What is a record?

Whether casually noting birds visiting the garden, on a walk around your local ‘patch’ or participating in a major survey, we are recording birds – but what exactly is a record?

In simple terms a record is an occurrence of a named species, linked to a location (site name or grid reference), a date/time, and an observer. However, whilst useful in it own right, this basic information does no more than ‘fix’ the occurrence in time and space. Additional information such as numbers, behaviour, age/sex, breeding data, direction of flight etc, can greatly enhance the richness of the SBSG database and therefore its conservation value.

Why record?

Increasingly, as sites and habitats come under threat from development, amateur naturalists are being asked to provide accurate information to be used in their defence at public inquiries. For SBSG’s records to be of use in this way, it is important that they carry as much additional information as possible. The ability to demonstrate the importance of a site for birds could easily mean the difference between saving a valuable wetland or woodland and seeing it disappear under acres of tarmac or a multi-screen cinema! Influencing developments in this way is possible, given the volume and accuracy of evidence that can be collected by groups such as SBSG. Who knows, it could be your local patch that comes under threat next!

So the culmination of the birding year is the publication of ‘Birds in the Sheffield Area’, our annual bird report which summarises the records received in a given year and interprets and draws conclusions from them about bird populations in the SBSG area during that year. We now have an unbroken series of reports from 1973 to the present day – a weighty argument for supporting cases for conservation!

The huge records database which underlies the reports has provided very specific and therefore valuable data for numerous conservation campaigns.

What to record?

The short answer is ”almost everything”. A single sighting of Robin or Dunnock in the garden can safely be ignored, but a dozen Robins or record of breeding Dunnock is worth submitting. Who knows when a ‘common’ bird (like Starling, Spotted Flycatcher, Song Thrush) may suddenly appear on a list of endangered species, so we need to understand trends in species populations.

Brief summaries like “no proof of breeding at this site for the first time in ten years”, “eight pairs bred in a 400m metre stretch of hedgerow compared with 5 last year” and “first ever site record this year” can help to provide us with a broad brushstroke picture of how our common birds are faring.

Breeding records are particularly important, since they give a measure of the importance of an area to birds. Such records can give an indication as to whether changes are occurring in bird populations, distributions, their habitats or even the environment in general, from year to year.

If you are in any doubt whether or not to record something, then record it in our database! This is one area where less definitely isn’t more.

How to submit your records

The way to do this is via the 'Submit your records'page. It is straightforward for the observer and time-efficient for the Recorders’ Committee. Full instructions are available on this page.

Rare, scarce or so-called ‘description species’

From time to time, most active birders will come across a rarity or ‘description species’ – so called because their occurrence must be supported by a written description in order to be considered for acceptance.

If you see a rarity, it is important to photograph the bird if you can, and take notes on its appearance and behaviour, preferably while actually watching it or immediately afterwards. If you can summon an experienced birder to corroborate your identification, then so much the better.

Documentation of Description Species is done on a special 'Description Form' which allows and prompts Members to complete all the necessary fields.

The collection and collation of information relating to the birds found in the 12 ten-kilometre squares of the SBSG recording area form the mainstay of the Groups’ constitution – the operative word being ‘study’. However, above all, birding should be fun, relaxing, whatever you want it to be. So don’t get too hung up on the detail and ... GOOD BIRDING!