Arizona Field Ornithologist

How to Research Status and Distribution of Arizona Birds:

A question often asked is: "How do you know how many records of a species there have been in Arizona?"  Unfortunately, there is no one place to go to get the answer, but with a little work, it is not too hard to find out.  There are both Printed and Online Resources you can consult.  These are listed below.

"Records" are defined as documented records of Review Species accepted by the Arizona Bird Committee (established in 1971) and published in Western Birds or of Sketch Details Species published in North American Birds.  Other observations are referred to as "Sightings" or "Reports".  

Printed Resources:

There are books and periodicals to help you research historical records.  These are the main ones: 

1) The most essential book to start with is the one below.  It covers all records in the state up to 1981.  It also has detailed information about the status and distribution of subspecies in the state.  It is back in print and is available from the University of Arizona Press or at used book stores. 

Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Arizona.  1981.  G. Monson and A.R. Phillips. University of Arizona Press.  [Not to be missed is Phillips essay on the merits of collecting rare birds.  He had a dim view of sight records in the era before digital photography.]

2) More general coverage is provided by this out-of-print classic that would have to be found in a library or purchased through used book stores:

The Birds of Arizona. A.R. Phillips, J. Marshal and G. Monson.  1964.  Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

3) For breeding birds in the state, the definitive source of detailed information on status and distribution through 2000 is:

Arizona Breeding Bird Atlas.  2004.  T. Corman and C. Wise-Gervais.  University of New Mexico Press. 

4) General information on status and distribution at a more local level is also included in (especially in the seasonal bar charts):

a) A Birder's Guide to Southeastern Arizona.  2005.  R.C. Taylor. American Birding Association.
b) Finding Birds in Southeast Arizona.  2007.  Tucson Audubon Society.
c) Birds of Phoenix and Maricopa County Arizona.  1997.  J. Witzeman, S. Demaree and E. Radke. Maricopa Audubon Society. 
d) Birding the Flagstaff Area.  2001.  F. Brandt and L. Brandt, Northern Arizona Audubon Society.
e) Birding Sedona and the Verde Valley.  2003.  V. Gilmore.  Northern Arizona Audubon Society.
f) Birding on the Navajo and Hopi Reservations. 1986. B. Jacobs, Jacobs Publishing Company (available used).

5) The most detailed resource on status and distribution of Arizona birds is past issues of North American Birds (and its predecessors Field Notes/Audubon Field Notes/etc).  These contain all "official" records for the state of both Review and Sketch Details species as well as other significant observations.  Unfortunately, to date these are not available online or in any searchable form.  The only way to extract the information is to go through back issues by hand looking for particular species.  There continues to be discussion, but little action, about getting NAB reports online which would be the ultimate resource.  Back issues of NAB are available in most university libraries and in the Tucson Audubon library. 

A complete bibliography of books on Arizona birds is available on this web page.


Online Resources:

There are several online resources that can be used to get more recent information:

1) The most essential resource for establishing how many "records" there are for particular rare birds (Review Species) is the reports of the Arizona Bird Committee found on this web page.

2) On the ABC website you can find a searchable database of submitted records of review species. These are updated with the ABC's decisions as soon as voting is completed. This is the best way to find numbers of records since the last published report.

3) You can search the AZFO taxonomic list for previous photos of the species that have been posted.  The accompanying write-ups often contain status information that was current at that time.   

4) A popular tool is eBird. Although not exhaustive, this resource can quickly provide a lot of information on status and distribution, especially for less rare species.