AOU-like codes added for species not occurring in North America

The American Ornithological Union (AOU) has a list of codes unique to each bird species occurring in North America. In general, these codes are generated using a standard set of conventions, but deviates in cases where strict adherence to the conventions would create duplicate codes.

These codes are entered as a common name into iNat. For example Magnolia Warbler has MAWA listed with “AOU 4-Letter Codes” as the “Language / Type”.

Several 4-letter codes have been added recently for many bird species outside of North America following the same AOU conventions, but paying no mind to duplicates. For example, MAWA is now listed for Madagascar Wagtail and Marsh Warbler with “English” as the language.

My first question is, are these codes used elsewhere? Is there a similar organization to AOU that uses similar / the same naming conventions?

If so, shouldn’t that organization be listed as “Language / Type” rather than “English”?

And if not, this seems like a violation of iNat taxon guidelines:

add names that have been used elsewhere


don’t add duplicate names

My second question is, is there a way to handle this other than flagging each species for curation individually? These 4-letter codes seem to be added to many species.


I agree with your concerns here. Unless there’s a separate established system that is the source for these abbreviations it does seem like it goes against iNat guidelines.

I would guess that the person adding them has good intentions but may be unaware of the guidelines and the implications of creating their own abbreviations this ways. You can see who made these changes using taxon history and then message them directly to see what they’re basing this on.

Maybe they’re adding these to make adding IDs easier for themselves. In that case, you might want to explain that they can already use abbreviated versions of common or scientific names. For example “mad wag” or “mot flavive” will bring up the Madagascar Wagtail at the top of the list.


I have seen a couple of other random codes (not related to this specific situation) added to names in iNat in the past. They also seemed to have been added to allow for their use as three or four letter shortcuts to autofill. In those case, I have deleted these the couple of times I have encountered, as I considered it an invalid reason to add them to a name on iNat as above. Otherwise, this could just lead to a “Shortcut War” in names for people trying to enter acronyms to make their IDing faster or for use in a specific project etc. It also obviously leads to confusion for other users looking to use the existing tags as well.

I agree that I would flag on iNat and tag the creators to start a conversation about this.


Ok, thanks.

I knew there was a way to…

but until now, I couldn’t remember how it was done.

1 Like

If you check the article you refer to, the AOU doesn’t have such a list – those were produced by the Institute for Bird Populations. Their work was built around the Bird Banding Lab’s list, which was produced when the BBL was under the US Fish & Wildlife Service (For some odd reason, they’re under the US Geological Survey now…)

1 Like

There is an AOU list, developed by IBP reflecting the AOU checklist. The 4-letter codes and conventions were first used by BBL, but there are a few banding codes that now differ from the AOU list.

Probably because USGS is the major research agency. USFWS does inventory & monitoring, but they don’t handle a lot of research outside of their NWRs or T&E species.

1 Like

I wonder if some people put these in because they do work on eBird. Typing MAWA on eBird will give you Magnolia Warbler as well as Madagascar Wagtail and Marsh Warbler


more on eBird’s 4-letter codes here:

1 Like

7 posts were split to a new topic: AOU Codes Discussion

eBird uses “Quick Find Codes”. When you are creating an eBird list, the species are already filtered by location (unless you are using the complete list, but most people don’t), so duplicates are much less of an issue. I don’t think quick find codes are suitable for iNat.


the quick find codes can also be used to search for species in explore species, range maps, media search, etc. (as can the AOS 4-letter banding codes), where the results aren’t filtered by location and are just listed in taxonomic order - although for something like MAWA where a quick find code for multiple species is also a banding code, the species to which it applies as a banding code is always listed first (at least with the English (US) common name setting, not sure about others)
(quick find codes and banding codes also work to search for species in Birds of the World, although there the banding code isn’t given priority)

1 Like

I understand that, but the functionality of eBird and iNat are vastly different. Very seldom do people need to enter multiple species codes or the same species codes multiple times in rapid succession when using explore, range maps, etc. in eBird. But this is a very common action for iNat identifiers working through their identify tabs.

iNat has a much larger species list. We can’t have quick codes for everything (I’d rather disallow AOU codes than have that). And eBird has no formal list of it’s quick codes (even though its lexicon can be inferred).


Also iNat has WAY MORE species than ebird. Maybe around 30x? And growing? Allowing for extra species abbreviation codes would get very messy very quickly.

1 Like

Not a birder so I will offer a different example
leu con
will get you to
That is almost as easy as 4 letters.
Depending on what you search for
l for Lepidoptera
f for Fungi


Less duplication, but these are most-commonly used as field codes (field datasheets, checklists, banding codes, etc.). With standardized common names, most people don’t know all the scientific names for each North American bird. Codes based off the common names are easier to keep track of because they can be sussed from the names used (I say “there’s a morning dove” when birding with a group of people, not “there’s a Zenaida macroura”).

Look, I’m fine if we want to remove the AOU codes too; I certainly didn’t add them. My point is, we can’t have random shorthands created for everything.

M-dov may come naturally to you, but MODO is literally used all the time, to the point where birders will use that shorthand verbally in the field. With the exception of the common names, the 4-digit AOU codes are likely the next most popular way to refer to these species in the field.

This topic keeps deviating. It was not meant to be a discussion on the history of the IBP/AOU, nor was it meant to be a discussion on which field codes the IBP should have chosen/prioritized.


Moved posts about the AOU code history to its own topic.

I don’t think shortcuts should be imported from eBird or made for iNat in general. As @dianastuder and @rupertclayton point out, you can always use the few first letters of each part of a name to quickly find the taxon.


2 posts were merged into an existing topic: AOU Codes Discussion

This topic was automatically closed 60 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.