Date: 2/13/20 8:41 am
From: Shaibal Mitra <Shaibal.Mitra...>
Subject: RE: [nysbirds-l] (Over)Certainty in eBird reports (Brooklyn Painted Bunting info)
Doug's message is important and deserves careful attention from all contributors to citizen science. People should take care to be objective, accurate, and interpretable in their conclusions.

But I would also stress that this shouldn't mean giving up and omitting analysis altogether when, as is usually true, one doesn't feel 100% authoritative and certain. For instance, instead of checking boxes in the age and sex drop-down tables, or typing unqualified terms like "female" or "immature male" in the species comments, make an effort to describe the actual features you observed and to explain how you are interpreting them. This way a future user--or your future self--will be able to understand both what you actually saw and what you thought about it. This is what I mean by striving for interpretability in one's comments. Many new discoveries in the frontiers of identification have been achieved by the patient application of this method. In contrast, simply clicking a box in what amounts to a guess has almost zero value and can even confuse matters.

On a similar topic, I'm concerned about many of the breeding bird atlas codes I'm seeing in eBird checklists. Being asked 20 or 30 times per checklist to "Choose the highest code..." is appealing and addictive to many of us, but, like the age and sex tables, this kind of game-ification is destructive to understanding. Just as in assessing age and sex, assigning breeding codes depends on prior knowledge and accurate judgement. Common Goldeneyes perform courtship displays on Long Island in winter; Herring Gulls copulate miles away from their actual breeding sites; White-throated Sparrows sing day after day on their wintering grounds; etc. A bird is either going to breed in a given block or it isn't. If you have good reason to know that it will NOT, it is best to refrain from assigning any breeding code, even if the wording of the codes seems to allow for it.

Shai Mitra
Bay Shore
From: <bounce-124371160-11143133...> [<bounce-124371160-11143133...>] on behalf of Doug Gochfeld [<fresha2411...>]
Sent: Wednesday, February 12, 2020 8:16 PM
To: NYSBIRDS-L@cornell edu
Subject: [nysbirds-l] (Over)Certainty in eBird reports (Brooklyn Painted Bunting info)

While the specifics below directly pertain to one individual vagrant, the overall take home message should be valuable to anybody who tries to classify natural organisms.

This winter’s incursion of Painted Buntings into the region has brought delight to many New York birders. All three of the lingering Long Island individuals are green. The bunting that was found at Brooklyn Bridge Park by Heather Wolf in late December has been seen by hundreds of people at this point, and eBirded perhaps a couple of hundred times.

Of those reports, many have comments regarding the age or sex of the bird, and of these, a not-insignificant portion refer to the bird with certainty as a female and a an immature male, virtually none of which have any discussion as to why it is being classified as such.

In January, I E-Mailed Peter Pyle some photos, to see if he could make sense of it. He sent me a detailed analysis, which I have pasted as the bottom of this E-Mail, but the concise version is this: The bird IS an immature (hatched in 2019). It CANNOT, in its current plumage, be visually identified to sex, and it seems most likely that it is a young male (as so many vagrants are) if he had to guess.

On that note, and given that eBird reports become a part of the permanent record, it would be great if the comments, when people look back years from now, were not just consistent, but accurate. Rather than having the very careful and earnest eBird moderators (a wholly volunteer and typically thankless job), in this case Sean and Shane, whom many of you know, reach out to every single person who writes “female” or "_ male" in the comments, it would be great if those reporting the bird going forward make comments that reflect only the highest level of certainty, rather than assumptions or guesswork. Also, if you have gone to see the bunting, please also check your prior observations to see if your comments can use some amending.

In the meantime, the young Painted Bunting does indeed continue at Brooklyn Bridge Park, seemingly becoming more acclimated to passers by as time goes on. Here are some photos and video of it from a couple of days ago, where it seems, though it may be my imagination, that there are some brighter green feathers and a bluish tinge starting to appear around the nape:

Full text from Peter Pyle:
"So you are correct, this is a first-winter bird (SY now). The rectrices have been replaced during the preformative molt, so shape and condition of these are no longer useful for ageing. However, you can see molt limits in the remiges indicating an "eccentric" preformative molt, which confirms SY. It looks like p5-p9 and s5-s9 or s6-s9 have been replaced leaving p1-p4 and s1-s4 or s1-s5 as juvenile. I can't quite decide on s5 in the photos you sent but the limit is easiest to see on image 3563 between the green tertials/s6 and the browner s1-s4. The limit in the primaries is also subtle here but seems to be between p4 and p5.

So, reliable sexing in formative plumage is not really possible, but its brightness and the relatively big bill suggests male to me. If it winters, keep an eye out for some blue and/or red featherd to come in within the next 4 months. These would probably be accidentally lost and replaced feathers rather than molt. If it gets away without replacing any feathers like this, best to leave it as sex unknown.

Hope this helps and feel free to re-post these comments."

Good Birding,
-Doug Gochfeld. Brooklyn, NY.

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