Nebraska Ornithologists' Union


Date of this Version


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Wayne J. Mollhoff, “‘On Our Nebraska Records,’ Revisited,” from Nebraska Bird Review (December 1986) 54(4).


Copyright 1986 Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union. Used by permission.


At the second annual meeting of the NOU, Dr. Robert H. Wolcott, one of our founders, presented a paper titled “On Migration Records and On Our Nebraska Records” (Proc. NOU 2:69, 1901), which included a plea for better documentation. He said, in part, “These problems must be met and answered in a spirit of scientific accuracy, if our conclusions are to carry weight with those living outside our borders. We must know what we know and record only what we know we know. We must be open at all times to conviction, but at the same time we must subject every fact presented to the most thorough criticism. As a society we must judge kindly, but most critically with the records presented by our members for our consideration.”

At that time, documentation meant a shotgun and stuffed specimens. Since that time, fewer and fewer birds have been killed expressly for documentation, the study skins having been largely replaced for documentation purposes by photographs, tape recordings, and written records. The amount of time required for documentation has changed little, however. Indeed, it frequently takes longer to obtain adequate photographs than it would take a practiced museum worker to shoot and prepare a specimen. Another thing that has not changed is the absolute necessity of providing a record that will be available for study by future researchers when some question arises. This record may be a study skin, photo, recording, or a written documentation. Each type of record has its strong points and its drawbacks, and none by itself is perfect for all cases. It must be remembered that none of them are of any value without complete supporting data whose veracity is beyond doubt. Keeping accurate :records and making reports available in the scientific literature are two of the criteria which separate ornithologists from casual birdwatchers. With a bit of practice and guidance almost anyone can provide adequate documentation, but it does require some time and self-discipline. The first step, the decision to do so, is the biggest one; it gets progressively easier as you go along.