(Draft) Mammal Ticking Guidelines

A few people have asked over the years whether there are any ‘ rules’ for mammal listing. I know that this is something that can provoke a heated debate among birders but I am not aware of any standard rules for mammal listers. But maybe it would be good to have a bit of an online conversation here to see if we can set up some standard guidelines for those who want them.

It is heresy I know, but I don’t think there is any great need for a standard. It hardly matters in the great scheme of things… and if you are satisfied that you saw something which should be added to your list then why not. Its a matter for you and your conscience to resolve and is certainly not worth arguing about! But in the interests of making comparisons between different lists I guess it is also good to have some standards.

So, here are the rules I use when deciding whether or not to include something on my list. Wold be grateful for comments, additions, corrections etc….

1. You have to see the mammal and positively identify it.

2. The mammal has to be alive when you saw it (even if it was dead by the time you identified it). So I don’t count things I have found squashed on the road. But I do count things I have seen scurry under the wheels of my car and that I have only ID’d after scraping them off the road.

3. Animals have to be living in the wild. This is far from clear cut however so there has to be some judgement here. Some things are clearly wild. Others are clearly not (farm animals, zoo animals etc). But there is a considerable grey area with animals in many national parks in Africa living behind a fence to keep them in, or in Australia living behind a fence to keep other things (like foxes and cats) out. If the animals were there before the fence, then there is a good case of counting them as wild I guess. If they were put inside after the fence was built then its trickier, but even then there can be a good argument for considering them as wild. For me I guess its the size of the enclosure, the authenticity of the ecosystem and the way the animals live etc that decides it as well as if the animals ought to be there naturally. Grateful for comments on this….

4. Feral/escapee animals can be counted as long as they are part of a self-sustaining breeding population. So camels in Australia count, but if the pet Donkey from next door escapes and you see it a week later it doesn’t.

5. Mammals you have trapped or bat detected count. Again people may disagree with this but for many species there is simply no way to identify them unless you catch them (there is often virtually no way of even getting a glimpse unless you trap them) and setting traps can be every bit as skillful and tiring as trying to see the animal running free. But, to count stuff from a trap you need to see the animal in the study site. So if a mate of yours catches a Gilbert’s Potoroo and brings it over to your house a few days later it doesn’t count. Bat detection can be pretty hit or miss to ID certain species. But if you see the bat while you are using the detector and are certain of your identification then that’s OK for me.

6. I also have homo sapien on my list. But only once I’d seen my son being born. I figure he was wild when he took his first breath, but then became domesticated. Unfortunately he still seems pretty feral 8 years later.

7. I don’t know of any gold standard list of species. I tend to use the IUCN redlist which seems pretty up to date and authoritative but its hard to keep up with changes.

OK – grateful for some comments



  • Scott Flamand

    #2. I have been a mammal and bird watcher for many years. Mammals have always been my favorite. I like your more mellow rules for mammal watchers. This summer I was outside of Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah and saw a vole of some kind as it “scurried under the wheels of my car” I got out and identified it as a Montane Vole. I figured if I knew the genus before impact it should count.

    #6 I was very excited that my daughter was with me when I saw my first wolves in Yellowstone. It was a great moment for us to share. I can’t wait to tell her that I just added her to my list. By date she will fit in right between my 1st Bison and a Southern Short-tailed Shrew. She will be so excited.

  • Jon Hall

    Hi Scott – thanks! Glad you have something nice to tell your daughter. And sorry about that poor Montane Vole but every cloud… in any event, if you saw the animal alive and were later able to identify it I think it has to count (by my logic) even if you weren’t sure when you first saw it whether it was a Montane Vole or a Moutain Beaver!


  • Don Roberson

    I have many bird lists, from my yard list to my world list, and have been actively involved in the “listing rules” debates for birds for several decades. I was on the American Birding Ass’n (ABA) bird listing rules committee for many years. So I gained my perspective there. Most of what Jon describes are fine, but it is apparent that they derive from a U.K./European background. ABA rules, for example, explicitly exclude netted birds, unless you can follow them after release until they revert to natural behavior. Despite that difference between British and American approaches, the idea of ticking certain mammals (rodents, bats, shrews) that are caught doesn’t offend me.

    However, Jon’s rules will never work for me because I have long been “NIB” on my world bird list = “no introduced birds.” I am not interested in seeing non-native birds or mammals; my interest is in seeing birds and mammals is to observe them where they have evolved naturally. So no camels in Australia for me, just as no Ring-necked Pheasants (which I’d seen many times in the States) until I saw them wild in China.

    Yet, while I don’t tick non-native birds or mammals, I am very supportive of reintroduction projects for native species. I won’t tick the first releases, but will count those born in the wild from the re-introduced individuals. Thus, in the bird world, I didn’t count Calif Condors on my Monterey County list, although I saw them often, until they started to breed in the wild, and then I counted a baby in a nest.

    As to re-introduced mammals within enclosures, I did not tick any of the marsupials (e.g., Bilby) at Barna Mia in s.w. Australia last year, even though the enclosure is rather large and the mammals are behaving naturally. But I will tick a mammal within an African park, surrounded by fences, if it is many square miles in size [Barna Mia might be one square mile = too small], so there is a difficult line to draw there.

    I actually agree with Jon that there is no need for these standards, because in the end it comes down to personal decisions from whatever one’s background might be. My American background is a different perspective from many British birders, as just one example. The only need for standards is if one wishes to compare lists, or compete. In those cases, my more stringent approach will always leave me far behind. And that is okay.


    • Jon Hall

      Thanks Don – good to get your comments and the birding perspective. I suppose one difference that might be borne in mind between catching birds and mammals is that just about every bird (forgive if I am wrong) can be reliably identified with a combination of visual and aural cues in the field without picking it up. The same doesn’t go for mammals.. birds are also inherently less cryptic than some of the smaller mammals.

      Out of interest how do birders treat species of birds that exist in the wild only in feral populations. Some mammal species – eg cat, goat etc – are full species but only got that way after being domesticated. I will include these in my list if I have seen them living in wild populations. But is it impossible to tick them using your more stringent criteria? Are there debates about whether or not to tick chickens that are living wild (do any chickens live wild?! or is jungle fowl the same species…)
      would be good to hear your views


  • Matt Miller

    I think the rules you list work well for mammal listers. I admit that, while I keep a list, I am not really interested in “ticking” per se. I just am fascinated by wildlife, particularly mammals, and enjoy seeing them in the wild.

    As such, the list is really for me as are the rules.

    I think that trapping is the only practical way to identify some small species like mice, shrews, voles, etc. For me, I wouldn’t count trapped species that could easily be identified in the field. For instance, a trapped wolverine would not count in my book. They may be hard to see, but they are not to identify. But I recognize this is just a personal preference for how I like to see wildlife.

    I recognize the great harm that non-native species can do to ecosystems. But I also think, in many cases, these species have become a part of the ecosystem–or in some instances, have adapted to new ecosystems. If they are roaming wild and free, they count for me. And I admit I enjoy seeing chukar partridge around home and I enjoy seeing wild axis deer and aoudad in the Texas Hill Country.

    I suppose there are many less clear situations, though. On a recent trip to England, I saw a muntjac on the outskirts of town (free ranging). Ten minutes later, the walking trail went through a deer park where Pere David’s deer roamed over 3000 acres. I think most people would count the muntjac but not the Pere David’s deer. But if they saw the Pere David’s deer on a 3000-acre “park” in China, it would count. Yet the circumstances and naturalness of may not not be really different.

    I do think, though, that intention counts. Many national parks and nature preserves with bison are fenced. But there is a big difference between seeing a bison roaming the prairie at Badlands National Park and seeing one eating out of a grain bin in Pennsylvania. If the animal is allowed to behave naturally, I say it counts.

  • Morgan Churchill

    What about animals which died in a trap. To this day, the only Northern Short-tailed Shrew I have on my list is from a trap.

    I would say not to worry about making rules which can apply equally to birds, mammals, and herps. All require different methods of observation and have their own challenges. All of Jon’s rules seem fair to me.

    • Jon Hall

      I don’t count animals that have died in the trap. I can only think of two species where this has happened. Its very regrettable of course so not something that should be encouraged (otherwise some people might start setting mouse traps for things which apparently are quite effective). So I think rule number 2 should apply – the animal has to be alive when you see it.


  • Aulikki Nahkola

    Hello Jon,
    thank you very much for putting your mind to this important task. A few comments.

    Now that Duff and Lawson have a new and comprehensive mammals check-list – what about adopting that as the standard list? The Lynx Mammals Handbook, which is an obvious competitor in taxonomy, will be years in the making, but perhaps a future possibility. One of the Duff-Lawson advantages is that many subspecies have been given full species status…

    On Homo sapiens: Duff and Lawson actually include domestic species in their list. I keep a separate ‘domestic list’, as I feel every species has the right to be ticked! I have not decided yet which list humans should fall under.

    Like Don above, I do not count introductions (birds or mammals), in my world list, but I do count them – on ‘feral rules’ – in country lists.

    Like Matt above, I think trap-ticking should only apply to animals which are very difficult to identify otherwise. I think using a bat-detector combined with visual sighting is a good rule.

    The enclosure issue is a difficult one. As a rule of thumb I try to find out whether animals have been transported to the area (eg black rhino to a private game park) or the fence erected around an existing population – although eg in Africa there is so much animal transportation that the status of an individual is often impossible to establish.

    Finally, I would like people to ‘declare’ what rules they use for their lists eg on Surfbirds – are introductions included. I am only just drawing my list up to add there, but will do so. Just as I would like to know how many of the top birders now include ‘heards’ – surely a tendency that mammal-tickers will never adopt?

    • Jon Hall

      THanks – I don’t think mammal watchers will adopt ‘heards; – at least I won’t. Though it is possible with some species.

      The Duff&Lawson list is pretty good though its already out of date and I tend to use that plus anything more recent I am aware of (which usually appears on the IUCN redlist site).

      And so far as enclosures go then I like Matt Miller’s observation that “intention counts”…. but of course there are many shades of gray.

      Its far from clear cut!


    • Morgan Churchill

      as far as listing taxonomy goes, I mostly rely on regional checklists, and in cases where there is argument try to look up the literature and see the current taxonomic opinion (i.e. hyraxes). My family level taxonomy is my own invention after going through molecular papers.

  • Jurek

    On my world mammals list I count established exotics and reintroduced mammals. Not feral domestics (although I like wild ponies very much, they are not on my list).

    I don’t count bats, shrews and small rodents (hedgehogs, fruitbats, squirrels and dormice are OK). They have a category ‘seen but small’ on my list. The reasons are:
    – simple – all are plain identical, and this is no fun. Sorry to the enthusiasts of fascinating ecology.
    – identification often requires trapping and sometimes killing, which is intrusive.
    – bat detectors and setting and checking traps have nothing to do with field skills and field trip.
    – small mammal species are too numerous and easy compared to big mammals. OK, new species of warbler is not the same as new species of a raptor, but in mammals it is more an extreme. Compare effort of seeing 10 species of rodents and stalking 10 species of predatory mammals.

    For introduced/reintroduced:
    – if animal was native and is reintroduced into the area, free-born young counts as wild, but not the originaly transported ones.
    – If animal is not native, it must be: established,
    self-sustaining population roaming some larger area (small colonies don’t count, introductions spanning whole countries like sika deer and raccoon in Europe do).

  • Jurek

    With taxonomy – I note subspecies, but don’t count them. Here is my golden rule: if a form is sufficently different that this is a new experience for me, it is a species. I don’t like splintering species into many to give them better conservation rank.


  • Jurek

    BTW – for large and spectacular animals I also note tracks and dead animals seen, but they are not counted to the total.

  • Don Roberson

    Jon asks if domesticated mammals, or birds, would count under the rules I use. The answer is no. I would not count domesticated sheep, cows, goats, or chickens. As to chickens, though, Red Junglefowl is the same species. It took me many trips to different Asian countries before I finally saw a Red Junglefowl that appeared to be entirely wild in a remote jungle within its native range before I ticked that bird.

    As to non-native birds and mammals, like Aulikki, I do not count any on my world list, but I do count well-established non-native populations on my State or U.S. or county lists. In the U.S. there are rather tight rules on what constitutes an “established” populations — much tighter than those used in the U.K. — and basically the ones that are countable are non-natives that have spread everywhere reasonable (e.g., Rock Pigeon, Eur. Starling, House Sparrow and now Eur. Collared-Dove) and are permanent additions to the American avifauna, but the rules exclude all small localized introduced populations, no matter how long in existence. Thankfully, this has worked well so far to exclude many parrots from county or State listing efforts.

    Trapping small mammals (bats, rodents, shrews) is okay with me, and I don’t begrudge Jon or others from counting them, even though I am unlikely to do that. But I would not think that a trapped Siberian tiger or Wolverine would be countable, even if it was one’s job to trap big mammals.

    Finally, as to “heard” birds, I was on the Rules Committee that unanimously voted against counting them on life lists, but we were overruled by the ABA Board of Directors on political grounds. No world birder that I know counts heard birds on life lists; I presume no self-respecting birder would do so, despite the ABA’s dispensation. On the other hand, heard birds are readily acceptable on all other lists — State, regional, county, Big Days, etc. Just not countable for one’s “life list” encounter.

    Cheers, Don

  • Vladimir Dinets

    For domestic animals which have no 100% wild conspecifics, I just try to see the wildest population available. That would be the Belovezh population of “neotarpan” for Equus caballus, Frazer Island dingo for Canis familiaris, etc. I actually found a very feral bunch of llamas in Bolivia, in case somebody’s interested 🙂 But for E. asinus, I’m not counting it until I see it in Eritrea (tried in Ethiopia, but no luck). I wonder if “neoaurochs” will ever be reintroduced somewhere.

  • Jerzy


    Oostvaardersplassen has indeed, lots of cattle and wild
    konik horses. Also, a very good palce to watch red deer display in autumn at close range. It is oe of my favorite spots.

    It’s about 1 hour away by car from Schiphol airport. If you ever decide to come to Holland, let me know.


  • Rohan Clarke

    Hi All,
    As someone that has competed with Jon at the Australian mammal list level (in a very friendly, site sharing way!) I’ve been watching this thread with interest. I apply most of Jon’s listed rules, perhaps in part because we thrashed these out a few years back in a more local context.

    Points of discussion/difference from an Australian perspective are:
    a) I don’t count animals detected with Anabat. I guess I could push up my list if I set off with some reference calls, a bat detector and a spotlight but it just doesn’t feel like I’ve ‘seen’ the animal. That is, I might expect to see a bat and link it to a diagnostic call, but the flight view of the bat wouldn’t allow me to narrow identification down to genus. To me this feels more like a ‘heard only record’. Perhaps with lots of practice and positive reinforcement through confirmation of ID with Anabat, mammal watchers can refine their field skills to ID micro-bats to genus? If this is the case then I might reconsider.

    b) Ferals are in but they have to be self-sustaining. In Australia this is reasonably straightforward to apply as there aren’t that many exotic mammals kept in captivity (at least in private collections) and so there are very few species that are questionable given recent establishment. Donkey, Horse, Camel, Asian Water-buffalo (at least prior to the TB culls), Pig, Domestic Cat and Domestic Dog are clearly countable. Domestic Cattle are countable in areas where they are clearly feral…the stand-out population in my mind are the forest cattle north of the Jardine River on Cape York. They persist in an area where the keeping of cattle is prohibited for quarantine reasons. Sheep are a more questionable. Mainland populations are unlikely to be feral for multiple generations and I’m not aware of any Australian islands where sheep have persisted for extended periods.

    c) Has to be living in the wild. A fence to protect an existing population and to keep feral predators out (a big problem in Australia) is fine. I haven’t personally resolved the ‘fence to protect re-introduced populations’ issue though. At the moment I don’t count any re-introduced mammals within fenced areas (but have seen quite a few). The problem is that in Australia these fences are not put in place to keep the animals in…indeed many of these fences seem somewhat permeable to their ‘captives’. Rather fences are there to keep exotic predators (foxes and feral domestic cat) out. So by that logic, populations in many of these fenced areas are potentially no different to re-introduced populations in large reserves/islands with extensive feral predator control – the fence or the predator baiting suppresses or eliminates predators and self-sustaining small/medium native mammal populations (usually) boom. So not counting these at present but perhaps sitting on the fence. Any thoughts?

    Rohan Clarke

    • Vladimir Dinets

      I’ve only been n Australia for 5 days, and have only 16 Australian species on my list… But when I get a better chance, I’ll definitely count animals from fenced reserves, as long as the reserve is big enough to allow more or less natural behavior and social structure. My main argument is that in Australia, living conditions for small mammals inside those fences are more natural than outside.

      In Africa, the situation is much more complicated, because there you see a continuous spectrum of nature reserves, from small, intensely managed to huge and almost-natural, but still fenced or surrounded by agriculture. And even in the largest national parks, animals are constantly being moved around, reintroduced, culled, poached, etc. Makes you wonder if any animal larger than an aardwark is 100% countable nowadays. Deciding where to put the cutoff line is very difficult. If this bothers you, the best you can do is go for the “most countable” population of each questionable species. That would be S white rhino in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, wild dog in either Selous or Kruger, bontebok in Bontebok NP, and so on.

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