09 March 2012

Significant Bibliographic Milestone Achieved in Bird Research

A significant new milestone has been reached in research underway on the history of birds of America northward from Panama. The 4000th bibliography item was entered into the database late on the afternoon of March 6th, while adding another newspaper record for the Passenger Pigeon, of wild pigeon as they were more typically called.

There were three more items then also added as some other found articles were also integrated into the recordset that includes more than 450 items from historic papers of North America, starting -- thus far -- in 1724.

Other interesting facts can be considered, as given here in a terse manner.

There are 134,000+ records in the dataset, from 11473 sites, though there are duplicates for a similar locale to allow temporal differentiation.

The records date from ca. 10000 B.C. to about 125 years ago, and convey details for 1748 recognized species.

More than 1400 narrative sources with bird records are included, which represent travelogues, journals, diaries, etc.

More could be said about the early records from the first bird journals, and how Forest and Stream needs further consideration because of the minutiae in those pages which are difficult to deal with because of the entire magnitude, where an item of significance might comprise just a few lines of typeset. An early index indicates the items of particular interest.

The 450+ items from a myriad of newspapers provides 1407 distinct records thus far, representing 179 distinct valid species with the vast majority for passenger pigeons, with some many tidbits of unique history. There are 41 states represented. Especially valuable have been issues of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the Farmer's Cabinet, the Jeffersonian, Liberty Tribune and Pittsfield Sun. Don't forget the various New York City rags and their asundry mix.

There needs to be some recognition given to the editors of these papers which presented a fine variety of bird-related stories.

There is a story of when a penguin (great auk) was shot in New England in 1732, and as the shootist Ebenezer Hovey tried to retrieve his prize, he fell into the water and drowned, but was remembered by a report of the event issued on a page of the Rhode Island Gazette.

How many notes regarding birds got an editor's attention and were published because one or another of the hunters got shot and died afield?

Have you read about how telegraph wires caused the deaths of many wild pigeons as reported in the autumn of 1873? There are almost 1750 distinct records amongst this compilation, which can convey a time when the first actual observation of the species occurred.

Did you see the story about the albino Bobolink singing in the meadow above Amherst?

Is Boggy Swamp still extant on Long Island?

Etc. Etc. and so forth and so on.

The compilation of information is not available anywhere else in the world, other than one personal computer. This project was started in 1996.

What an unsurpassed endeavour of profound interest it has been! It has been possible only because of the grand effort by many librarians and others to provide digital versions of historic newspapers in a format that can be easily searched and seen online.

If only the observations as documented could be mapped according to the county of known occurrence. Now that would be grand indeed.

There are though, further treasures of bird lore to find and consider despite whatever ...