New York State Avian Records Committee

a committee of the New York State Ornithological Association

How to Document a Rare Bird                   Last updated 3/23/05

Thank you for participating in the review process and for helping to advance our collective understanding of New York State's birdlife!

A list of species appropriate for NYSARC review can be found here.  Please check the list before filling out or submitting a report, and submit a report only if the species or form is on the list!

Click here to fill out and submit your report form directly from this website!

Narrative Documentation

The committee will accept rarity documentation prepared in paper or electronic format.  Check out our new online reporting form, which allows you to fill out the entire report and submit any digital files directly from this website.  A text form, which can be pasted into an email for editing or printed off for hardcopy, is also available.  This form is intended only as a convenience and as a guide to the required information.  For paper submissions, please type your account to ensure legibility. 
Electronic submission, either using the online form or email, is the preferred medium.

Photos and Sketches

If you are reporting an obscurely marked species (for example, a gull or shorebird), please include all available photos.  Remember that photos need not meet any particular quality standards; they will be examined only for any distinguishing characteristics that may help confirm a species ID.  In many cases, a poor photograph is better than none at all and may provide the evidence that clinches a decision.

Digital images should not be significantly edited.  For hardcopy images, we are happy to accept prints or slides.  Video tape is also quite acceptable.  If you made field sketches, please include a photocopy (or a digital scan via email attachment) as these can be tremendously useful, even if you don't consider yourself to be a good artist!

Where to Send Your Report

If possible, documentation should be submitted electronically.  To do this, use our online submission form, or send reports and digital image files via email to

If electronic submission is not possible, hardcopy reports and photos or sketches are welcome.  Hardcopy documentation should be mailed to:

Gary Chapin, Secretary for NYSARC
125 Pine Springs Drive
Ticonderoga, NY 12883

Your report should contain the following essential information:

(1) Your name, address and if possible telephone number/ e-mail address.

(2) The location, time and date of the sighting.

(3) Names of other observers who saw the bird(s) in question.  Note: Each observer should independently complete and submit a report.

(4) Description of the bird. Include as much detail as you can. Mention parts of the bird that could not be seen (e.g. legs or rump pattern)

(5) Can you age or sex the bird?

(6) Vocalizations (if any).

(7) Behavior (flying, feeding, resting, etc).

(8)Were similar species available for direct comparison?

(9)Viewing conditions (optics, light, weather etc).

(10) What separates this bird from similar species?

(11) Where photographs or any other forms of documentation made?

(12) Previous experience with this species.

(13) Is this description prepared from notes made with the bird in view? Notes made after the observation? From photographs? From memory?

(14) What reference material has been consulted and when?

(15) Do you have any reservations about the identification or origins of the bird?

We highly recommend the following links:

Donna L. Dittmann and Greg W. Lasley. (1992) How to Document Rare Birds. This article was originally published in the ABA's Birding magazine (June 1992, Vol. 24: Number 3, pp:145-159). Hosted by Greg Lasley's web site.

Claudia Wilds and Robert Hilton (1992) Emerging from the Silent Majority: Documenting Rarities. This article was originally published in Maryland Birdlife (March 1992, Vol. 48: Number 1, pp: 30). Hosted by the Maryland Ornithological Society web site.

Claudia Wilds (1985) On Taking a Notebook Afield. This article was originally published in Audubon Naturalist News(October 1985, pp:15). Hosted by the Maryland Ornithological Society web site.

Mike Patterson (1997) How to write convincing details Tips on writing informative descriptions and some neat tricks for drawing good field sketches.


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