Date: 12/6/18 9:07 am From: Carl Bendorf <carlbendorf...> Subject: [cobirds] Thoughts on rare bird communications - a conversation starter and a suggestion
The current debate about rare bird communications in Colorado is very
interesting. First, there is the current discussion related to the Larimer
County Gyrfalcon. I'm fairly certain these exact same debates have taken
place in nearly every state and province. Many of us have all seen the
rise and fall of various technologies and communication systems (email
chains, websites, listservs, text alerts, etc.) but the thorny issues of
what to report and when to report remain. I doubt that technology will
ever eliminate this aspect of the debate and it's important we continue
discussing the ethics of reporting rare birds.
At the same time, there is a discussion underway about our methods of
sharing information in a timely and efficient manner. When I started
birding in Iowa the late 70's, we tried to create an organized phone tree
with a paper chart showing who would call whom and so on. Of course, the
communication chain often broke down when someone was out of town or just
not at home to answer the phone. A lot of people didn't even have home
answering machines back then and, of course, reporting a rare bird meant
driving to the nearest pay phone and dropping in quarters to make a call.
In the early 80s, we started a rare bird alert using an answering machine
located in my parents' garage. Part of the trick was finding a machine
that offered an extended outgoing message as many answering machines were
limited to perhaps 30 seconds. We put the machine in my parents' garage
because they lived in a small town where the local phone company offered a
very low monthly phone bill for a second phone line. As technology
changed, these recorded rare bird alerts using phone lines have essentially
In my view, for many birders, Facebook has become the rare bird
communication platform of choice since it offers features like the ability
to quickly post photos/recordings, a role for a moderator(s), presence on
both millions of smartphones, laptops, and desktops, and the fact that
millions of people are already on their Facebook accounts every day.
A great example is the ABA Rare Bird Alert Facebook page (
https://www.facebook.com/groups/ABArare/) which has grown tremendously
(18,000 members.) It's amazing to watch as bird sightings are being
updated in real time and you can even see groups of birders in the field
using this page to communicate with each other in real time. The page has
at least 7 administrators meaning the work of monitoring the flow of info
is being shared and doesn't become a major burden. Heck, you can even
livestream a video of your rare bird to the entire audience.
One of the features of the (very helpful) COBIRDS Google Group is that the
content is generated from the individual submissions of contributors. I
also really like the compiled RBA report but the downside there is it
requires a compiler or compilers willing to put in the major effort of
gathering, collating, typing up, and posting of a report. As we've seen,
it's going to be increasingly hard to find someone who is willing to put in
all that work. Also, the effort of collating and posting a compiled RBA
inevitably adds a time-delay to reports.
This long missive is my suggestion that perhaps Colorado needs a dedicated
Rare Bird Facebook Page with multiple moderators. Again, the ABA is using
this model very successfully by having three separate Facebook pages. Each
page has a different defined purpose (this is critical, I think):
2. An extremely successful page for helping people identify birds--this
page has a very clearly defined purpose and has nearly 34,000 members!
https://www.facebook.com/groups/whatsthisbird/ And, I understand a number
of extreme rarities have been “discovered” from the postings of photos from
contributors who couldn’t identify what they had seen/photographed.
I imagine one of the points of view on this issue will be that not everyone
uses (or wants to use) Facebook. But this has been true of every form of
communication through the years. I’m sure at one time there were those who
preferred to communicate by letter and not by telephone followed by those
who preferred to communicate about rare birds by land line telephone and
felt left behind by the cell phone followed by those who were happy with a
call on their cell phone but objected to needing a smart phone, and so on.
Consider also how many local bird club newsletters used to include a
compilation of recent rare bird sightings in a printed/mailed newsletter.
You don’t see that so much anymore.
My suggestion to those who don’t wish to use Facebook is to recruit a
Facebook-using birding friend who will give them a call when a rare bird is
reported via Facebook. What do you want to bet that someday Facebook fades
away as it’s replaced by yet another kind of technology.
In conclusion, I think a Colorado Rare Bird Alert Facebook page could work
really well. A Facebook page offers all the latest options in terms of
social communication, immediacy, widespread use. The content would be
user-generated (and not require a volunteer compiler), and the moderating
responsibilities can be shared among a group of volunteers.
Please don't think I am advocating for an end to either COBIRDS or the
COBIRDS RBA report. Typically, where there are overlapping technologies
and communication outlets, there is a lot of cross-posting across the
platforms as a way to broaden the reach. And all of this is an evolution
and not a revolution!
I hope this helps to advance the discussion about how we can improve our
collaboration and sharing about Colorado's fantastic birding