ONTBIRDS Guidelines

Welcome to ONTBIRDS, OFO's electronic mailing listserv that notifies birders of interesting Ontario bird sightings. The Hamilton-Wentworth Community Network operates ONTBIRDS for OFO. Mike Street of Ancaster developed ONTBIRDS for OFO.

Mark Cranford of Mississauga coordinates ONTBIRDS. You can reach him at .

Anyone interested in Ontario bird sightings can subscribe. New subscribers must read the Guidelines below carefully before posting to the list.


Ontario birders and all Ontario birding hotlines, major birding hotspots and hawkwatches are invited to post their regular updates, especially rare bird reports to ONTBIRDS. In addition, hotlines and hawkwatches in cities/areas bordering Ontario are invited to post. Any subscriber can post a notice about bird sightings.

The guidelines for ONTBIRDS are simple. We have them for the same reason there are traffic laws - to keep order in the flow of information over the ONTBIRDS 'highway'. Breaking the rules causes annoyance to other ONTBIRDers, and creates extra work for the Coordinator, who would rather be birding. Please follow the guidelines so that messages are communicated clearly and ONTBIRDS runs smoothly.

What to reportTop

ONTBIRDS is primarily for bird sightings, not 'chat' or discussions. Only post sightings of birds in Ontario or reasonably close to Ontario. Non-Ontario Hotlines may include non-Ontario sightings which are part of their regular updates. Reports should always be brief and to the point.

a) Please report: rare vagrants, birds on the Ontario Review List, regional rarities, unusual numbers or species mixes, and birds out of season or in unusual locations. Please use standard, full species names.


  • Significant shorebird, waterfowl or warbler concentrations.

  • A Northern Cardinal at a feeder in Thunder Bay is reportable any time; a cardinal at a feeder in southern Ontario is not.

  • 'Good' birds, i.e. those that may be hard to find any time, or are only seen by most of us on migration, e.g. Sedge Wrens near Wiarton and Sharp-tailed Sparrows in Dundas Marsh.

New Birders should check range maps in field guides before posting sightings of species that are new to them. If the map says the species should not be there, check with a more experienced birder before posting.

b) Christmas Count, Lake Ontario Waterfowl Count and significant Birding Competition reports are welcome, but summaries only please - highlights, number of species, count conditions, number of observers, missed birds, etc.

c) Notices of Bird and Birding related activities are welcome, but must be cleared first with the . If including non-sighting information in a sightings posting, mention that the event info is there, put the sightings first, and then put in the event info at the end.

d) Except for rarities, birds visiting feeders should not be reported. Trip reports, unless very concise, should not be posted to the list.

e) Please only report endangered species on a breeding territory if the following criteria are met. ONTBIRDers should be aware of the potential dangers of reporting the location of rare or endangered birds on breeding territories. None of us wants to be responsible for causing a rare bird to abandon a nest or breeding attempt because of disturbance. A report is acceptable if the bird can be seen:

  • from a public location (roadside, established path or trail in a conservation area or park or similar);

  • at a safe distance for the birds (at least 20m/ 60ft); and

  • safely for the watchers (e.g. roadsides must have shoulders wide enough to accommodate cars and people without making them vulnerable to oncoming traffic, etc.).

  • on private property where the landowner has given explicit permission for birders to visit.

If the bird can be seen at a safe distance only by entering or crossing private property where permission has not been obtained, do not report to ONTBIRDS If in doubt, please ask the Ontbirds Coordinator before posting. Monitoring agencies such as Bird Studies Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service may be notified about rare birds on breeding territory. If a sighting does not meet the criteria above, a private report to Ontbirds Coordinator will be forwarded to them.

Include the species name and the general location of the sighting in the Title/Subject line of the email. i.e. “Bald Eagles in Bruce County”. Including the general location allows others to make a quick decision on whether or not to read the email - not everyone reads each post.

  • Always include the date and time of sighting clearly in the body of the email. Any doubt about the identification should be clearly stated.

  • When reporting a rare bird, specify its sex, age and plumage, if known.

  • Please do not post second- or third-hand reports unless the person reporting is well known to you as a knowledgeable birder. Also, do not post reports taken from sightings books, regardless of the name of the birder making the report. These reports may not be valid. Birders will drive hundreds of kilometres to see a rare bird. It is not fair to put people to unnecessary trouble and expense.

  • Include the name of the birders making the identification.

  • Always give directions to the location of a sighting (even if they have been given 100 times before - people are always joining ONTBIRDS and may not have seen a previous post), viewing restrictions if any, and contact information (name, phone number, hours for calling) if available. This applies to all sites except major locations such as Point Pelee NP or Presqu'ile PP or Rondeau PP. Please be sure that any report includes a reference to the nearest large town likely to appear on the Ontario map.

  • MapArt has excellent maps of Ontario showing all main highways, regional and concession roads. We also recommend Clive Goodwin's A Birdfinding Guide to Ontario (Revised edition, 477 pp, University of Toronto Press, 1995.). Maps can also be downloaded from the Internet.

  • Please do not include previous messages or strings of messages in your post.


On any email posted to ONTBIRDS include a text-only 'Signature' giving your real name and location (city/town and province/state), e.g. “Joe Birder Anytown, ON”. This is important because people need to know who is making a report.

Avoid passing on computer viruses and virus hoaxesTop

  • No attachments please. Do not attach files, graphics, photographs or 'business cards' to an ONTBIRDS email. ONTBIRDS system will block any post with an attachment.

  • Help your email program to avoid sending your message as an attachment. Send posts as 'Text only', not as 'HTML'; Please do not use bold, underline, italics, colour or other formatting in your message; Please do not 'forward' previous emails with yours. All these things help to avoid attachments.

  • Please do not post virus warnings to the list. If you receive a warning, first check it out with an antivirus website like Norton or McAfee to ensure that it is not a hoax. If a warning is valid, send it to the Coordinator only.

  • Users of Microsoft Outlook/Outlook Express: When you start Microsoft Outlook Express (MSOE) after installing it, the program is set by default to compose emails in what is called 'HTML' and send the resulting message as an attachment. It is necessary to change this so that MSOE will not send messages as attachments. On the Menu Bar at the top of your screen go into 'Tools' then 'Options' then 'Send' and change from 'HTML' to 'Plain Text'. Save the change by clicking OK back to the program, exit Outlook completely, then start it up again. If you do this your messages should no longer be sent as attachments. If you wish to check that these changes have worked, send a test message to the Coordinator.

  • Users of America-on-Line 6.0: Changes in the email program from AOL 5.x have resulted in emails under AOL 6.0 being composed in HTML format and the emails then being sent out as attachments, by default. The only known way around this at the moment is to use the program available by clicking the 'Email' button just above the sign-in box on AOL's Home Page. This program will compose messages as text and not send them as attachments.

Responding to PostsTop

  • If you believe that a post should not have been sent, please express your views only to the Coordinator.

  • If you wish to ask a question about or discuss a post, please reply to the originator privately and politely.

  • If you receive a 'flame' message in response to a post, forward a copy of the full email to the Coordinator.

The primary reason for this policy is basic courtesy. A post may have been sent in error, or it may have been sent in sincere belief that it was good and valid, or it may have even been cleared first with the Coordinator. Subscribers are entitled to their opinion about the validity of a post, but they are not entitled to attack the sender. There is no place for vigilantes on ONTBIRDS. Leave responsibility for “policing” the service to the Coordinator.

Going away? Changing Internet
Service Provider?Top

To avoid messages being rejected by your ISP and sent back to the Mail Server, when you cut off your service or go on holiday (and leave your mailbox to fill up), please unsubscribe until connected to your new ISP or for the duration of your trip. You can re-subscribe at any time.

Western Grebe
Photo: Jean Iron

Western Grebe
Photo: Jean Iron

Clay-colored Sparrow
Photo: Jean Iron

Clay-colored Sparrow
Photo: Sam Barone

Clay-colored Sparrow
Photo: Ken Newcombe

Red-headed Woodpecker
Photo: John Millman

Red-headed Woodpecker
Photo: Saul Bocian

Red-headed Woodpecker
Photo: Sam Barone