Hawaii: to List or not to List

Hawaii and whether or not it should be a part of the ABA Area has been a topic of hot debate among North American birders for a long time. It’s an issue which many people have very strong opinions on and a topic which I have had many heated debates about. The topic of Hawaii has been on my mind a lot recently and so I would like to present my take on the issue.

A Map of Hawaii

A Map of Hawaii

The ABA Area at present is composed of, “the 49 continental United States, Canada, the French islands of St. Pierre et Miquelon, and adjacent waters to a distance of 200 miles from land or half the distance to a neighboring country, whichever is less” (from the ABA’s website). This excludes areas such as Bermuda (an overseas territory of the United Kingdom), Hawaii (a US state), and Greenland (an autonomous country owned by Denmark). There has been a lot of talk over the past few years on whether or not these areas (especially Hawaii) should be added. My personal opinion is that they should not. For a start, in my mind (though Jeff Gordon, the ABA’s President, has argued to the contrary) the ABA Area has always been ecologically based. It is designed to include the areas of the continent of North American and is designed represent the bird life of that continent. I believe that is should not be a political construct. That is why I agree with the addition of St. Pierre et Miquelon. Even though it is not part of the two countries of which the ABA Area is mostly composed (the United States and Canada), it is still part of the North American continent and its birdlife is of a North American flavor. However, those in favor of the addition of Hawaii have given the contrary argument that if the ABA Area is trying to represent North American avifauna, then perhaps the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Southeastern Arizona should not count. Both of these areas reflected a distinctly Mexican flavor when it comes to birds and are less “North American” than other areas of the ABA Area. This is a valid concern. However, both of these areas are within larger states in the USA and it doesn’t seem fair or logical to include part of a state but not the rest (Hawaii on the other hand is its own, complete state). Another common argument of those in favor of the expansion of the ABA Area to include Hawaii is that we should include the whole of the US and there is no reason for only 49 out of the 50 US states be part of the ABA Area. This argument doesn’t really make sense to me. By the same logic, mainland France should be a part of the ABA Area as two islands it owns are a part of it. In addition, if Bermuda was added, we would need to add the United Kingdom as well as the thirteen other overseas territories that it supports. This doesn’t seem logical. The most credible pro-Hawaii argument in my eyes, is that adding Hawaii would draw attention to the plight of the many endangered birds found on the island. The perils of some of these birds cannot be stressed enough. According to the American Bird Conservancy, “the islands once supported 113 bird species found nowhere else… since the arrival of humans, however, 71 bird species have been lost.” The rate of extinction in the Hawaiian Island chain is off the charts and the many imperiled species there need every last bit of support that they can get. While I don’t think that adding Hawaii to the ABA Area would do a huge amount to help conserve the state’s many endangered birds, it could certainly increase the ecotourism industry of the islands as well as bring the plight of Hawaii’s birds to the mind of people in America and Canada.

I'iwi|Pu'u o'o Trail | 2013-12-17at12-43-209

An I’iwi, one of the many unique bird species found in Hawaii. (Photo via HarmonyonPlanetEarth/Flickr Creative Commons)

I also think Hawaiian birders should have more representation in the ABA. Many people think that inclusion of Hawaii would help that. However, there have been noticeably strides within the ABA to make Hawaii feel included. For example, there was an article recently in Listing Central about a Big Year in Hawaii. In addition, the July 2012 issue of Birding included an article about Elepaio taxonomy. Finally, one of the reasons why I am against Hawaii’s inclusion is because of the effects that it would have on listing. This is a fairly trivial complaint, especially when compared with the extinction of endemic Hawaiian birds, but it is a complaint none the less. If Hawaii was added, it would suddenly become fair game for ABA Area Big Years. As a consequence of this, Neil Hayward’s record set last year would be destroyed instantly and the records set by him and Sandy Komito before him would become minuscule in comparison to the new record. So, for the sake of the sport of listing, I am opposed to Hawaii’s inclusion in the ABA Area. No discussion of Hawaii’s position in the ABA Area would be complete without at least mentioning the ABA’s 2012 (non binding) referendum on what areas should be added to the ABA Area. In the vote, 53% of people polled, supported Hawaii’s inclusion into the ABA Area. This doesn’t mean it will happen of course, but it does mean that the majority of the ABA Public is against me. In conclusion, I would like to state what I think should happen to Hawaii. While I don’t think it should be added to the ABA Area, I also don’t think its current position in the eyes of the ABA is acceptable. As such, I think that an additional listing area should be created and administered by the ABA which would be composed of the state of Hawaii. This area should have its own checklist and changes to that checklist should be made by the ABA Checklist Committee. In addition, I think that there needs to be an authoritative field guide to the Birds of Hawaii written as well as probably an ABA/Lane Birdfinding Guide. This would bring attention to Hawaii and its ecological crisis as well as potentially increasing ecotourism and making Hawaiians more included in the ABA. In short, I think that everything possible needs to be done to make Hawaii and Hawaiian birders represented and a part of the ABA, except actually adding Hawaii to the ABA listing area. Works Cited or Referenced: “ABA Area – ABA Listing Central.” ABA Listing Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. http://listing.aba.org/aba-area/ Gordon, Jeff. “The ABA Area in 2012-What Should Be In and What Should Be Out?” ABA Blog. American Birding Association, 31 July 2012. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. http://blog.aba.org/2012/07/aba-area-2012.html Lebbin, Daniel J., Mike Parr, and George H. Fenwick. The American Bird Conservancy Guide to Bird Conservation. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2010. Print. Tanino, Lance. “A Big Year, Hawaii 2013 – ABA Listing Central.” ABA Listing Central. American Birding Association, 2 July 2013. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. http://listing.aba.org/big-year-hawaii-2013/ VanderWerf, Eric. “Meet the ‘Elepaios.” Birding July 2012: 34-45. Web. Gordon, Jeff. “The ABA Area Referendum Results: What’s Your Take?” ABA Blog. American Birding Association, 8 Dec. 2012. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. http://blog.aba.org/2012/12/expansion-referendum-results.html

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12 Responses to Hawaii: to List or not to List

  1. So you are against doing the only thing that would really matter? All the other things are fine but nothing is going to make certain that more people spend money seeing Hawaiian birds except adding it to the ABA Area. Without the interest and money that comes from more ecotourism that changing the listing area will bring a lot of these species aren’t going to be recovered.

  2. Andy Kratter says:

    You said:
    “It [The Aba Area] is designed to include the areas of the continent of North American and is designed represent the bird life of that continent.”
    However, North America, by almost everyone’s definition, includes Mexico, so the ABA Area is purely political.

    • harpyeagle1 says:

      Thinking over it a bit more the ABA Area is ecological argument doesn’t really make sense. However, I would also argue that the ABA Area isn’t entirely political as if it was it would probably include Hawaii and not include St. Pierre et Miquelon.
      In short, the ABA Area seems to be a strange mix of geography, politics, and ecology with a healthy dose of arbitrarity.

  3. Wes Hatch says:

    Aidan, you make some great points in here, but you forget that North America includes Mexico, south to Panama, the Caribbean islands and Greenland. So the argument for only North American birds should be revised to state only breeding birds in Canada and USA. Greenland, Central America and the Caribbean Islands are all a part of North America, but not a part of the ABA. Second argument I disagree with is the listing. Yes totals will be blown away (if Hawaii is accepted), but if you were to take Sandy Komito’s record and compare it to Neil Haywards they dont compare due to recent splits and new introduced species. So if you were to add the splits onto Sandy’s list his list would probably increase by another 5-10 species which is a big difference!

    • harpyeagle1 says:

      Yeah North America really wasn’t the correct term. I suppose something akin to “temperate North America” would fit a bit better. As for the splits, it’s an issue I’ve thought about a lot but still don’t really have an answer too.

  4. Rick Wright says:

    “The ABA Area has always been ecologically based. It is designed to include the areas of the continent of North America.” But North America goes south to the Darien, and the birdlife of the Hawaiian islands is mostly North American in origin.
    Listing is a game, and so there’s nothing wrong with creating arbitrary rules. We need to remember that they’re arbitrary, though, and not get into arguing the rules based on “logic” or “science” or anything similar.

  5. Mel Goff says:

    First let me say that I am totally in favor of adding Hawaii to the ABA. Having said that, I think some of the arguments against it are unfounded. For example: “Hawaii is too expensive to get to.” Have you priced a birding trip to Attu, the Pribilofs, or the Northern Slope of Alaska? Arguments against the species found there are equally unfounded. Many of the Alaska records are for birds the majority of birders will never see. The Big Year argument is one that can be defined by the individual birder. I have done a Colorado Big Year and a Kauai Big Day (see ABA Listing Central). Both were fun, and mean something only to my wife and I as personal accomplishments.

    So, pick your choose. Add Hawaii, delete the Rio Grande Valley, trade Attu for Sierra Vista. It is up to you. As for me, I’ll take Aloha over Ice Floes anytime. Mahalo!

    • harpyeagle1 says:

      Yes I do agree, the argument that Hawaii is too expensive is ridiculous. It is also logistically a lot easier to get to than a lot of good birding areas in Alaska. For example, getting to the Pribilofs from Pennsylvania requires 5 layovers while getting to Hawaii requires only 2 at most.

  6. Jim says:

    I hope you Yanks are having fun with YOUR ABA area. Although Canadians are supposed to be welcome in the ABA, this is one topic that shows your welcome to be a lie. For Americans to go to Hawaii is great. It’s YOUR colony (Yes, you made it a state eventually, but until then for all intents and purposes it was a colony). I understand why you have feelings of guilt for destroying it’s avifauna. You should. However, you never think if it makes any sense from a Canadian perspective to add Hawaii to the ABA area. You don’t need a passport to visit Hawaii, while Canadians do. Canadians tend to visit Cuba for birding more than Hawaii. If the ABA had a poll of just Canadian members about what we should add next to the ABA, Cuba would beat Hawaii. Why not add Cuba instead? It makes more sense from a Canadian perspective. Oh, that’s right. Poor Americans can’t go there – so they would never vote for this addition, although it makes great sense from a Canadian perspective. Why not add the Galapagos? There are probably just as many good reasons to visit there. They are also slightly closer to Toronto than Hawaii (is it wrong to make closeness to Toronto a criterion or are only American cities acceptable for that argument?). Neither one is a possession of Canada, so needing a passport for both, a Canadian wouldn’t see much difference between adding Hawaii and adding the Galapagos.

    If we are going to add something to the ABA area, why not compromise on something that makes sense for American AND Canadian members of the ABA. Add Cuba and Puerto Rico! Cuba for the Canadians and Puerto Rico for the Americans. Throw in Hispanola and Jamaica while we’re at it – making it a Greater Antilles Grand Slam! I admit that wouldn’t give you Yanks the same advantages over Canadians in future big year competitions that added Hawaii would, but you would still add a nice, tropical area with lots of endemics that you don’t need a passport to get to, while Canadians would add a tropical area they can get to easier than Americans. Admit it, how many big year birders spend much time in Canada? [crickets] The ABA area is very much skewed towards American birders and doesn’t serve Canadian birders well at all. Adding Hawaii just increases the depth of discrimination against Canada in the ABA. Throw Canada a bone! Add Cuba to the ABA area!

    • harpyeagle1 says:

      First of all, as a Canadian, you need a passport to go to the Continental US in the same way you need a passport as an American to go to Canada. Therefore, I don’t really see how it’s relevant that you need a passport to enter Hawaii. Secondly, it usually takes a very short amount of time to enter the US as a Canadian and is really not all that much of an inconvenience.
      As for Cuba, first of all, I would like to say that as a British citizen, I CAN actually go to Cuba if I enter on my UK passport. Furthermore, adding Cuba makes very little sense as it is off limits to a large number of ABA members. How would you feel if a place that Canadians could not visit (NOT are slightly inconvenienced when visiting like Hawaii) was added to the ABA Area?
      Also, if you’re measuring distance between Toronto, it is also fair to measure distance from America’s most important city, New York. I think you will find it is about as far away from Hawaii as Toronto is.
      As for adding the Galapagos, they are not owned by either the US or Canada and the bird life is not at all similar to that of the current ABA Area. For those reasons as well as many others, the addition of the Galapagos makes no sense whatsoever.
      Lastly, the reason why few Big Year birders spend much time in Canada is simply because most recent Big Year birders have been American citizens and it is easier for them to simply stay in their home country as much as possible. In addition, there are few specialty birds that can be gotten in Canada that cannot be gotten in the US so there is little incentive to go there. In fact, the biggest reason for a Big yEar birder to visit Canada is for Newfoundland which I think you will find if you do a little research, is usually visited by Big Year birders (Neil Hayward went to Newfoundland for instance). In addition, how is the amount of time spent in Canada at all relevant to the topic at hand (Hawaii)??

      • Jim says:

        Sorry, I meant my post to be tongue-in-cheek. I am not seriously in favor of Cuba or the Galapagos in the ABA area. I guess I didn’t get that across very well.

        The point I wanted to make is that the logic of adding Hawaii for a Canadian is about the same as adding Cuba or the Galapagos. All three are foreign countries for a Canadian and the ease of entry isn’t that different (maybe your experience is different).

        Since it was mentioned that by adding Hawaii, a lot more birds would be possible for a big year, I thought it would be good to mention that the majority of big year birders spend most of their time in the US, and not much in Canada. I think this puts Canadians at a disadvantage – not being able to do the birding in their own country. Someone who decides to get his neotrops in the boreal forest as opposed to High Island or some other fallout spot (admittedly, a Canadian would most likely do them at Point Pelee), would spend a lot more time effort and money. While a trip or two to Newfoundland might be necessary to chase vagrants, you could do a very good and possibly even record-setting big year without setting foot in Canada. A Canadian doing a big year would have to spend a lot of time in the US at least picking up all the birds that don’t come this far north. For some Canadians, the concept of doing an ABA big year is not a lot different from doing an American big year – it means spending a lot of time and money in the US. Why would I want to do that? Wouldn’t I rather do a Canadian or provincial big year and forget the ABA? Wouldn’t adding Hawaii only make it that much less attractive?

        Personally, I like your solution of having a Hawaii ABA area. I think it would increase interest and economic support of Hawaiian avifauna without breaking up the biogeographic unity of the ABA area as is.

        Some of your correspondents go even farther, talking about how arbitrary it is to use the US – Mexico boundary as the southern limit of the ABA area. While the southern boundary of the ABA area could be variously defined, I like the line Steve Howell draws in the introduction of his “Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America”. His line goes through Honduras and Nicaragua and marks a boundary between the Nearctic zone and the Neotropical Zone. For some reason, extending the ABA area that way is a non-starter. I don’t know why. I can understand why someone might want to spend his birding vacation in a resort in Hawaii, but you would add a lot more great birds in Central America, than in Hawaii. ABA could open membership to birders in Mexico and the other countries north of the ‘Howell line’, which would have the consequence of promoting birding and conservation in those countries.

        Moving the southern boundary of the ABA area to the ‘Howell line’ would have another consequence for big years. Big year birders would have to spend a lot of their time out of the US and Canada, working the parks and reserves in Central America and Mexico. Currently, a big year birder works hard getting as many birds as he can until about the end of May. By then, most of the endemics are already seen and the rest of the year is spent scrounging vagrants. That means that while many who do a big year are incredible birders, in the end, it might come down to who was lucky enough to be on Attu the right week. Wouldn’t it be better if a year simply wasn’t enough time to cover all the endemics, that you had to pick and choose where you were going during the entire year and not rely so much on hotlines and vagrant-scrounging.

        So, once again, sorry for being provocative. Maybe just the old Canadian inferiority complex rising to the occasion. However, I think the idea of adding Hawaii to the ABA is just more ‘America first’ thinking that doesn’t serve the needs of Canadian birders.

  7. Seems to me all the other birding places include all of their actual country. And explain to me how far Arctic Greenland, Nunavit or Alaska is ecologically similar to the Dry Tortugas. Or even southern Florida for that matter. It’s America – just include it.

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