Nevada Bird Records Committee Frequently Asked Questions

(Click on question to jump to the answer.)

1) Why should I submit my rare bird sightings to the NBRC?

The committee will review the documentation for your record to determine if the documentation of the sighting meets the required standards for inclusion in the permanent collection of endorsed sightings for the state. This level of review results in a high degree of assurance that the sighting is not only accurately identified, but that it is adequately documented.

Of course, an observation whose documentation does not receive the endorsement of the committee also remains in the permanent record, and all of the documentation remains in the archives -- researchers have their own standards for what level of documentation they require for their own scientific purposes.

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2) What does it mean if the NBRC does not endorse my sighting record?

Refer to question 1 above for most of the answer to this question. Additionally, it is important for everyone to understand that the committee's review is not intended to determine what bird you saw. That's your decision. The committee's review is not intended to determine what you should or should not count on any personal lists you maintain. Again, your decision. The review is entirely aimed toward determining if the level of documentation provided is sufficient to meet the required standards for inclusion on the committee's list of endorsed sightings for the state.

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3) How do I determine if a bird I've seen should be documented to the NBRC?

There are two main ways of determining which species should be submitted to the NBRC (and then a few odds and ends).

First: Check the Nevada Review List, published on the NBRC website. (This is by far the most likely way to determine whether or not you should submit documentation.) This is a list of all species for which the NBRC would like to receive documentation. Alas, it isn't quite that simple, but it's close. When you look up a species on the Nevada Review List, it is possible that the species name will be followed by an "exemption". For example, Tri-colored Blackbird is exempt from review in the Carson Valley. If you observe a Tri-colored Blackbird in that location, it should not be documented to the NBRC. But if you see one anywhere else in Nevada, please send documentation to the NBRC.

Second:: If the species you've seen is not on the Nevada Review List, it is possible that it has never been satisfactorily documented in the state. Look at the Nevada State Checklist (also located on the NBRC website). If the species is not on that list, then please be sure to provide the NBRC with documentation of your sighting! (But see next paragraph.) Of course, you should realize that the standards for endorsement of such a record are going to be pretty high. But even if your record were not endorsed, it would still provide useful information for future reference.

There is one additional element to consider when you observe a bird that is not on the State Checklist. Perhaps it just flew out of someone's cage. Introduced species are common all over North America. Some are game birds planted by fish and wildlife agencies (Himalayan Snowcocks are an example in Nevada.) Some of these become established populations, which are then added to the State Checklist (such as the Snowcock) -- others have not achieved that status. Observations of these species do not get reviewed by the NBRC. Pet cage birds make up the other major component of introduced species. Things get just a bit complicated here. If such a species is considered established in Nevada (a decision made by the NBRC), it is on the State Checklist. Eurasian Collared-Dove is one of many examples. Some other such species have been declared established in some states but not in Nevada. (Mute Swans, while not exactly a "cage bird", is one example, as is Scaly-breated Munia.) Should a population of these types become established in Nevada (the NBRC monitors listserv reports and eBird reports of such species), the committee could vote to add it to the State Checklist. (In such a case, it would not be added to the State Review List, since, by definition at that point, it would not be "rare".)

This leaves birds from the pet trade that show up every now and then in Nevada but do not qualify as an established population. The current policy of the NBRC is that you should not document such sightings to the committee unless the species is one which is currently considered established by the American Birding Association (the ABA list) and is considered established in a state adjacent to Nevada (and, therefore, is on that state's checklist). An example would be Scaly-breasted Munia -- it is on the ABA checklist and on the California checklist. In such a case, the NBRC would like to receive documentation on your sighting. The committee would analyze population trends in California to see if the established population has spread to areas close to Nevada, and if so, the committee would then have to make a determination as to whether the individual you observed "most likely" came from the California established population (in which case, it could result in the species being added to the Nevada State Checklist), or whether it is just aa likely to have flown out of someone's cage nearby.

Other odds and ends: Subspecies
It is possible that there are several field-identifiable subspecies or forms of a species, and that one or more of those forms is common in Nevada (and so the species is on the Nevada State Checklist and is NOT on the Nevada Review List). But what if you see a form of that species which is very rare (or perhaps even previously unrecorded) in Nevada? The current NBRC bylaws state that if a subspecies (or other level of identifiable form) has ever been considered a full species by the American Ornithological Union (AOU), or if that form is currently considered a full species by any other national or international such organization, the NBRC will review that observation in the same way it reviews current full species. If you are not sure whether a subspecies you've encountered should be documented to the NBRC, email the secretary of the NBRC and ask. You can contact the secretary at:

   NevadaBirdRecords  --AT-SYMBOL--  gbbo  --DOT--  org

Examples: The Eurasian subspecies of Green-winged Teal is considered a full species by many international ornithological societies, but not by the AOU. If you see one, please submit documentation to the NBRC. On the other hand, many authorities think that there are several species contained in the present "Savannah Sparrow". However, since they were not formerly considered separate species by the AOU, and there are no national or international ornithological societies which currently consider them to be separate species, the committee would not review a sighting of, say, "Large-billed" Savannah Sparrow, a subspecies that would be an extreme rarity in Nevada. (But you certainly should document the sighting and save your documentation -- some anticipate that there will be a "split" of the Savannah Sparrows by the AOU one of these days. If and when such a split occurs, the NBRC would love to review any sightings of "Large-billed" Savannah Sparrow or "Belding's" Savannah Sparrow, even if your observation predated the split.)

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4) How do I document my rare bird sightings for submission to the NBRC?

The most important issue involved in submitting a sighting to the committee is that it must be carefully documented. There are many ways that a sighting can be documented (and the more, the better).

First: Documentation can (and usually does) consist of written descriptions of the appearance, behavior, vocalizations, etc. which you observed during your sighting. The very best such documentation comes from notes taken during or very shortly after the sighting. The committee (and most researchers) are rarely convinced by documentation written from memory weeks, months, sometimes years after the observation. (That doesn't mean you can't submit a sighting long after the observation, as long as your documentation comes directly from notes taken close to the time of the observation.)

When writing your documentation, it is critical that you describe just what you saw, heard, etc. The committee is not interested in what a Field Guide describes about the species you saw. They want to hear exactly what you actually saw! There are two reasons for this: first, there is the obvious issue that it is much too easy to look at a Field Guide picture and begin "remembering" details you might have seen (or might not have seen, alas.) Second, a detailed description of what you actually observed often provides very useful (and convincing) information that is not written in any Field Guide. Perhaps your bird was missing some tailfeathers from an encounter with a neighborhood cat. The committee wants to know that! Perhaps your bird was in the middle of a molt period and really didn't look all that much like the ones pictured in most Field Guides. Great! That's what we want to know.

One of the most valuable things you can document is how you arrived at your identification, including discussion of what other species you considered and how you eliminated them.

Incidentally, hand-drawn sketches are a wonderful way to communicate what you saw. Whether you are one of the world's great artists or have trouble creating decent stick-figures, you can still provide useful sketches pointing out specific features you noticed. (Try it -- it's fun!)

Second: Photos, sound recordings, and video recordings make great documentation.
Many birders now carry some sort of camera when in the field. Obviously, photos are an extremely useful form of documentation. If you obtain photos of the bird, don't worry about whether they are "cover-photo" quality. If they show any details (or even just overall shape), they can be helpful in the committee's deliberations.

If your photos are particularly good (from an identification point of view, not necessarily from an artistic point of view), they may provide most of the information needed for the committee to carry out a thorough and rigorous review. While photos should always be accompanied by some form of written documentation, it is not necessary (or even desirable) to write a description based on your photos. The committee (and future researchers) can see the pictures! But the pictures might not be very useful in determining behavior, vocalization, etc. And perhaps you observed features that are not apparent in the photos, e.g., size is often difficult to determine in photos. Write it up! Always include as much documentation as you can. (And, of course, you'll always need to include species name, location, date and time, other observers, your own personal information -- name and some way to contact you at the very least. Additionally, information such as habitat, lighting conditions, optical equipment you were using, weather, etc. can be helpful.

Note for those submitting photographs: Please let the committee know if we have permission to use your photographs on our website and in published committee reports. You will, of course, be credited as photographer whenever the photos are used.

Other forms of documentation: Some people like to make audio recordings of birds singing or calling. That's great supplemental documentation. In fact, there are cases where just a recording of a single bird song has been the deciding factor in a record receiving committee endorsement. There are species which can not, or usually can not, be positively identified without reference to the bird's vocalizations. While a written description of the vocalization might be convincing, a recording would be even more so.

The whole issue of specimens is beyond the scope of this FAQ.

Continue to question 5 for discussion of the appropriate format for your documentation.

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5) Do I need to use the NBRC Review Form to submit my sightings?

The answer is a qualified no. The NBRC website has an on-line form which you may use to document your sighting. This form provides a great way to format your written documentation for the NBRC. For most situations, it is probably the best way to document your sightings.
If you have photos (or audio or video recordings) to submit along with your written documentation, you will need to send that separately as an email attachment if you use the on-line form.

However, the committee does not require the use of that form. If you don't want to use the form, don't. But please look carefully at the form anyway. It shows you the kinds of information the committee considers important when reviewing a sighting record. Use that form for guidance, whether you actually fill out the form or send your documentation as an email message in whatever format you choose.

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6) How do I submit my sightings documentation to the NBRC?

If your documentation consists entirely of "digital" information (word-processed documents, digital photos or digital scans of photo prints, computer scans of hand-written field notes, digital audio recordings, etc.), please send your documentation to the committee using email, the on-line form on the website, or a combination of the two. Send email to the NBRC secretary at:
   NevadaBirdRecords  --AT-SYMBOL--  gbbo  --DOT--  org
Include your documentation as one or more attachments. This is, by far, the preferred approach. It enables the secretary to easily convert your submission into the form required to circulate the record to the committee members for review, and it provides almost automatic digital archiving for future reference.
Photos embedded into email documents are much harder for us to deal with, although we'll take it if that's the only way.

If you have non-digital documentation (copies of your field notes or unscanned photos, etc.), you can mail your submission to the secretary using conventional mail. Send the documentation to:
c/o GBBO
1755 E. Plumb Lane
Suite 256A
Reno, NV 89502

A combination of digital documentation emailed to the secretary and "physical" documentation sent by conventional mail is fine. Please indicate in your email that additional documentation is being mailed.

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7) Do I need a photograph in order to get a sighting endorsed by the NBRC?

No! (Most of the time.)

Many, in fact, most, committee-endorsed sighting records do not have photographs. If the written documentation is sufficiently detailed and precise, even very rare and very hard-to-identify species can be submitted to the committee with the expectation of endorsement.

So, why the "qualified no"? Two reasons: First, good photos and minimal written documentation may be sufficient to gain committee endorsement of the record, where the same minimal written documentation without photos almost certainly would not. Second, in the case where the species you are submitting would constitute the first endorsed record for that species for the state, the committee might feel that some form of physical evidence (e.g., photos) is necessary for endorsement of the record. There's nothing in the committee bylaws stating that, but if the committee members feel that way, the decision would be up to them.

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8) If I submit photographs, do I still need to provide written documentation?

Yes! However, your written documentation should concentrate on those things not obvious in the photos. Of course, you'll always need to provide such information as species, location, date, your name, and a way to contact you. But it would also be very useful, especially for use of your documentation by future researchers, to include more than that. Examples of such additional information include weather, habitat, observed behavior, description of any vocalizations heard, and any physical features you observed which are not evident in the photographs. (Please see item 4 above.)

Finally, please let the committee know if we have permission to use your photographs on our website and in published committee reports. You will, of course, be credited as photographer whenever the photos are used.

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9) What processes occur after I submit a sighting to the NBRC?

After the secretary of the committee receives your documentation, the record is entered into a database. Some of the information (such as NBRC Identification Number, species name, sighting date and location) are added to the NBRC's website list of records. (Note that the submitter name is not included in the website display at the time of submission. We do not publish the name of record submitters until after the committee has endorsed the record. If the record does not get endorsed by the NBRC, the submitter's name is not published.)

Eventually (typically within about six months), the committee members receive a copy of all of your documentation as part of a "packet" of records to review. (This process is handled entirely electronically.) Each member carefully studies your documentation, does whatever additional research he or she feels is necessary, and "votes" as to whether or not to endorse the record. Member comments are included with the vote.

Votes can be:
1) Endorse
2) Not endorse, identification not established
3) Not endorse, origin questionable

The "origin questionable" vote means that the member was convinced that the species was correctly identified and that the documentation supports that identification, but thinks there is a high likelihood that the individual bird did not arrive under its own power or did not originate from a naturally occurring or officially established population. A bird which was presumed to have been captured in the wild and transported to Nevada would receive the "Not endorse, origin questionable" designation. Any escaped cage bird (pet), whether captured in the wild or the product of captive breeding, would fit into that designation. Birds in transplanted populations (often game birds) might receive that designation. (Some introduced game birds have developed stable, established populations in the state, but, for the most part, such birds would not be reviewed as rarities by the committee anyway.)
This "origin questionable" category is often one of the most contentious issues facing any committee -- clearly it is impossible, in most circumstances, to "prove" origin, one way or the other. This is a case where the committee members, relying on their knowledge, research, and judgment, must essentially make an educated guess.

Once a record has been reviewed, a decision is reached as to whether or not it receives committee endorsement. (The exact rules for how many votes are required, whether additional review rounds are needed, or even whether an already "decided" record should be re-evaluated, are beyond the scope of the FAQ. Please consult the NBRC bylaws, available on our website, if you want all the gory details.) The decision is added to the database, all committee deliberations are included in the archives with the other record documentation, the website is updated (decision is published and, in the case of "endorsed" records, submitter names are included,) and the record is published in the next NBRC Annual Report. Submitters are advised of the result (if possible.)

If an endorsed record represents the first record for the state, the species is added to the official Nevada State Checklist.

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10) Why should I submit rarity documentation to the NBRC if I already entered it into eBird?

There are occasions when sightings of Nevada review species are reported to eBird but details are not being submitted to the Nevada Bird Records Committee (NBRC). Reviewers for eBird typically remind people to submit documentation to the committee when an eBird report comes in for their review that is for a species on the Nevada Review List. But some are still missed.

Those in charge of eBird insist that anything submitted to eBird is public (other than personal information), and that a state records committee has the right to use the submitted data and photos for review purposes. The NBRC, however, does not use eBird submissions as submissions to the committee.

As mentioned, personal information is not shared by eBird, and therefore, the NBRC (and, specifically, the secretary) has no access to email addresses for people who report to eBird (unless contact information is available from other previous direct correspondence.) So in many cases, we can't reach out to ask for an NBRC submission when a sighting of a review species is reported to eBird.

If you think it's important that we gain (and maintain) a clear understanding of status and distribution for rare birds in Nevada, then please consider submitting documentation for review species to the committee. eBird is doing excellent work, and, for the more common birds, eBird is sufficient for status/distribution matters. Also, the eBird reviewers for Nevada are very good, but it's not the same as having six skilled birders reviewing complete documentation for rarities. It is really important to have more information than an eBird report provides. Even with photos attached to eBird reports, there are no archived details that provide a complete picture as the years go by, such as:
. other people who also saw the bird when it is observed,
. habitat,
. vocalizations,
. behavior,
. written description of features not obtainable from photos (size, for example), and,
.importantly, how similar species are eliminated for identification.

Please consult the NBRC website and check the State Review List if you see any "rare" bird.

If you observe a bird that you think is rare, but you don't find it on the State Review List, look at the State Checklist.

If it is not on the review list or the state checklist, please submit a report! It could represent a first for the state.
(However, if the bird is an exotic -- such as an escaped cage bird – and it is not on the checklist, please contact the secretary to check if documentation is desired.)

Information on submitting a report to the NBRC can be found here.

To reach the secretary with questions or comments, send email to:
NevadaBirdRecords --AT-SYMBOL-- gbbo --DOT-- org


Additional information from eBird reviewer for southern Nevada, Carl Lundblad:

eBird users in southern Nevada should be aware that we will often "provisionally validate" review species in eBird when they are well documented by photographs or other physical evidence (in those cases when there are no tricky provenance or identification issues). However the ultimate acceptance of these records in eBird is contingent upon submission to and endorsement by the NBRC. I sometimes try to wait until I've confirmed that the NBRC has received a submission, but I also want to mark well-documented rarities as "Confirmed" as soon as possible as a courtesy to potential chasers. Review species provisionally accepted into eBird will eventually be marked invalid if they do not go through the committee process (fortunately, we've rarely if ever had to go back and do that due to good practices by Nevada's birders).

This is by eBird design. eBird recognizes the great value of state records committees and recommends its reviewers to defer to those decisions. Thank you to everyone who submits their observations to eBird.

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End of FAQ (until we get another frequent question)