Missouri Bird Records Committee

Ivory Gull - Peter KondrashovEach state has a committee that maintains a state checklist of birds, reviews reports of rare and unusual birds, and archives such records. In our state this group is known as the Missouri Bird Records Committee (MBRC); it is a standing committee of the Audubon Society of Missouri. Let's review the functions and purposes of the MBRC in more detail:

First, the Committee maintains the Annotated Checklist of Missouri Birds, which provides an up-to-date and frequently-revised list of all wild bird species known to have occurred in Missouri, along with their status as expressed in a simple code. The list is based on decisions the Committee has made since its founding in 1987; for records before that, it is based on Robbins and Easterla, Birds of Missouri (University of Missouri Press, 1992; currently in revision by Mark Robbins). Other states maintain such lists, but Missouri's is one of the few to provide status information both by season and by region of the state. This gives all observers a handy overview of the occurrence of any species, and a quick way of estimating the likelihood of seeing it at a given location and date. Armed with this information, birders can understand better what is expectable, what might be unusual (for instance, what might be flagged on an eBird list), and what needs documentation.

For more guidance on documentation, there is also a Review List of birds that are rare enough—defined as "casual" or "accidental"—to need review by the MBRC before a report can go into the permanent record. These species are listed as casual or accidental year-round (though in some cases it depends what part of the state you are in). In addition to these always-very-rare species, the MBRC also reviews (a) birds that are casual or accidental only in certain seasons (e.g., a Ruby-throated Hummingbird in winter), (b) birds observed at an earlier or later date than ever before, and (c) first nesting records or other records that are truly remarkable for some reason. For records like these, the species does not show up on the Review List.

You may wonder, "Why go to the trouble of documenting, anyway?" We would argue that everyone's contributions are valuable and help expand our knowledge base about birds. In the case of very rare birds or early and late dates, those observations need peer review, just like other contributions to science. They need to be validated by others who can look at the evidence and decide whether it all adds up. None of us, no matter how skilled, should assert that we found something truly unusual and then expect it to go into the permanent record simply on the strength of our assertion. The process of review is part of an ongoing collaborative effort among birders to provide "clean" data that ornithologists, and all others who are interested in birds, can rely on. For the kinds of records that the committee handles, the results are summarized in its Annual Reports, which are posted here for all years since 1997-98. 

Because others in the future may want to examine the evidence, and because a records committee is human and fallible, another part of its job is to archive all material submitted to it. The committee itself may change its mind about a decision at some point, as more information about different species and their patterns of occurrence come to light.