasizes that it does not rule on whether a bird was seen or not seen, or whether a bird should be added to an observer’s life list or state list. The committee can base its evaluation and decision only on the documentation it receives. If a report fails because the documentation does not support it, the result is disappointing not only to the observer but also to the committee. What might have been a valid addition to the state’s bird records could be rejected for lack of evidence. For guidance in submitting reports, see the documentation form and the tips for adequately documenting rare birds.
In some cases reports that reached the committee were rejected for lack of details, and later the committee discovered that the observer had never intended a cursory description to be submitted for formal evaluation by PORC. To avoid this problem, which has created ill will toward the committee at times, county compilers who receive descriptions are requested to ask the observer’s permission before forwarding the report to either Pennsylvania Birds or PORC.
In its policies, procedures and votes, PORC’s goal is fair, objective and expert evaluation of all reports submitted – toward the ultimate purpose of assuring a credible and useful ornithological record for Pennsylvania.