Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sungrebe and other rare birds

What a find! First for the ABA region, a female Sungrebe showed up in New Mexico. The bird was photographed on the 13th of November, and correctly Identified the 17th then refound the 18th. What a beautiful bird. Beautiful on behalf of its colors, and because of its shear rarity in the ABA area. See photos here.

Also a Lucy's Warbler in Fort McMurray, northern Alberta. The bird stayed from november 8-10. What a wacky spot for a arrid country warbler to be. Makes you wonder how many rare birds are we missing.

My theory is that it depends on several factors.
- Area of appropriate habitat
- Number of birders visiting that area
- Number of birders that know what they are looking at
- Densitiy of birders
- Hourly coverage of the appropriate habitat

So with all that, and more, in a estimantaly equation, we can kind of guess the number of birds we miss. It is all very complicated, but there are some basic rules. The more heavily birded the habitat is, the more rarities are found, and vica versa. So take Monterey Bay pelagic trips. Very active, good habitat, and lots of coverage, and they see some rare birds. More then you would if you visited a dock and scanned the ocean once a week.

To answer the question, this year the ABA has had 3 new birds. I think 10% or less of rare birds are ever found. so that makes about about 30 potential brand new birds for the ABA that were missed. Lets add about 2 to the missed column in honor of Attu Island. After its tours were closed, we miss much more birds.

So, the moral of the story is, get out there and look.


  1. I don't see your logic about missing 30 NEW ABA birds, now I see your logic on missing lots of locally rare birds. I do think we missed several new ABA birds because of lack of birding along the Mexico border and Alaska, but not 30!

  2. Why "10% or less"? How'd you get that number?

    I agree that in many inland areas, the informed-birders-per-square-mile is low, therefore reducing the likelihood of having a rare bird found, correctly identified, and reported. However, it's clearly evident that a gigantic portion of the new ABA birds come from specific areas (Mexican border, western Alaska, California, Labrador/Newfoundland) that are teeming with informed birders, BECAUSE of the fact that these are natural areas for rare birds to show up.

    My conclusion: the new ABA birds NOT being found are in odd areas, away from the expected places, where there are not enough informed birders. But even then, how likely is it that a bird species never recorded in one of these expected rarity hotspots is ever going to show up inland first? Extremely UNlikely, in my opinion.

  3. I think number of rarities missed will be something we will never know...

  4. I think we sound like a bunch of kids speculating about something we have no way of knowing about.

  5. It is possible for a first record to be inland. Take Variegated Flycatcher (first record was in Maine) or Song Thrush (first and only record was in Quebec) for example. I do agree that it's much more unlikely.

    Labrador and Newfoundland really aren't teaming with birders. My understanding is that there may be 10 really serious active birders in Newfoundland and maybe 1 or 2 in the Labrador. Western Alaska is a big place and even the best spots are not watched even daily. It is my opinion that even in Texas along the border there are hundreds of rarities missed and probably 1 or 2 first records maybe more.

    I don't know if the commenters here have read Sibley's blog but he has a post about this. He thinks that perhaps 3 percent or less of rarities are found.