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Instructions for Reporting Louisiana Bird Observations

by Steven W. Cardiff, J. V. Remsen, and Donna L. Dittmann

How do you decide which bird records are worth reporting? How should they be documented, and when, where, and to whom should they be sent? Start by reviewing a species' status as given by the bar graphs in Louisiana Birds (Lowery 1974), which still give a reasonably accurate representation of the status of most species. A pdf of Lowery’s 1974 seasonal bar graphs is available at:


Please consult these bar graphs as you search through your field notes at the end of each season. Of primary interest are records of almost all species during times of the year when they are considered "rare" (palest shading in Lowery's bar graphs), "very rare" (dots), or absent, either for the state as a whole or for the Baton Rouge Area (BRA) line. Of course, because Lowery (1974) is 35 years out-of-date, many changes in status and distribution are not reflected in the bar graphs, but they are still generally applicable for the state and/or the BRA (the latter still a fairly good indicator of a species’ status in central and northern Louisiana). A new version of the bar graphs is in progress, but, until published, please refer to changes/corrections/additions/status changes to the 1974 version listed in the Appendices below:

There are four general documentation categories that can be used alone or in various combinations to properly support everything from first state records to sightings of local interest:

1. Important Bird Record (3” x 5”) cards. For decades, Louisiana observers have submitted observations of unusual species on these standard pre-printed 3" x 5" cards. The card file database is housed at the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science (LSUMNS) and is accessible (by appointment) to anyone interested in Louisiana bird distribution. Records on 3" x 5" cards should be sent to the state editor for the Arkansas-Louisiana Region of the journal North American Birds (NAB). Currently, the Editor is Steven W. Cardiff, Museum of Natural Science, 119 Foster Hall, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, 70803-3216, 225-578-2855/9289, scardif@lsu.edu . Records may be submitted as hard copy on pre-printed or similarly formatted cards (see below), or electronically via the LSUMNS Louisiana Bird Resource Office at:


You may also link to the electronic Important Bird Record interface from the Louisiana Bird Records Committee section of the Louisiana Ornithological Society websit


For electronic submissions, a hard copy will also be printed and filed in the card files. For hardcopy submissions, cards will be scanned and card data will be entered into the recently activated electronic database. PLEASE NOTE: Observations posted to LABIRD, HUMNET, eBird, etc. do not constitute official submissions to the Important Bird Record datab

At the end of each season, these cards form the basis for NAB seasonal summaries of bird activity in the region. Cards should be submitted within a month or so of the end of each season, which are designated as fol

Spring = Mar

Summer = Ju

Fall = August-

Winter = December

"Late" cards should still be submitted as soon as possible because they can sometimes be incorporated into reports right up until the last minute. In any event, it's never too late for a card to be submitted to the permanent electronic and hardcopy card databases at LSUMNS. Pre-printed cards can be requested in writing or by emailing or calling the Editor (see above). Alternatively, you can make up your own 3" x 5" cards that list species, parish, locality, date, # of individuals, observer(s), and significance of the species being reported. We strongly encourage observers to provide descriptive details in the space provided or on the back of these cards, especially for species that are well out-of-range or out-of-season; notes on behavior, voice, and habitat are as important as plumage description and observation duration/distance. The depth of the details might only be a phrase or two for not-too-unusual records of distinctive species, or at the other extreme, extensive details on very unusual records. Remember that these records will be evaluated in the future by people totally unfamiliar with your birding skills. Also, keep in mind that features other than plumage, such as behavior, voice, and habitat, are often more critical in such evaluat
ions than “eye witness” descriptions of appearance. See Dittmann & Lasley reference below for full discussion.

The 3" x 5" cards are also preferred for reporting most unusual (boldfaced) species found on Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs). Details are mandatory for boldfaced species. PLEASE do not use 8 1/2" X 11" details sheets except for review list species (see below). The cards should be completed by the actual observer(s), preferably on count day, and turned in to the CBC compiler. "Phoned-in" details on cards that are written by the compiler are unacceptable. CBC Compilers should submit any hard copy originals of rarities documentation to the Louisiana NAB Editor (Steve Cardiff) or the Louisiana CBC Editor (David P. Muth) no later than March for inclusion in the Winter Season summary. The NAB and CBC Editors will coordinate regarding accumulated hard copy and electronic documentation of CBC rarities. Details should NOT be sent to the National Audubon Society CBC office in New York.

2. Rare Bird Report Forms. Records of species on the Louisiana Bird Records Committee (LBRC) Review List (or records of species new for the state) require completion of a rare bird report form. To see the current list of Review List species go to:


For submission forms for Review List birds, go to the following webpage:


Report forms and Review Lists are also available from the LBRC Secretary either as hard copies or email attachments.

The Review List consists of species that, on average, are seen in LA four or fewer times per year. The Review List is periodically updated by the LBRC and published in the Journal of Louisiana Ornithology (JLO) and/or the LOS News and posted at the LOS/LBRC website; Review List species are also denoted with an asterisk on the LOS field checklist. Although these records should also be submitted on standard 3" X 5" cards so that they are represented in the card file database, the card documentation does not by itself constitute a report to the LBRC except as a last resort. Refer to the article "How to document rare birds" by Donna Dittmann and Greg Lasley (Birding, June 1992, Vol. 24, No. 3, pp 145-159) for a discussion of how to document rarities:


Any photo, video, or voice recording supportive documentation should be clearly labeled with information on species, date, locality, and photographer/recordist. Photos, videos, or recordings will be permanently placed in the LBRC files at the LSUMNS. Selected photographs that have not been published elsewhere may be printed with LBRC reports that appear in the JLO, or in the LBRC online newsletter, e.g., see:


Photos, video, or voice recordings of other unusual species, or of other ornithological significance, can be deposited in the LSUMNS archives. Recognizable photos of rarities that are submitted by the appropriate deadlines stand a good chance of being published in NAB or possibly in future issues of the JLO.

The LBRC does not review other kinds of records, e.g., out-of-season or out-of-range within Louisiana, unless specifically requested to do so.

Completed rare bird report forms and accompanying documentation should be sent to the LBRC Secretary, currently Donna L. Dittmann, Museum of Natural Science, 119 Foster Hall, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, 70803-3216, phone 225-578-2009, email ddittma@lsu.edu

Decisions of the LBRC are periodically published in the JLO. See JLO Vol. 6, No.1/2, pp 41-101, for the Ninth Report of the LBRC; the Tenth Report is “in press” and will appear in the forthcoming online version of the JLO. Pdfs of previous reports are available:


3. Nest Record Cards. If you find nests of even the commonest species, please enter the data into the online Louisiana Nest Record database at the Louisiana Bird Resource Center. Alternatively, they can be also reported on preprinted cards issued by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology Nest Record Card Program. Cards and instructions are available from Dr. J. V. Remsen at LSUMNS. See Remsen 1985 (LOS News No.109) for additional details. Please be sure that you return the completed cards to Dr. Remsen so that the data can be databased for the Louisiana files before they are sent on to Cornell. See LOS News No. 175 for the most recent nest record summary by David Wiedenfeld. Contact Remsen if interested in becoming the state coordinator for this program. Important nest records in terms of distribution should also be reported on 3x5 cards.

4. Specimens. Donations of salvaged specimens of any species are important and appreciated by many scientific institutions. The LSUMNS has all state and Federal salvage permits necessary to receive such specimens, which are periodically reported to the LA Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Although state and federal law prohibits the possession of most wild birds without special permits, there is generally no danger of running afoul of the law if your intent is to deliver the specimen to a scientific institution in a timely fashion. Dead birds that are in reasonably good condition (e.g., not completely flattened or not yet decomposing), or moribund birds that succumb before, during, or after rehabilitation efforts, can be placed in a sealed plastic bag and kept frozen until they can be delivered to a museum. A label with information on species, date when found, location where found, and name of collector (so that you get full credit for finding the specimen), should be placed in the bag with the bird ("frozen specimen data slips" are available from LSUMNS). Carcasses of any unusual (or suspected unusual) species should be saved, regardless of the specimen's condition, even if only a wing or tail.

Please keep these guidelines for reference until further notice. Revisions will be issued as necessary. Many thanks for your cooperation and participation.

APPENDIX 1. Lowery Bar Graph Status Corrections/Changes.

For a few species, portions of the 1974 seasonal abundance codes are now considered incorrect:

Semipalmated Sandpiper- no accepted winter records

Common Tern- rare in winter

Great Crested Flycatcher- few fall records after September

Philadelphia Vireo – few fall records before third week of September

Blackburnian Warbler- few spring records before 1 April

Connecticut Warbler- no accepted fall records

Species for which submitting records is no longer necessary (because we already have information on file):

Brown Pelican on coast (but records still wanted from inland or documenting breeding distribution on coast)

Northern Gannet in winter (but early, late, summer, high counts, etc. still wanted)

Double-crested Cormorant (but summer/breeding records still wanted)

Anhinga (but winter records for northern LA still wanted)

Tricolored Heron (but northern LA records still wanted)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (but winter records from northern LA still wanted)

Glossy Ibis (but records from central/northern LA still wanted)

White Ibis (but winter records from northern LA still wanted)

Cackling Goose (but records away from southwest LA still wanted)

Ross’s Goose (but records away from southwest LA still wanted)

Hooded Merganser (but summer/breeding or coastal records still wanted)

Osprey (but summer/breeding records still wanted)

Bald Eagle (but records from summer or away from expected breeding and wintering sites still wanted)

Cooper's Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk (but summer records from extreme southern LA still wanted)

Peregrine Falcon (but late spring or early fall records still wanted)

Merlin (but late spring or early fall records still wanted)

Virginia Rail (but records from early fall or late spring, or winter in northern LA still wanted)

Black-necked Stilt (but records from winter in northern LA still wanted)

Greater Yellowlegs (“summering” records still wanted)

Lesser Yellowlegs (“summering” records still wanted)

Herring Gull (but breeding records still wanted)

Ring-billed Gull

White-winged Dove (but records from central/northern LA or of breeding still wanted)

Inca Dove (but records from outside southwest LA still wanted)

Common Ground-Dove (but summer records from southwest LA or any records from outside southwest LA still wanted)

Horned Lark (but coastal records, or southern LA breeding records still wanted)

Barn and Cliff swallows (but records of new colonies and late or early records still wanted)

White-eyed Vireo (but records from northern LA in winter still wanted)

Philadelphia Vireo (but early fall or late spring records still wanted)

Tennessee Warbler (in fall, records no longer needed until after 15 Nov. from coast, 10 Nov. from interior)

Wilson's Warbler (but records for spring migration, or northern LA in winter still wanted)

Lapland Longspur (but coastal or southeast LA records still wanted)

Great-tailed Grackle (but records from outside southwest LA still wanted)

At the other extreme are species for which ALL records, or all records from certain seasons, should be reported even though they were not considered "rare" by Lowery:

SPECIES (need reports from….)

Neotropic Cormorant (outside southwest LA)

Canada Goose (especially wild versus feral individuals)

American Black Duck

Greater Scaup

Yellow Rail (away from southwest LA rice country)

American Avocet (summering)

Long-billed Curlew (report anywhere in spring, or away from southwest coast at other seasons)

Red Knot (summering, wintering)

Semipalmated Sandpiper (Oct.-Mar.)

Common Tern (Nov.-Mar.)

Groove-billed Ani

Whip-poor-will (spring)

Willow Flycatcher

Alder Flycatcher (spring)

Least Flycatcher (spring)

White-breasted Nuthatch (outside Shreveport and Tensas River N.W.R. areas)

Bewick's Wren

Gray-cheeked Thrush and Veery (on coast in fall)

Philadelphia Vireo (in fall prior to late Sept.)

Warbling and Bell's vireos

Golden-winged Warbler

Nashville Warbler (in spring away from western tier of parishes)

Cerulean Warbler (fall)

Prairie Warbler (south of breeding areas in spring)

Louisiana Waterthrush (early or late fall migrants, e.g., before mid-July or after mid-Aug.)

Swainson's Warbler (in fall after mid-Aug.)

Canada Warbler (spring away from western tier of parishes, and after Sep. in fall)

Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow (inland)

Lark Sparrow (coast, or breeding)

Western Meadowlark

For declining-but-regular species such as American Bittern, Reddish Egret, Wood Stork, Swallow-tailed Kite, Piping Plover, Snowy Plover, Gull-billed Tern, etc., multiple records for a particular season can be listed on the back of a single card to conserve space in the card file.

Also interesting are records of late spring or early fall migrants of many species that are otherwise common breeders in Louisiana. Because Lowery's bar graphs did not distinguish between the migration and nesting periods for Louisiana's summer resident Neotropical migrants (e. g., Acadian Flycatcher, Kentucky Warbler), they appear as "common" or "uncommon" from when the first ones arrive in spring until the last ones depart in fall. Generally, records of definite (away from breeding areas) migrants of these species from late spring or early fall are important.

Finally, please report other noteworthy observations that do not readily fit into the above categories: unusual concentrations and migrant "fallouts," population trends, range expansions, aberrantly plumaged individuals, or species that may be unusual in a particular region of the state even though considered regular elsewhere (e.g., species such as Barred Owl, Red-bellied and Red-headed woodpeckers, American Crow, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, or Eastern Bluebird on the immediate coast), or species such as Mottled Duck or Boat-tailed Grackle well-inland from the coast).

APPENDIX 2. Species listed in Lowery 1974 but NOT on current main LA state list:

Harlequin Duck, Black Francolin, Red-throated Loon <but placement on main list “pending”>, White-tailed Tropicbird, Roseate Tern, Snow Bunting.

APPENDIX 3. Species and “forms” currently on the LA state list that were not listed in the 1974 version of the Lowery bar graphs (new records, taxonomic splits, etc.):

Cackling Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, King Eider, Cory’s Shearwater, Manx Shearwater, Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, Red-billed Tropicbird, Zone-tailed Hawk, Lesser Sand-Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Purple Sandpiper, Ruff, California Gull, Thayer’s Gull, Western Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Kelp Gull, Sabine’s Gull, Arctic Tern, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mangrove Cuckoo, Antillean Nighthawk, Green Violetear, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Blue-throated Hummingbird, Magnificent Hummingbird, Anna’s Hummingbird, Calliope Hummingbird, Allen’s Hummingbird, Ringed Kingfisher, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Gray Flycatcher, Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher, Couch’s Kingbird, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Plumbeous Vireo, Cassin’s Vireo, Yellow-green Vireo, Clark’s Nutcracker, Chihuahuan Raven, Cave Swallow, Rock Wren, Townsend’s Solitaire, Varied Thrush, White Wagtail, Virginia’s Warbler, Tropical Parula, Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Red-faced Warbler, Hepatic Tanager, Spotted Towhee, Cassin’s Sparrow, Baird’s Sparrow, McCown’s Longspur, Blue Bunting, Lazuli Bunting, Varied Bunting, Shiny Cowbird, Hooded Oriole, Bullock’s Oriole, House Finch

APPENDIX 4. English name changes since Lowery 1974:

Olivaceous Cormorant = Neotropic Cormorant

Louisiana Heron = Tricolored Heron

Night Heron = Night-Heron

Whistling Swan = Tundra Swan

Common Brant & Black Brant = Brant

White-fronted Goose = Greater White-fronted Goose

Ross’ Goose = Ross’s Goose

Tree-Duck = Whistling-Duck

Black Duck = American Black Duck

Oldsquaw = Long-tailed Duck

Goshawk = Northern Goshawk

Harris’ Hawk = Harris’s Hawk

Marsh Hawk = Northern Harrier

Audubon’s Caracara = Crested Caracara

Bobwhite = Northern Bobwhite

Common Gallinule = Common Moorhen

Northern Phalarope = Red-necked Phalarope

Common Snipe = Wilson’s Snipe

Common Ground Dove = Common Ground-Dove

Common Screech Owl = Eastern Screech-Owl

Common Flicker = Northern Flicker

Wied’s Crested Flycatcher = Brown-crested Flycatcher

Wood Pewee = Wood-Pewee

Rough-winged Swallow = Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Common Crow = American Crow

Northern House Wren = House Wren

Water Pipit = American Pipit

Solitary Vireo = Blue-headed Vireo

Northern Parula Warbler = Northern Parula

Myrtle Warbler = Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler

Rufous-sided Towhee = Eastern Towhee

Sharp-tailed Sparrow = Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow

Slate-colored Junco = Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco

Gray-headed Junco = Dark-eyed (Gray-headed) Junco

Harris’ Sparrow = Harris’s Sparrow



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