Sign in

close

Registering for this site allows you to access your order status, history and manage any subscriptions. Just fill in the fields below, and we’ll get a new account set up for you in no time. We will only ask you for information necessary to make the purchase process faster and easier.

Create an Account

ORDER BY 12/13 FOR STANDARD SHIPPING. CLICK HERE TO SEE ALL HOLIDAY SHIPPING CUTOFF DATES.

Shopping cart

close
  • No products in the cart.

Birding is a Wild Life: Rediscovering NARBA through a Vintage Shirt Collection

April 29, 2021

Pam Morrice remembers the first week of 1985, when the North American Rare Bird Alert, or NARBA, got off to a great start. On its second day in business, the new rare-bird news service was contacted about a Eurasian bean goose seen at Nebraska’s DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge. NARBA issued one of its first alerts, birders across the country mobilized to go see the goose, and the New York Times reported the event in a roundup of national news. Birding – and this fledgling service – were on the map.

It was just the break Bob Odear and Pam (then Odear) of North Carolina were hoping for when Bob founded NARBA, a toll-free 800 phone number that would provide up-to-the-minute reports of confirmed sightings of rare or unusual species within North America. “A birder is usually a bird-watcher in motion, most often in pursuit of something scarce, and NARBA serves as a command center,” Stu Stuller wrote three years later in Sports Illustrated.

NARBA brochure from the 1980's

By then, NARBA had a long subscriber list, many of them birding’s diehards. Bob Odear, himself an avid birder who quit his job as the CEO of Wrangler apparel to create NARBA, said in one company pamphlet that the goal of their new service was “to give serious birders every possible opportunity to see rare species.” Pam also left her job in marketing research and sales forecasting at Wrangler to help bring NARBA to life. They bonded over a love of birds. Bob had given Pam a field guide before an outing he led, encouraging her to learn the bird names. Little did he realize she would take that to mean she should memorize all their Latin names, which she diligently did to his great surprise. 

We had heard about NARBA in passing over the years, but when we discovered a series of their vintage T-shirts featuring bird puns – several of which used those Latin names, such as “Pterodromas Are Far Out” and “Dendroicas Are Over My Head” – we wanted to find out more. These designs spoke our language. We found Pam’s daughter, Melinda Sanders, who shared her memories of NARBA and introduced us to Pam, the creator of NARBA’s apparel and newsletter – which was also filled with witty bird wordplay. 

From conversations with the both of them, we grew fascinated by the origins of NARBA. In the beginning, birders could subscribe to its 24/7 “Gyrfalcon” hotline (in 1988, the fee was $31.50 a year) or pay more for an additional “Laysan” service in which NARBA staff would call them about rare species they had specifically asked to be notified of. In 1989 the Houston Audubon Society acquired NARBA and ran it for two and a half decades before partnering with BirdsEye Birding, which now manages it as an email alert and web service. (Bob Odear died in 2010.) Looking back now, NARBA started a new chapter in birding, the likes of which Cornell’s eBird has followed.

Sample page of NARBA's 1988 Newsletter.

To birders of a certain generation, there is a before and after NARBA. Before 1985, birders racked up phone charges calling five or six dozen local and regional hotlines. There was no national rare bird alert, and reports from the field were often fleeting and unreliable, with true rarities shared by word of mouth within a small insidery network. Before Bob launched NARBA, he traveled around America and Canada meeting with outstanding birders who could later be called upon to verify rare sightings that were reported in their areas.

“Obviously, if birders are going to plan cross-country flights on the basis of NARBA information, excellent quality control of output is needed in the form of a sound verification program,” Bob wrote in 1985.

NARBA created three categories of rare species (Annual Irregulars, Occasionals, Accidentals) and established a system of reliably gathering and disseminating information. This came at great cost. The technology was incredibly expensive: they purchased equipment that had the capacity to answer 7,000 calls simultaneously and computers that could retrieve subscribers’ species lists and phone numbers.

Pam wrote to us sharing background on her original eight NARBA shirt designs..

At its peak, NARBA’s 800 number received roughly 50 calls a day from its 1,000 subscribers. The tape was updated around the clock, and it was long and detailed, with instructions on how to find the location of the bird or updates on where it had moved. You could say this type of reporting is now captured by eBird’s hourly or daily alerts, with that citizen-science database’s own local verifiers. But NARBA was the first, and for birders around the country, it was groundbreaking.

We’re thrilled to be working with Pam to re-release three of her original eight NARBA shirt designs. The more we learned the more we realized how much we wanted to share NARBA’s history and its place in birding history. We will donate 30% of the profits from this collection to the Georgia-based R&R Wildlife Rehabilitation, a non-profit that Melinda started to support sick, injured and orphaned wildlife.  

NARBA brochure from the 1980's

Pam Morrice remembers the first week of 1985, when the North American Rare Bird Alert, or NARBA, got off to a great start. On its second day in business, the new rare-bird news service was contacted about a Eurasian bean goose seen at Nebraska’s DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge. NARBA issued one of its first alerts, birders across the country mobilized to go see the goose, and the New York Times reported the event in a roundup of national news. Birding – and this fledgling service – were on the map.

It was just the break Bob Odear and Pam (then Odear) of North Carolina were hoping for when Bob founded NARBA, a toll-free 800 phone number that would provide up-to-the-minute reports of confirmed sightings of rare or unusual species within North America. “A birder is usually a bird-watcher in motion, most often in pursuit of something scarce, and NARBA serves as a command center,” Stu Stuller wrote three years later in Sports Illustrated.

By then, NARBA had a long subscriber list, many of them birding’s diehards. Bob Odear, himself an avid birder who quit his job as the CEO of Wrangler apparel to create NARBA, said in one company pamphlet that the goal of their new service was “to give serious birders every possible opportunity to see rare species.” Pam also left her job in marketing research and sales forecasting at Wrangler to help bring NARBA to life. They bonded over a love of birds. Bob had given Pam a field guide before an outing he led, encouraging her to learn the bird names. Little did he realize she would take that to mean she should memorize all their Latin names, which she diligently did to his great surprise. 

We had heard about NARBA in passing over the years, but when we discovered a series of their vintage T-shirts featuring bird puns – several of which used those Latin names, such as “Pterodromas Are Far Out” and “Dendroicas Are Over My Head” – we wanted to find out more. These designs spoke our language. We found Pam’s daughter, Melinda Sanders, who shared her memories of NARBA and introduced us to Pam, the creator of NARBA’s apparel and newsletter – which was also filled with witty bird wordplay. 

From conversations with the both of them, we grew fascinated by the origins of NARBA. In the beginning, birders could subscribe to its 24/7 “Gyrfalcon” hotline (in 1988, the fee was $31.50 a year) or pay more for an additional “Laysan” service in which NARBA staff would call them about rare species they had specifically asked to be notified of. In 1989 the Houston Audubon Society acquired NARBA and ran it for two and a half decades before partnering with BirdsEye Birding, which now manages it as an email alert and web service. (Bob Odear died in 2010.) Looking back now, NARBA started a new chapter in birding, the likes of which Cornell’s eBird has followed.

To birders of a certain generation, there is a before and after NARBA. Before 1985, birders racked up phone charges calling five or six dozen local and regional hotlines. There was no national rare bird alert, and reports from the field were often fleeting and unreliable, with true rarities shared by word of mouth within a small insidery network. Before Bob launched NARBA, he traveled around America and Canada meeting with outstanding birders who could later be called upon to verify rare sightings that were reported in their areas.

Sample page of NARBA's 1988 Newsletter

“Obviously, if birders are going to plan cross-country flights on the basis of NARBA information, excellent quality control of output is needed in the form of a sound verification program,” Bob wrote in 1985.

Pam wrote to us sharing background on her original eight NARBA shirt designs.

NARBA created three categories of rare species (Annual Irregulars, Occasionals, Accidentals) and established a system of reliably gathering and disseminating information. This came at great cost. The technology was incredibly expensive: they purchased equipment that had the capacity to answer 7,000 calls simultaneously and computers that could retrieve subscribers’ species lists and phone numbers.

At the time, Sandy Komito, who broke the big-year record with 726 species in 1987, described NARBA’s impact on birding as second only to Roger Tory Peterson’s innovative field guides. Peterson, as it turns out, also subscribed to and used NARBA’s monthly newsletters to update his range maps.

At its peak, NARBA’s 800 number received roughly 50 calls a day from its 1,000 subscribers. The tape was updated around the clock, and it was long and detailed, with instructions on how to find the location of the bird or updates on where it had moved. You could say this type of reporting is now captured by eBird’s hourly or daily alerts, with that citizen-science database’s own local verifiers. But NARBA was the first, and for birders around the country, it was groundbreaking.

We’re thrilled to be working with Pam to re-release three of her original eight NARBA shirt designs. The more we learned the more we realized how much we wanted to share NARBA’s history and its place in birding history. We will donate 30% of the profits from this collection to the Georgia-based R&R Wildlife Rehabilitation, a non-profit that Melinda started to support sick, injured and orphaned wildlife.