03 February 2014

Record Status of Ancient Avifauna Database

Additional records are still being added to the ancient avifauna database because of research at Criss Library at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Efforts continue to focus upon searching the variety of online historic newspapers, locating a pertinent article, and then printing it nearby the cubicle of the day. New website options and search methods have also meant a repeat of searches within known record sources, especially since it's now easier to evaluate, to an extent, whether found content is relevant or can be ignored.

Numerous unique records have been recently added that indicate significant details on occurrence and distribution of many species. Articles with interesting anecdotes pertaining to the history of ornithology have been documented. Key details embedded within this one-of-a-kind database as of the end of January include:

  • more than 148,045 distinct occurrence records for more than 1700 species, according to International Ornithological Council taxonomy of 2013, and from Canada, all of the continental states, including the District of Columbia, along with Mexico and southward to the Panama Canal;
  • a bibliography of 8215 items, with more than 500 newspaper articles or poems now posted online in their entirety;
  • items from at least 900 different newspapers, which have, thus far, contributed more than 5,300 records, primarily from the continental United States; and
  • 14,412 sites, though not all are distinct since some sites are repeated to allow a comparison of temporal differences.

These are the top-ten years for which records are currently available:

» 1882: 5547 records
» 1881: 5192
» 1883: 5144
» 1878: 4757
» 1880: 4659
» 1884: 4644
» 1875: 4330
» 1877: 4141
» 1876: 4036
» 1868: 3819

There are also more than 14,000 items in the game market prices datatable. Each item is separately documented. Additional details for this distinctive aspect of bird history are pending further research.

It is astounding to realize the extensive results of this endeavor. Years ago there was a sense that the records available at some particular time was the culmination of what could be achieved. This perspective quickly changed. In January 2008, the record count was about 25,000, which was supposedly thought to be significant at that time. By September of the same year, the tally was 50,000. The number of records continued to steadily increase, by increments of one record at a time, individually considered and documented. The tally was 75,000 records in February 2009, with 100,000 by November. It was 125,000 distinctive records in January, 2011 when there were only 3,000 items in the bibliography.

The focus on newspaper sources blossomed started in March, 2012 after an initial review of online sources. The bibliography was up to about 4,000. By June, 1000 newspaper articles had been found and dealt with in a documentary manner. By August of 2012, the tally was 2,000.

This quest continues unabated, thou sometimes stymied. There are still other records to be found from sources still unknown that will contribute to the tally of what could readily be 150,000 records. The effort will never be completed because there is no single-source to evaluate any record. It is rather a disparate bunch of stuff which does not allow comparison, evaluation and contribution. The wonderful variety of records associated with historic ornithology has not yet been embraced in an inclusive manner. Only through a cooperative effort will the vibrant old-time history of northern American birds be realized to its truest extent, with appreciation for every contributor.

Family contributions of some dollars have been essential to deal with project expenses, essentially to ensure having photocopies. The cost for printing at UNO recently increased to 7 cents per page from 5 cents, dramatically decreasing the value of a dollar.

The extent of boxes in the basement with copies continues to increase.

Others of the clan have helped with funds to get notebooks and sheet protectors to organize copies with a similar topic. Pencils have also been bought. This is a digital-based effort, but it could not have been done without a sharp-tipped pencil to indicate one-at-a-time, particulars upon a piece of paper. These are the details so essential to documenting the history of wildbirds in northern America.