Arizona Field Ornithologist

How to Research Status and Distribution of Arizona Birds:

A question often asked is: "How do you know how many records of a species there have been in Arizona?"  Unfortunately, there is no one place to go to get the answer, but with a little work, it is not too hard to find out.  There are both Printed and Online Resources you can consult.  These are listed below.

"Records" are defined as documented records of Review Species accepted by the Arizona Bird Committee (established in 1971) and published in Western Birds or of Sketch Details Species published in North American Birds.  Other observations are referred to as "Sightings" or "Reports".  

Printed Resources:

There are books and periodicals to help you research historical records.  These are the main ones: 

1) The most essential book to start with is the one below.  It covers all records in the state up to 1981.  It also has detailed information about the status and distribution of subspecies in the state.  It is back in print and is available from the University of Arizona Press or at used book stores. 

Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Arizona.  1981.  G. Monson and A.R. Phillips. University of Arizona Press.  [Not to be missed is Phillips essay on the merits of collecting rare birds.  He had a dim view of sight records in the era before digital photography.]

2) More general coverage is provided by this out-of-print classic that would have to be found in a library or purchased through used book stores:

The Birds of Arizona. A.R. Phillips, J. Marshal and G. Monson.  1964.  Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

3) For breeding birds in the state, the definitive source of detailed information on status and distribution through 2000 is:

Arizona Breeding Bird Atlas.  2004.  T. Corman and C. Wise-Gervais.  University of New Mexico Press. 

4) General information on status and distribution at a more local level is also included in (especially in the seasonal bar charts):

a) A Birder's Guide to Southeastern Arizona.  2005.  R.C. Taylor. American Birding Association.
b) Finding Birds in Southeast Arizona.  2007.  Tucson Audubon Society.
c) Birds of Phoenix and Maricopa County Arizona.  1997.  J. Witzeman, S. Demaree and E. Radke. Maricopa Audubon Society. 
d) Birding the Flagstaff Area.  2001.  F. Brandt and L. Brandt, Northern Arizona Audubon Society.
e) Birding Sedona and the Verde Valley.  2003.  V. Gilmore.  Northern Arizona Audubon Society.
f) Birding on the Navajo and Hopi Reservations. 1986. B. Jacobs, Jacobs Publishing Company (available used).

5) The most detailed resource on status and distribution of Arizona birds is past issues of North American Birds (and its predecessors Field Notes/Audubon Field Notes/etc).  These contain all "official" records for the state of both Review and Sketch Details species as well as other significant observations.  Unfortunately, to date these are not available online or in any searchable form.  The only way to extract the information is to go through back issues by hand looking for particular species.  There continues to be discussion, but little action, about getting NAB reports online which would be the ultimate resource.  Back issues of NAB are available in most university libraries and in the Tucson Audubon library. 

A complete bibliography of books on Arizona birds is available on this web page.


Online Resources:

There are several online resources that can be used to get more recent information:

1) The most essential resource for establishing how many "records" there are for particular rare birds (Review Species) is the reports of the Arizona Bird Committee found on this web page

2) On the AZFO web site, Steve Ganley has compiled a searchable database of historical Arizona rare bird records, sightings and reports through 1996.  This is very convenient to use. 

3) You can search the AZFO taxonomic list for previous photos of the species that have been posted.  The accompanying write-ups often contain status information that was current at that time.   

4) To get information on sightings and reports after the last ABC report (2004), the best place to go is the archives of the AZNM listserv.  There is a search tool there that will allow you to search all posts for mention of any species for any date range back to the start of the listserv in 1995.  These of course are not accepted "records" but is the best place to get an idea how often a species has been reported recently.

5) Another interesting developing resource is the eBird website.  Although this tool is still evolving, it has great promise.  Collected on this web site are a great number of bird checklists submitted by birders.  These data can be searched in a tremendous variety of ways and even mapped or displayed as a seasonal bar chart.  Want to see the location of all Sage Sparrows reported to eBird in Maricopa County in the winter in the last five years?  You can do this easily with eBird.  This tool is of course only as good as the data that have been entered in to it, but so far thousands of checklists have been entered and the amount of information is impressive and growing all the time.  Import tools have been developed and people are now entering historical data as well.  Although not exhaustive, this resource can quickly provide a lot of information on status and distribution, especially for less rare species.