18 December 2010

Significant Milestones in Historic Ornithology Compilation

While adding records of historical notations for birds in northern America, there were two significant milestones achieved in latter December.

Because of references found on internet archive sites, further records of bird specimens for 1880 and later were discovered. Once one particular reference was evaluated, there were an additional 496 records added to the database of records. In order to suitably add the observations, more than 75 new distinct site names were also added.

Both of these items increased the number of records and extent of coverage for this compilation of birds records for the region of America from Panama northward. Nearly every record is also based upon an observation made more than 125 years before present.

Specimen Catalogue

The most recent publication reviewed was a catalogue of birds, eggs and nests in the collection of the Greene Smith Museum, of Peterboro, New York, as published in 1880. Someone compiled the contents within 48 cases of material.

Smith was the son of a "New York reformer, philanthropist and abolitionist Gerrit Smith," and "was an avid sportsman and early conservationist who established a distinguished legacy as a self-taught expert ornithologist and taxidermist."

There were 486 usable records representing more than 320 species, which included an identification, and very importantly, the date and location for the record. Each record was entered into a database and designated to a particular site.

Information on eggs and nests was not usable since no dates were given.

This publication was found online at the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Resources found here and at other places are essential in any effort to evaluate historic ornithology since they provide sources which can be found by careful searching. Many of the older publications noted by such an effort would have never been located using the bibliographic options available even five years ago.

Interesting Details

An essential aspect of the specimen records are the many different localities indicated as the source of the collection's material. The catalogue has items from the Baja Peninsula (lower California) and elsewhere in Mexico, the Bahama Islands, Disco Island along the coast of western Greenland. There are 26 states represented, with the larger number of records from these states:

Illinois, including Calumet, Cook County and six other localities: 95 records
New York (14 localities): 87
Texas (11 localities: 66
Florida (12 localities): 61

Some of the records have a vague location designated (i.e., Atlantic Ocean, North Pacific Ocean), but nonetheless are a part of the historic record.

What is interesting is that some of the dates for specimens match notations from other references, and are useful in indicating a possible source of specimens, during an era when correspondents exchanged material in their individual effort to establish their personal collection. Specimens were also sold, as shown in ads in the early ornithological publications.

Interesting Species

Species represented the most in the entered records are the Song Sparrow, Greater Prairie-Chicken, Northern Bobwhite, Ruffed Grouse, Horned Lark and Song Sparrow.

Among the distinctive records from the catalogue notations for four rare or now extinct species.

Carolina Parakeet: specimen from 26 Feb 1877 at Bayport, Florida

Eskimo Curlew: specimen from 19 Mar 1878 at Gainesville, Texas

Ivory-billed Woodpecker: specimen from 17 Mar 1876 at Hernando Co., Fla.

Whooping Crane: specimen 21 Mar 1871 from Champaign, Ills.; this record is perplexing due to the northerly locality in early spring. Though this would not be expected, based on more contemporary information, having a specimen adds to the credibility of the record.

These records are just a few of the interesting details derived from this particular source. Add in the whole set of information and there is information available but not yet obvious on the occurrence and distribution during a period of ca. 10,000 years.

Another similar source awaits analysis and data entry is another catalogue, this one from Europe, which lists the 6006 specimens in the Hugh Edwin Strickland collection. A preliminary review indicates there are records from Carlisle, Pennsylvania as provided by S.F. Baird, and items from Jamaica and Guatemala.

Among the specimens in the Oxford Museum of Natural History, are some from Northern America, and which are available to review and consider in any evaluation of species records for the continent.

None of these three sources have been noted as being previously evaluated for their contribution to the continental avifauna. They certainly have essential details of occurrence.