In the April edition of the Ornithological Newsletter (organ of the Ornithological Societies of North America), there is an announcement of a new service provided by USGS, the Raptor Information Service (RIS). The RIS contains citations on over 38,000 items concerning raptors, including “gray literature” reports and unpublished government reports. It is available to all comers here

I gave it a test drive this morning and the results were mixed. I entered “merlin ohio” as keywords and the system quickly found five items that matched those criteria, one of them going back to 1909. I picked up a copy of the winter 2006 issue of the Journal of Field Ornithology that happened to be lying around the lab, and entered “white-throated hawk Argentina” to see if the system would return an article in that journal. It did so in about 10 seconds, along with seven other articles on White-throated Hawks in Argentina. This indicates that the database is certainly extensive. I haven’t tried it on any Old World species, though.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the citation is all you get. There is no information on where you might by able to find the referenced article, even when the journal is available online. Ideally, a mouse click should take you to the article. The inclusion of gray literature is laudable, but the whole difficulty with gray literature is that it is almost impossible to find. The people who put it into the database had to have found it somewhere; it would have been really nice to have included that information in the database.

(White-throated Hawk by Christian Gonzalez Bulo)