Date: 9/5/20 9:48 am
From: Wayne Weber <contopus...>
Subject: [obol] Re: Subspecies- on eBird, or anywhere
Mike and Oregon Birders,

I agree with your position on subspecies. eBird lists all kinds of subspecies and "subspecies groups", which can be used by those birders who choose to do so. Yes, most of these categories are identifiable in the field by skilled, experienced birders, but sometimes only under ideal conditions. Most people who use eBird are relatively inexperienced birders, who do not have the skills needed to identify most subspecies. I myself rarely identify birds to subspecies when reporting to eBird, with a few exceptions such as Thayer's Gull and Myrtle versus Audubon's Warblers. Most of the subspecies ID's reported to eBird cannot be trusted. I personally discourage anyone I know from reporting subspecies to eBird. As Lars and David point out, it can be tough enough to identify some birds to species correctly.

However, please leave the Northwestern Crow out of this discussion. In British Columbia, Northwestern and American Crows behave almost like distinct species, with separate ranges, and only a narrow zone of hybridization/overlap along the crest of the Coast Mountains. The two forms have very different calls, and don't even come close to overlapping in size. (Most Oregon birders have never or rarely visited British Columbia, so are not qualified to speak on the situation here.) The problem is that in much of western Washington, the two forms hybridize so freely that all individuals are intermediate, and can't really be identified as either. This is a special case (although not unique in the bird world) which has little to do with the subject of subspecies identification in general.

All the best,

Wayne C. Weber
Delta, BC, Canada

-----Original Message-----
From: <obol-bounce...> [mailto:<obol-bounce...>] On Behalf Of Mike Patterson
Sent: Saturday, September 05, 2020 8:32 AM
To: 'OBOL'
Subject: [obol] Re: Subspecies- on eBird, or anywhere

This is a fundamental problem with ALL subspecies designations on
eBird and iNaturalist. Yes, there are some subspecies that can be
ID'd by recognizable field marks, but most are ID'd using the same
suite of assumptions and circular reasoning that brought us
"Northwestern" Crow.

"That's the expected subspecies" is a huge assumption, especially
during migration. The underlying assumption that we KNOW the expected
subspecies with any kind of precision or that subspecies exist in
cleanly delineated, biologically discrete and sortable units or that
all taxonomists agree about whether some of these subspecies exist at
all is the exact opposite of what modern genetic taxonomy teaches us.

This practice has become fashion among birders. Most birders are
not biologists and it is unreasonable to expect them to think like
biologists. I don't really blame most birders. But there are some
out there who should know better...

If we choose to treat eBird as a mechanism for hobbyist to "collect"
species, then that's what they'll do and it genuinely doesn't matter
whether those hobbyist claim some observations to a granularity that
does not represent what they actually saw, but purely what they expected
to see (or wanted to see). There are those who would argue that eBird
already jumped that shark by focusing on the competitive aspects of
birding rather than other more passive and thoughtful aspects the
average birding hobbyist (like me and most of the bird-watchers I know)
practices. There are also those that would argue that the data miners
at eBird aren't paying any real attention to most of this subspecies
stuff. It (mostly) gets filtered out as chaff.

A Whooping Crane was reported on eBird from Pacific County yesterday.
I probably won't go chasing it.

Mike Patterson
Astoria, OR
What we can learn from the Northwestern Crow
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