flamingos, parakeets, and eBird exotics changes
Although not quite yet to the level of the Decline in Western Civilization as we know it, a number of folks have inquired about why they have been recently bombarded with eBird "needs alerts" and seeing RBAs involving obviously escaped birds. The most guilty parties locally as of late have been the two flamingos and the Orange-fronted Parakeet, with honorable mention going to the continuing Burrowing Parakeets. In former days, us eBird reviewers could fairly quickly invalidate reports of clear escapes, and thus they would only rarely appear on the alerts. Example being one of the flamingos, which has been present for almost five years now (mostly on adjacent South San Diego Bay, and affectionately known as "Pink Floyd"). The current duo of San Diego flamingos are even appearing on the North American eBird RBA, with alas no notation as to status, right alongside legitimate wanderers that might turn up in Florida or Texas.
With recent changes to the eBird exotic species policy, exotics now have three rankings: established and countable, provisional un-established but might become established in the future so worth keeping track of, and clear escapes. Symbols for such categories already appear on one's personal lists, but not on the RBA entries, unfortunately. And ALL categories currently are fair game to appear on the alerts, or to count in one's personal "eBird Top 100" listings. This is supposedly a temporary situation, during the rollout of this new exotic protocol, and which will (hopefully) be rectified this winter. At that time, the "lowest" category of escapes will no longer appear on alerts and on "Top 100" lists. There was debate and disagreement whether the "provisional" species should appear in those two places, and I was on the losing end of that decision, as the current decision is that such provisional species will count/appear. (I also thought that some species on the current San Diego list of provisional species should have instead been relegated to the list of straight escapes, but that was just my opinion. I thought that any species for which there is still no clear evidence of successful breeding in the wild should not yet count as "provisional.")
So, currently the barrage of escaped flamingo alerts, and of the cute but clearly escaped Orange-fronted Parakeet, will continue for at least a few more months. The only way to perhaps cut it off would be:
1) Hold your nose and put such escaped species on your personal list(s) for the time being, and then you won't get the alerts for them.
2) I've heard that some folks have created alternate alias eBird accounts for themselves and put all this escaped/un-established exotic data there, and so they are indeed keeping track of such species but also stop getting alerts at their main address and their personal "Top 100" list remains uncluttered with such species.
3) Perhaps us eBird reviewers might need to break down and change the filters to allow such escaped species (and in sufficient numbers) to go through without being flagged, and then they won't appear on the RBAs; but the problem with that is that a fair number or exotic reports--especially involving parrots/parakeets--are NOT identified correctly by observers.
The bottom line is that your reviewers now must validate all these reports (if the ID is correct), which may be giving the incorrect impression to some observers that we believe that these birds are legitimate established exotics or are even actual wild strays! This is certainly NOT the case.
--Paul Lehman, San Diego
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The official eBird Help Center article on exotic species treatment can be found here:
From that article, regarding life list/Top 100 changes: "Later this year, Escapees (birds that have escaped or been intentionally released from captivity) will no longer be counted in your eBird Life List or Top 100 totals. Escapee species are clearly indicated with a white asterisk in a dark orange circle. Escapee reports are now more easily seen in eBird (e.g., on maps and Escapee sections of regional pages), can always be found in your personal sightings lists for a region, and will always have the Escapee icon when applicable."
Before changes are made to life lists and Top 100, sacred ground for many users, eBird HQ wanted to ensure that the coding (the colored asterisks and the lovely maps showing where species are native and non-native) was working appropriately. A few kinks had to be worked out immediately after the release, but to my knowledge, it all appears to be working as intended. If nothing else, this will show just how many species have escaped or been released here in Southern California, or just over the border to our south. As one friend said, "I'd want to know if there was a toucan in my neighborhood!" However, the next stage will be to remove escapees from life lists, Needs Alerts, Rare Bird Alerts, and I believe they will be binned in the regional Targets, much in the same way they are broken out in the regional displays that show the three categories of birds. Currently Targets includes all species, regardless of exotics status. The Top 100 will then have a level playing ground where only native/established and provisional species (a set, determined list) will count.
As for the official state list, the California Bird Records Committee occasionally votes on the establishment of non-natives (e.g., Red-masked Parakeet the most recent example) based on the following criteria (available at https://californiabirds.org/CBRCbylaws.html):
"The Committee will also review records of breeding populations of introduced species not on the state list, but only if evidence is submitted that attempts to prove (a) the correct identification of the species and (b) the viability of the population. To be judged viable, a population must: (i) have bred in the state for fifteen (15) consecutive years, (ii) in general, be increasing or stabilized after an initial period of increase, (iii) be judged to have occupied a significant portion of geographically contiguous suitable habitat to such a degree as to sustain the population and be thought unlikely to significantly diminish, and (iv) occupy an environment judged similar enough in ecological factors (e.g., climate, vegetation, food, shelter, competitors, predators) to the species’ natural habitat, or to other successful introductions, that permanent establishment seems likely."
Swinhoe's White-eyes is certainly on a trajectory for inclusion on the official state list, pending some genetic work, while Burrowing Parakeet has a long way to go.
Cheers from Vermont (where there is a Ruddy Shelduck not quite getting the rockstar treatment of the flamingos),
On Wed, Aug 24, 2022 at 2:42 PM lehman.paul@... via groups.io <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote: