Date: 6/22/18 5:18 am
From: Pennsylvania Ornithologicial Records Committee <porcbirds...>
Subject: News from the Pennsylvania Ornithological Records Committee
The Pennsylvania Ornithological Records Committee (PORC) would like to
announce that the record of the Berks County, PA Black-backed Oriole has
passed acceptance as a Class I record, after two rounds of voting, and a
final vote of: 6/1.

While it's not typical for us to make such an announcement on a vote we
have completed, we have heard from many people in Pennsylvania, and beyond,
who have been hoping to learn of our decision on this particular record.
Therefore, we have made an exception for this case.

To briefly sum up our decision: after careful evaluation, and extensive
discussions, the PORC felt that there was far more evidence to support this
being a wild bird of natural origins, versus an escaped captive bird.

Thorough research was done by PORC members on this species, and, especially
on the illegal bird trade in the United States. This included (but not
limited to) obtaining a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) document that
listed all avian species detained and seized at the border of the US in the
last 10 years. In addition to no Black-backed Orioles on this list, there
were no orioles at all.

Additionally, PORC considered comments provided to us on this individual's
occurrence in PA, written for us by noted oriole and icterid experts
(Omland, Jaramillo), each of whom favored this individual as a wild bird.

Dr. Kevin Omland of UMBC, who has been studying new world orioles for the
past few decades, notes that the Baltimore Oriole is the closest DNA
relative to the Black-backed Oriole, and said: "Orioles get around. Over
hundreds of thousands of years non-migratory lineages have made it out to
nearly every island in the Caribbean and furthermore that lineage colonized
South America from the Caribbean. Of course Baltimore orioles show up in
Europe not very infrequently. "
Dr. Omland also mentioned that because the Black-backed Oriole "barely
sings", it would make them less desirable for a caged bird.

Alvaro Jaramillo provided the following for our committee (posted with

"Like most birds the complete molt is after the breeding season (so late
summer/fall). My guess is that a cage bird that is released or gets away
has essentially no life skills, and mortality is extremely high when this
happens. While commerce in wild birds may be common in Mexico, and right to
the US border, my guess is that transport of these birds to the north is
actually pretty darn rare. It is different in communities of Cuban
Americans in Florida who go out of their way to obtain Cuban Bullfinch for

The argument over adult male vs young male can be looked at in a
different manner. Of course young males are much more likely to range far
from home or have the incorrect “wiring” in their brains to perform their
normal migrations. However, if this bird wound up as a first fall male in
essentially any spot in Eastern North America, would anyone realize it is a
Black-backed Oriole? My guess is no, because the identification is pretty
tricky at that stage and people are not looking for the unexpected. The
only time anyone is going to notice this sucker is if it shows up as an
adult male. For all we know, 30 non adult males have shown up in the last
decade and no one noticed!!

Regarding patterns of occurrence, many Mexican species for some unknown
reason show up well out of range to the north and it may be that this is
increasing in frequency. Some more spectacularly lost than others,
Amethyst-throated Hummingbird, Mexican Violetear, Golden-crowned Warbler,
Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Red Warbler etc. I think that these and
various other records make the PA Black-backed Oriole maybe not that odd. I
would have no problems accepting the bird as wild, this has fewer steps and
is perhaps even the conservative option if you ask me. "

*Other points made by PORC Members included:*

* While not known to be a long-distance migrant, this individual appeared
in Massachusetts (careful feather-by-feather analysis was done by Peter
Pyle to prove this was the same bird, and provided to our committee prior
to both rounds), which in itself shows a capability to fly a distance.

* The many photos, especially those in-flight, provide no physical evidence
of feather-wear associated with a caged bird.

* Black-backed Orioles in non-adult male plumage can make for a complicated
identification, therefore, it's entirely plausible that others of this
species may have occurred here in the US, but have been misidentified by
birders as another oriole species (particularly Bullock's), therefore,
allowing a potential gap in the understanding of any patterns of vagrancy
by this species.

The PORC would like to thank the many birders who contributed information
on this oriole to this committee, and particularly the neighborhood in
Sinking Springs, who graciously hosted the many birders that visited, along
with the oriole itself.


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