Gray Catbird added to Category A of the British List


Gray Catbird
Gray Catbird (Library photo © BirdGuides Ltd)

The date and west coast location are consistent with natural vagrancy from North America. Another North American vagrant, a Red-eyed Vireo, was found at the same site on the 4 October. An investigation into the captive status of Gray Catbird revealed that it was unknown as a cagebird outside North America. The bird was extraordinarily elusive during its two-day stay, but was described sufficiently well to establish the identification beyond doubt. It was not photographed.

This record constitutes the sixth confirmed occurrence of the Gray Catbird in the Western Palearctic. The only other British record relates to a bird that arrived in Portsmouth, Hampshire on board the QEII cruise liner on 21st October 1998. The bird was not known to have left the ship while it was in port, and was not admitted to the official British List as its passage to Britain was human-assisted, with the bird being fed during the trans-Atlantic crossing. There is a single record of Gray Catbird from Ireland on Cape Clear, Co Cork, on 4 November 1986, plus one from Jersey, Channel Islands, during October-December 1975. These records do not form part of the British List.

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This addition brings the British List to 561 species (Category A = 539; Category B = 13; Category C = 9).


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The British Ornithologists' Union, founded in 1858, is one of the world's oldest ornithological societies. The BOU's main function is to 'promote ornithology within the scientific and birdwatching communities'. This is achieved primarily by the publication of BOU's international journal of avian science, Ibis, one of the world's leading ornithological journals. Ibis includes original research reports on the systematics, ecology, physiology, behaviour, anatomy and conservation of birds. Ibis is also available online at www.ibis.ac.uk. The BOU also organises conferences, seminars, meetings and expeditions and gives a series of annual grants and awards to assist with travel and equipment associated with ornithological research projects and student sponsorship.

The British List

For over 100 years the British Ornithologists' Union (BOU) has maintained a list of birds that have been recorded in Britain. This is undertaken by the BOU's Records Committee (BOURC), which periodically publishes up-to-date checklists incorporating changes the BOURC has announced in its reports published annually in the BOU's journal, Ibis.

In 1997, the BOURC liaised with the government's Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) to revise the categories used in the British List. The JNCC has adopted the list for decisions concerning to the status of birds in Britain in relation to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Responsibility for the British list lies with the BOURC. Northern Ireland has different legislation, and the list for Northern Ireland is maintained by the Northern Ireland Birdwatching Association (NIBA). The Isle of Man (which is not a legislative part of the UK) also maintains its own list which may be used by its own legislators.

Species recorded from the Republic of Ireland do not form any part of the British List.

Categories used in the British List

  • A Species which have been recorded in an apparently natural state at least once since 1st January 1950.
  • B Species which were recorded in an apparently natural state at least once up to 31st December 1949, but have not been recorded subsequently.
  • C Species that, although originally introduced by man, either deliberately or accidentally, have established breeding populations derived from introduced stock, that maintain themselves without necessary recourse to further introduction.
    • C1 Naturalised introductions Species that have occurred only as a result of introduction, e.g. Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiacus.
    • C2 Naturalised establishments Species with established populations as a result of introduction by Man, but which also occur in an apparently natural state, e.g. Canada Goose Branta canadensis.
    • C3 Naturalised re-establishments Species with populations successfully re-established by Man in areas of former occurrence, e.g. Red Kite Milvus milvus.
    • C4 Naturalised feral species Domesticated species with populations established in the wild, e.g. Rock Dove Columba livia.
    • C5 Vagrant naturalised species Species from established naturalised populations abroad, e.g. some/all Ruddy Shelducks Tadorna ferruginea occuring in Britain.
  • D Species that would otherwise appear in Categories A or B except that there is reasonable doubt that they have ever occurred in a natural state. Category D species are included within the lists that follow. They do not form any part of the species totals, and are not regarded as members of the British List.
  • E Species that have been recorded as introductions, transportees or escapees from captivity, and whose breeding populations (if any) are thought not to be self sustaining. Category E species form no part of the British List.

The role of the BOURC

Records of birds new to Britain are passed to the BOURC by the British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC) after that committee has examined them. The BOURC Secretary prepares a file summarising the record. The file also contains original descriptions and supporting documentation, including BBRC comments, correspondence from independent specialists, an analysis of the captive status of the species and its escape likelihood and extracts from books and journals referring to migration and vagrancy patterns. Records are circulated by post and require unanimous agreement on identification and at least a two-thirds majority on categorisation. All files are archived for future reference.

The Committee also studies taxonomic advances and initiates research into this field. Information on feral populations is monitored, and reviews are undertaken of older records. Anyone can ask for old or rejected records to be reviewed by the BOURC if they provide fresh evidence to justify re-examination.

This is time-consuming work, particularly when it involves detailed research or discussions with experts, who are often based abroad.

Publication of BOURC decisions

The BOURC publishes regular reports in Ibis, the BOU’s scientific journal. As few birders regularly see Ibis, information is press-released to the main birding magazines, who also receive pre-publication copies of the Ibis reports. The magazines use some of this information as the basis for news items or articles, but much of the BOURC’s work goes unreported. BOURC members occasionally write longer papers on species reviews and decisions for publication in the birding magazines. Decisions are notified to appropriate recorders and/or the original observers.

The BOURC Commitment

The BOURC undertakes:

  • To maintain the scientific accuracy and integrity of the BOU list of British birds by admitting only those species and subspecies that have been identified beyond reasonable doubt, and whose origin is considered to be in accordance with the relevant BOURC categories.
  • To ensure that all the evidence for identification and the circumstances surrounding the occurrence of potential new species or subspecies are examined thoroughly, fairly and objectively, calling upon external expert opinion where appropriate.
  • To ensure that any new evidence which is submitted, or which comes to light, that might affect the identification or categorisation of any existing record is reviewed thoroughly, fairly and objectively.
  • To ensure that all records are dealt with as speedily as practicable, but not so that this in any way prejudices the need for thorough and comprehensive examination of the evidence.
  • To attempt to answer any questions about its decisions fully and fairly, stating the reasons for these decisions.
  • So far as is practicable, to consult with the observers where new evidence suggests that a record might no longer be acceptable. The views of the observers will be taken into consideration in any final decision.

For BOU news, publications, events and more, check out the BOU Website www.bou.org.uk.

The BOU's international journal of avian science, Ibis, is available online at www.ibis.ac.uk.

Written by: BOURC