Why have a state bird records committee?
Records committees like the Pennsylvania Ornithological Records Committee (PORC) fulfill the important need of ornithological research for a credible, reliable, and well documented record of species that have occurred in a state, province, region, or nation.
Ornithologists in the United States, Canada, and many countries around the world began to recognize in the 1970s and 1980s that research into the distribution and occurrence of bird species had a serious deficiency. Unless museum specimens of a particular species in a particular state or region were available, the researchers had no way of knowing whether published records were valid.
In North America such records typically appeared in continental journals such as Audubon Field Notes and its successor American Birds or in one of the many state or provincial publications. These were respected journals, but typically their reports offered no documented evidence whether a species involved was identified correctly. Thus studies of patterns in occurrence of rare or accidental occurrence of species were usually based on nothing more than the opinion of a journal’s editor about the validity of a report. Details that might have indicated the accuracy of an identification were seldom provided. Even if documentation did exist, it was not easily available in one place in an archived collection of records.
The Pennsylvania Ornithological Records Committee seeks to fill those gaps, providing future ornithologists and students of bird distribution with an adequate archived record of rare and unusual birds that have occurred in the state. The archives include committee members’ votes and comments on the adequacy of the documentations submitted, so researchers can judge the authenticity of the reports.
In service of these goals, PORC’s bylaws describe four purposes for the committee:
To determine the authenticity of rare or unusual bird sightings in the state of Pennsylvania. The Records Committee includes seven voting members who spend many hours evaluating a hundred or more reports each year. In voting to accept or not to accept a record, members explain on individual ballots the reasons for their votes.
To maintain the official checklist of the birds of Pennsylvania: The Official List consists of species judged to be documented satisfactorily as having occurred in the state. It is revised every five years for publication in the journal Pennsylvania Birds. The first edition in 1990 (PB 4:51-53) consisted of 353 species. In the third edition published in 2000 (PB 14:105-109) the list grew to 389 species plus 7 species on a Provisional List. The most recent edition brings the current list to 426, 8 of which are on the provisional list. (Provisional species are accepted on the basis of sight records, but are not placed on the Official List because they have not yet been documented by physical evidence such as a specimen, photograph, video or audio recording.)
To maintain permanently the original bird records and all Committee votes and comments for use by present and future ornithological students: The ballots containing members’ votes and comments are maintained permanently by the Secretary and are available for research.
To publish data on all records receiving a decision: The committee publishes an annual report in Pennsylvania Birds of all records that have received a committee vote and a decision for or against acceptance in the previous year.