23 August 2012

Newspapers Essential to Historic Ornithology

A myriad of issues of historic newspapers are essential in presenting the presence of birds during historic times in the United States. Whether past or present, significant sightings were indicated upon the pages, to a lesser or greater degree.

After a effort initiated many years ago, followed by an intensive and daily investigation in the past few months, a pinnacle of this research effort was reached on 08/22/2012 ... when a tally of 2012 individual articles had been reviewed. Each bird notation has been compiled into a database to provide a comprehensive perspective. With details in an electronic format, further details are available for consideration and evaluation, which is so important in determining what particular focus is needed to find additional pertinent records.

Not every article provided bird occurrence records, but have been included because they convey something significant in regards to bird history of the era.

Highlights of this research effort, as of this August date, include:

  • tally of 2012 articles derived from newspaper sources
  • tally of 46 states, plus the District of Columbia, represented in the dataset
  • 4202 individual records compiled, with the first known from 1723
  • records representing 262 distinct species, plus other variations that could not be attributed to a proper name

Those species which are mentioned in prevalence are, in descending order, the Passenger Pigeon (more than 560 distinctive records, with other indications pending), Bald Eagle (commonly referred to as the gray eagle), Canada Goose (the wild goose), Northern Bobwhite (partridges), Wild Turkey, Snowy Owl (white owl, snow owl, Arctic owl), and Greater Prairie-Chicken.

In a geographic context, the top few states where records have been found, thus far, are:

  • New York: 531
  • Nebraska: 508
  • Iowa: 320
  • Pennsylvania: 284
  • Georgia: 274
  • California: 236
  • New Jersey: 221

These numbers are representative, but have been derived from an availability of freely-available source material. Pay-to-view sites have not been evaluated, and obviously they have pertinent details and would expand the perspective.

When this endeavor of looking into how newspapers reported occurrences of birds began man years ago, it was based upon looking at microfilm. The situation has dramatically changed. Where there was once a site or two where details of newspapers were presented online, there are now many web-sites which present information, often with an option to search for particular details. Then other similar sites were discovered. There are some others which are fee-based, and thus have not been included in this effort.

Overall, the current representation is indicative of details in the historic newspapers. Any evaluation of the ornithology for a state has to consider the details given within the newspapers associated with the geographic locality, which often are conveyed by a newspaper within the state.

It is not always about particular observations. Some especially notable articles have been typed for presentation in their entirety, elsewhere on this blog. The details are especially expressive.

This records database is available on only one computer in the world.