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Changes in how Ebird treats non-natives (1 Viewer)

raymie

Well-known member
United States
And I have one and maybe two species listed as escapees, but still counting against my total for PA.
The eBird help page says escapees will stop counting later this year.

I see Red-crowned Parrots in Florida as well as the wild-type Red Junglefowl in Georgia are being listed as escapees even though those are both ABA-countable populations.
 
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Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
The record I'm annoyed by is the fact that a clearly established species that should at least be provisional is listed as an escapee.
What species?

My great Tit record from Wisconsin seem to be listed as provisional
The eBird help page says escapees will stop counting later this year.

I see Red-crowned Parrots in Florida as well as the wild-type Red Junglefowl in Georgia are being listed as escapees even though those are both ABA-countable populations.
I don't think the Red-crowned Parrots are considered established in Florida by the state checklist committee (in contrast to Texas and California, where they are the dominant Amazona). Orange-winged Parrots are the dominant Amazona parrot, and indeed the only species I saw when I was down there a few months ago.

I think the status of these birds is entirely based on state committees, not on the ABA. Which sort of makes sense in that the table of where different birds are considered countable was put in a rather haphazard manner.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
Okay, I looked up the checklist for the United States, which is the closest I can get to the entire ABA area as far as I can tell. Looking at that list, IMHO the biggest issue seems to be the inconsistency of escapee category for birds which make more sense to be provisional.

An example I would give is the Red Warbler sighting from SE Arizona, which is well-documented. While the bird wasn't added to the AZ checklist over questions of origin, the ID is solid and vagrancy is not outside the realm of possibility. It and some others should probably be put into provisional. A comparable example is Striped Sparrow, which IS listed as provisional, even though there should be equivalent providence concerns. On the opposite side of that, a 1969 record of Blue Crane in Maryland is listed in provisional. This is a near endemic to South Africa and I can't imagine any scenario where this species would not be an escapee.

The exotic but not accepted naturalized populations seem mostly okay. A few obvious misses are Black-throated Magpie-Jay, Bronze Mannikens, and Cinnamon-rumped Seedeaters, which have small populations, and the latter COULD include records which are of genuine vagrants.

My explanation for these issues? My guess is that the status of provisional vs Escapee is based on local reviewers, who clearly are not using the same criteria in labeling specimens. Which of course has been a problem since the very beginning for ebird, and which this update was partially meant to help with. This is going to introduce issues for those whose lifelist only exists in Ebird, and could interfere with assessment of bird populations.

Although one bonus...It WILL make weird records easier to keep track of, at least as long as someone bothered to enter data in, for those of us keeping track of unaccepted but legit records of birds or non-native populations on the way to establishment.
 

raymie

Well-known member
United States
I'm considering contacting eBird regarding these inconsistencies - I've noticed them too. These three categories all have well-established specific definitions and the fact that they are not consistently applied is really ruining what could be good system.

What species?

My great Tit record from Wisconsin seem to be listed as provisional

I don't think the Red-crowned Parrots are considered established in Florida by the state checklist committee (in contrast to Texas and California, where they are the dominant Amazona). Orange-winged Parrots are the dominant Amazona parrot, and indeed the only species I saw when I was down there a few months ago.

I think the status of these birds is entirely based on state committees, not on the ABA. Which sort of makes sense in that the table of where different birds are considered countable was put in a rather haphazard manner.
The species in question of my record is Red Junglefowl.

Even if it's based on state committees, shouldn't those species at least be listed as provisional? The announcement page for this new system even calls the Florida population of Red-crowned Parrots established.
 

Paul Chapman

Well-known member
Okay, I looked up the checklist for the United States, which is the closest I can get to the entire ABA area as far as I can tell. Looking at that list, IMHO the biggest issue seems to be the inconsistency of escapee category for birds which make more sense to be provisional.

An example I would give is the Red Warbler sighting from SE Arizona, which is well-documented. While the bird wasn't added to the AZ checklist over questions of origin, the ID is solid and vagrancy is not outside the realm of possibility. It and some others should probably be put into provisional. A comparable example is Striped Sparrow, which IS listed as provisional, even though there should be equivalent providence concerns. On the opposite side of that, a 1969 record of Blue Crane in Maryland is listed in provisional. This is a near endemic to South Africa and I can't imagine any scenario where this species would not be an escapee.

The exotic but not accepted naturalized populations seem mostly okay. A few obvious misses are Black-throated Magpie-Jay, Bronze Mannikens, and Cinnamon-rumped Seedeaters, which have small populations, and the latter COULD include records which are of genuine vagrants.

My explanation for these issues? My guess is that the status of provisional vs Escapee is based on local reviewers, who clearly are not using the same criteria in labeling specimens. Which of course has been a problem since the very beginning for ebird, and which this update was partially meant to help with. This is going to introduce issues for those whose lifelist only exists in Ebird, and could interfere with assessment of bird populations.

Although one bonus...It WILL make weird records easier to keep track of, at least as long as someone bothered to enter data in, for those of us keeping track of unaccepted but legit records of birds or non-native populations on the way to establishment.
I am confused. I thought that this change was creating a three tier classification on feral species:-

1. Established Feral populations - which presumably will be accepted by the local committees & included in totals;
2. Provisional Feral populations so considered likely to make official acceptance in due course - which again will be included in totals; &
3. Escapees/Occasional breeders falling short of likely Feral populations - which will now be able to be seen on maps & output but will not be in totals.

The examples that you give in part appear to be about natural vagrancy or not & I would not have thought that there is any change here. Presumably sometimes it seems a slam dunk so a reviewer would accept but if it seems unlikely to make the grade then it wouldn't?

I'll have to read again....

Edit - the change at 3 means that escapees now appear on maps with different colour coding so Padddyfield Pipit now appears.

Edit 2 - actually the appearance of the Paddyfield Pipit & having checked the Blue Crane as provisional seems a surprise. I think on a WhatsApp group I know there would be a sign designating a toilet... Always an emotive subject for people who actually worry about numbers rather than sightings.

All the best

Paul
 

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Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
I am confused. I thought that this change was creating a three tier classification on feral species:-

1. Established Feral populations - which presumably will be accepted by the local committees & included in totals;
2. Provisional Feral populations so considered likely to make official acceptance in due course - which again will be included in totals; &
3. Escapees/Occasional breeders falling short of likely Feral populations - which will now be able to be seen on maps & output but will not be in totals.

The examples that you give in part appear to be about natural vagrancy or not & I would not have thought that there is any change here. Presumably sometimes it seems a slam dunk so a reviewer would accept but if it seems unlikely to make the grade then it wouldn't?


Paul
The issue is that if something is not a "natural" vagrant, than it kind of has to be a escaped exotic or at least human assisted in some way. Hence why species that hypothetically have uncertain origins would be provisional. If they were actually consistently used, which they are not?

I think I never really thought about how this would effect species of uncertain origins. I don't really like how this takes the decision on whether you should or should not count something out of the viewer's hands. Although, I thankfully don't use ebird for my listing purposes, so really doesn't effect me as much as folks who DO use ebird for that.
 

Paul Chapman

Well-known member
The issue is that if something is not a "natural" vagrant, than it kind of has to be a escaped exotic or at least human assisted in some way. Hence why species that hypothetically have uncertain origins would be provisional. If they were actually consistently used, which they are not?

I think I never really thought about how this would effect species of uncertain origins. I don't really like how this takes the decision on whether you should or should not count something out of the viewer's hands. Although, I thankfully don't use ebird for my listing purposes, so really doesn't effect me as much as folks who DO use ebird for that.

Oh I understand the point. It is just that I didn't think this change was going to change anything on that. I think provisional means provisional established feral not provisional vagrant. I'll need to check that. It may be that I just didn't read it properly. I didn't think this would change vagrants save for allowing those that did not make the grade to be seen as public outputs.

It is probably me that has the wrong end of the stick...

Edit - yep - I had totally missed this....

"E Provisional: Either: 1) member of exotic population that is breeding in the wild,
self-propagating, and has persisted for multiple years, but not yet Naturalized; 2) rarity of uncertain provenance, with natural vagrancy or captive provenance both considered plausible. When applicable, eBird generally defers to bird records committees for records formally considered to be of “uncertain provenance”. Provisional species count in official eBird totals."

So vagrants with both natural vagrancy & captive provenance plausible... Paddyfield Pipit arguably so. Blue Crane no chance surely.

Second edit - as I sit in a wood next to some moth traps, I wonder whether the extension of this to vagrancy & broadening vagrants beyond those formally accepted in countries (which ordinarily requires the absence of reasonable doubt on origin) to simply plausible vagrants is an unintended consequence of this change. It really is quite remarkable...
 
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Kirk Roth

Well-known member
I'm considering contacting eBird regarding these inconsistencies - I've noticed them too. These three categories all have well-established specific definitions and the fact that they are not consistently applied is really ruining what could be good system.


The species in question of my record is Red Junglefowl.

Even if it's based on state committees, shouldn't those species at least be listed as provisional? The announcement page for this new system even calls the Florida population of Red-crowned Parrots established.
Red Junglefowl (both "Domestic Type" and otherwise) are listed as Provisional for Florida - https://ebird.org/region/US-FL?yr=all

But individual records may be modified by reviewers.

As others have speculated, its true that the categories use region by region input from reviewers and experts - it would be impossible to do otherwise. And as might be expected, there are not only differences in people's opinions about what "establishment" entails, but also regionally there are very real-world differences in establishment based on geography (e.g. a hypothetical number of parrots in south Texas may be more "established" than the same number of parrots in Palm Springs Florida, where residents may specifically feed them).

Florida has some particular quirks which do not align with the ABA, but remember that 1) that is nothing new, and 2) its not eBird's job to align with the ABA. To me, a peculiarity is that White-cheeked Pintail is classified as Provisional, while all the other exotic waterfowl (e.g. at Tamarac Exotic Duck Pond) are Escapee. The only thing I can think is that this is related somehow to the occasional vagrant - but still the default would presumably either be Exotic or Escapee - and practically never provisional.

It is early in the rollout and certainly not everyone will be happy with every decision. Nevertheless, It would be surprising if the system evolved toward less consistency instead of more.
 

Kirk Roth

Well-known member
The exotic but not accepted naturalized populations seem mostly okay. A few obvious misses are Black-throated Magpie-Jay, Bronze Mannikens, and Cinnamon-rumped Seedeaters, which have small populations, and the latter COULD include records which are of genuine vagrants.

My explanation for these issues? My guess is that the status of provisional vs Escapee is based on local reviewers, who clearly are not using the same criteria in labeling specimens. Which of course has been a problem since the very beginning for ebird, and which this update was partially meant to help with. This is going to introduce issues for those whose lifelist only exists in Ebird, and could interfere with assessment of bird populations.

I have heard from the California committee on some of these particular species, and the populations are apparently not "mostly okay." The mannikins and waxbills seemed to have dropped off extensively after a few cold winters - the same thing has happened to populations in Houston. The difference is striking compared to Scaly-breasted Munia, for example, or even Northern Red Bishop (which, as a counter-example, has not made it in Houston).

The magpie-jays don't seem to be expanding and reproduction seems low. A sink population at best, but their hanging on may be more due to long-lived individuals than a robust population.

Any particular Cinnamon-rumped Seedeater record may be "bumped" to an actual vagrant if warranted - but the burden of proof would be on vagrancy, and not on escapees due to the trafficking in this species. These are not even ABA-accepted birds, so good evidence is definitely needed. But to my knowledge these have never once been documented breeding in the wild in California, so under no definition would they be naturalized.

Yes, the inconsistency is due to the local reviewers and committees, but that is because they have the local knowledge. This also comes with the local "culture of countability" which certainly creates consistency problems for sure. But I don't think it will interfere with much with assessment, because those same local reviewers are the ones on the front lines of these reports - so if they get flooded with records of breeding seedeaters in San Diego, they are also in the best position to change the status. Like the bird populations themselves, these ratings will probably be pretty fluid.
 

raymie

Well-known member
United States
Red Junglefowl (both "Domestic Type" and otherwise) are listed as Provisional for Florida - https://ebird.org/region/US-FL?yr=all

But individual records may be modified by reviewers.

As others have speculated, its true that the categories use region by region input from reviewers and experts - it would be impossible to do otherwise. And as might be expected, there are not only differences in people's opinions about what "establishment" entails, but also regionally there are very real-world differences in establishment based on geography (e.g. a hypothetical number of parrots in south Texas may be more "established" than the same number of parrots in Palm Springs Florida, where residents may specifically feed them).

Florida has some particular quirks which do not align with the ABA, but remember that 1) that is nothing new, and 2) its not eBird's job to align with the ABA. To me, a peculiarity is that White-cheeked Pintail is classified as Provisional, while all the other exotic waterfowl (e.g. at Tamarac Exotic Duck Pond) are Escapee. The only thing I can think is that this is related somehow to the occasional vagrant - but still the default would presumably either be Exotic or Escapee - and practically never provisional.

It is early in the rollout and certainly not everyone will be happy with every decision. Nevertheless, It would be surprising if the system evolved toward less consistency instead of more.
I saw the population in Ybor City, which are listed as Escapees despite the fact that they have been around much longer than the Key West birds.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
I have heard from the California committee on some of these particular species, and the populations are apparently not "mostly okay." The mannikins and waxbills seemed to have dropped off extensively after a few cold winters - the same thing has happened to populations in Houston. The difference is striking compared to Scaly-breasted Munia, for example, or even Northern Red Bishop (which, as a counter-example, has not made it in Houston).

The magpie-jays don't seem to be expanding and reproduction seems low. A sink population at best, but their hanging on may be more due to long-lived individuals than a robust population.

Any particular Cinnamon-rumped Seedeater record may be "bumped" to an actual vagrant if warranted - but the burden of proof would be on vagrancy, and not on escapees due to the trafficking in this species. These are not even ABA-accepted birds, so good evidence is definitely needed. But to my knowledge these have never once been documented breeding in the wild in California, so under no definition would they be naturalized.

Yes, the inconsistency is due to the local reviewers and committees, but that is because they have the local knowledge. This also comes with the local "culture of countability" which certainly creates consistency problems for sure. But I don't think it will interfere with much with assessment, because those same local reviewers are the ones on the front lines of these reports - so if they get flooded with records of breeding seedeaters in San Diego, they are also in the best position to change the status. Like the bird populations themselves, these ratings will probably be pretty fluid.
My mistake on the Bronze Mannikin (I'll comment on the Magpie-Jay later). I noticed on ebird back last winter that there weren't all that many reports of the Mannikin, but some folks I know made it sound like there was a larger population.

I never meant to imply that there were breeding populations of Cinnamon-Rumped Seedeater. However the native population is expanding northward, and there is a large and growing established population in Baja California Sur. It's a species that Howell, in his Rare Birds of North America, calls out as something that plausibly could occur as a natural vagrant and should be documented as such. Perhaps not the best example for me to use.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
Anyway, my more detailed overall thoughts:

On the plus side, it may encourage more people to post there sightings of birds not considered established, and will hopefully convince reviewers to not dismiss them out of hand. A major issue, at least earlier in Ebird's spread, was reviewers flagging all birds that were considered established. Also I don't have a real horse in this rate. While I religiously post my birding trip sightings to ebird, I've never used it for keeping track of life/state lists. So they can flag away all they want.

Anyway, my major concerns would be as follows:

1)The provisional classification over-complicates the situation rather than resolves it. My assumptions and hopes is that it would reduce the endless arguing over whether something is "established" or not, by producing a inclusive middle-ground that populations of introduced birds not yet deemed established could slot. However, it's just added another thing to argue over. Not only can we debate whether X is established or not, we can now debate whether it's established enough to be provisional! I would much prefer a simpler criteria. Any discrete population that is present in a given region, showing evidence of breeding and replacement, for X amount of years, or clear population expansion. That's its. Instead, we have another nebulously defined category, that really seems to be "These should totes be countable but the checklist committee hasn't gotten to them yet".

2) Consistency. As you say, there is consistency in how ebird folks/locals view non-native species. But I don't think it's just a matter of local knowledge. I think there are also biases and just differences in how people approach non-native species.

As an example, lets look at one species considered Provisional in Hawaii, Tanimbar Corella, and one species not considered Provisional in California, Black-throated Magpie-Jay.

The corella has a few records from the Oahu, but is largely reported from the Big Island. These are all clustered in a small area around Kailua-Kona. On ebird, there are no records older than 2018, and the high count for the species in a single checklist is 7 individuals.

Now lets look at the Magpie-Jay. The population of these birds is clustered in the Tijuana River Valley south of San Diego, on the U.S.-Mexico border. On a quick perusal on ebird, the High count on any given checklist is 12, and the oldest record is 2004.

So why the difference in status? How much of this is actually down to the different attitudes towards introduced species in Hawaii vs California, the latter a former stronghold of the idea that NO introduced species should be ever be "countable".

3) The lumping of potential vagrants in with potentially established non-natives. These are two different categories of occurrence. No one seriously thinks the Striped Sparrow or Red Warbler are going to found a new colony, just like people don't assume every other vagrant will immediately lead to a new population. These are origin hypothetical; It's uncertain whether they may represent wild vagrants or human-assisted species, either critters that escaped from captivity or were accidentally moved by getting stuck in a truck or something. I don't think its useful to lump these categories together. A provisional introduced species exists as a population that may or may not grow in time and expand there distribution. A uncertain vagrant may have new information that either indicates a past record is a wild bird, or a pattern of occurrences or new behavioral information that suggests vagrancy is more possible. Completely different criteria for acceptance should warrant completely different categorization.
 

THE_FERN

Well-known member
Grade A nonsense from ebird today. It thinks ravens at Rainham Marshes RSPB London are exotics ! No doubt it feels the realm's in danger with the Tower's head count down...
 

Kirk Roth

Well-known member
As an example, lets look at one species considered Provisional in Hawaii, Tanimbar Corella, and one species not considered Provisional in California, Black-throated Magpie-Jay.

The corella has a few records from the Oahu, but is largely reported from the Big Island. These are all clustered in a small area around Kailua-Kona. On ebird, there are no records older than 2018, and the high count for the species in a single checklist is 7 individuals.

Now lets look at the Magpie-Jay. The population of these birds is clustered in the Tijuana River Valley south of San Diego, on the U.S.-Mexico border. On a quick perusal on ebird, the High count on any given checklist is 12, and the oldest record is 2004.

So why the difference in status? How much of this is actually down to the different attitudes towards introduced species in Hawaii vs California, the latter a former stronghold of the idea that NO introduced species should be ever be "countable".

So the Tanimbar Corella actually provides a pretty good counterexample - or if you'd rather, a reason for a "Provisional" classification is for Cornell to track populations which are identified as having potential to be Established.

While eBird records show these as being in Kona since 2018, the species is actually better found at the Lyon Arboretum and the upper Manoa Valley in Oahu, tracing to release in 1987 and a high count of at least 30 individuals. They have been reported in scattered places around Oahu, as well as Maui and Hawaii, as you've noted - so there is at least the possibility that unless these are repeated releases, they may be spreading. Taninbar Corella is a relatively recently described species and among many is better known by its trade name - Goffin's Cockatoo - so that complicates records a bit.

When I asked the California BRC about Black-throated Magpie-Jay, I was told that while this was a borderline case, the CBRC has been tracking this species for decades, it is currently "hanging by a thread" with recent CBC counts of less than 5 in the core of its range, which has not expanded beyond the Tijuana River Valley. Personally I wonder if it has contracted due to the same winter events which got the waxbills.

Taking both of these into account, I think some lessons may be distilled:

1) The value of local knowledge in setting these categories. In both of these examples, the true sense of these populations is not available from a simple scan of eBird. We in the peanut gallery may be drawing our own initial assessments from afar, but we are not dealing with a complete picture until we get information from the people actually studying these locations.

2) The value of incentive for eBirders. Maybe the corella reports in eBird are buried under "Exotic" status... or maybe they are just not being reported by birders who don't consider them a "tick." It may not be explicitly stated, but if Provisional species are to "count" in eBird's system, then some observers will pay more attention to them. The birder/researcher dynamic of eBird is an interesting one of different incentives. I'm sure the research-oriented folks at Cornell would care very little about providing venue for people's personal checklists or features such as "Top 100" except that it incentivizes people to submit vast amounts of data. I don't think this incentive is to be underestimated - there is a great deal of talk regarding Clements/eBird as a competing (even displacing) taxonomy and listing system as compared to AOS and ABA especially. Such talk only occurs if people are taking it seriously. If the corella is given "Exotic" status and thus is not "countable" (as, in fact, it has been for decades in this and other systems), then the important trends get lost due to lack of reporting, as I mentioned in point 1. This does beg the question, then why not track any breeding species, except:

3) The focus seems to be on expanding or stable populations rather than contracting ones, and if someone wants to draw a line between Exotic and Provisional, this might be where it is. Its an arguable point and this is where some inconsistency can certainly creep in - the magpie-jays were certainly multiplying if not geographically expanding for a number of years. Are they Provisional in certain years and not in others? What of Crested Mynas in Vancouver, then? There aren't easy answers. I think Cornell is relying on that local knowledge to course correct when needed. But I would argue that this imperfect situation reflects the imperfect knowledge we have of avian population dynamics - sometimes the correct answer is that we don't know if something is "Established" or not. A system with no middle ground leaves no room for this. I'll add that I think a middle category complicates the matter no more than already exists. As we've demonstrated, people already argue over whether species are established or not, and which committees have it right and wrong and so on. At least with this system, there is something between ABA-level "countability" and a run of the mill cagebird/waterfowl escape - a situation which I think reflects reality.
 

raymie

Well-known member
United States
I've noticed many inconsistencies in how different exotics are handled and even many native species being listed as escapees and vice versa. I know some eBird reviewers have even left the site because of these policies already - I do hope that eBird gets their act together soon, and I recommend contacting eBird if you are concerned. I may if I notice too many more things.
 

THE_FERN

Well-known member
tbh I think it's a bit of moot point with some of these things. From the science point of view, whether we choose to call something exotic or introduced or whatever doesn't make much difference—we're still interested in what it is, where and when.

In practical terms, in the field it can be impossible to be sure (red kite pretty much anywhere in the UK for example). OK so mute swans are largely domestic, perhaps even introduced over much of S England but by now they might as well be completely wild. (ebird reckons this one's a "naturalised exotic"...). I also think fingering exotics etc might make people less likely to record them—with real consequences for ebird data. Who counts feral pigeons? *

If we're going to impose categories like this we have to be alive to the messiness we see. For example, in the UK some fudge ducks are wild immigrants, others escapes [feral?]. Should all have one or other of these 2 statuses, or do we need a third, something like "many escapes, some truly wild"?

* when I can be bothered. Actually carrion crows generally massively outnumber them where I live.
 

Paul Chapman

Well-known member
Interestingly, in a British context, I am getting Paddyfield Pipit and Lammergeier coming up as Provisional - which I get - but certainly, it is arguably inconsistent not to give the same status to the Land's End House Finch.

Similarly, Muscovy Duck, Monk Parakeet & Eagle Owl come up as Escapee whereas all three have had strong arguments to be Provisional over the years & indeed, without control, two would have been likely to have already made Naturalised...

I have not looked at the maps to check the extent of records on those three species.

All the best

Paul
 

Kirk Roth

Well-known member

I can think of two possible explanations offhand:

1) The May checklist and the August checklist have differential treatments for the same bird (from either the same or different local reviewers) and that is indeed a consistency problem, unless there is some concrete but unapparent reason (it's not like one checklist mentions jesses or the bird talking!)

2) You mentioned the Tower of London birds and while I know much more about things on the U.S. side, the filters for "default settings" are often done on a county-by-county basis or a region of counties. So (I speculate), if these are in the same filter region and reports of Tower of London ravens vastly outnumber reports of the wild ones, the local reviewers may have requested "Escapee" as the default and then periodically or as-needed "sweep" for records to switch status. Aberrancies for common birds are much more difficult to detect than the rare ones with more fanfare and automatic flagging, so they require a lot of diligence from reviewers who already have a thankless volunteer job!

Either way, this sounds worth asking about and I'm glad you brought it up. If I get some time soon, I may get nosy and see if I can find out about these ravens.
 
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