Monday, July 8, 2013

eBird best practices
Recording hybrids, subspecies, and spuhs

There are many times when you are birding you may wish to record more than just species in eBird.

For instance, the mouth of the Columbia River is the center of the breeding range for hybrid Western and Glaucous-winged gulls. In winter these hybrids are quite common in western Oregon and Washington--perhaps more so than either parent species. You'll want to add Western x Glaucous-winged Gull to your checklist.

Throughout the Pacific Northwest the common Dark-eyed Junco is the Oregon form. However, one might encounter Slate-colored, Pink-sided, or even Gray-headed forms. These used to be considered separate species, but are now all considered varieties of just one species. But if you see an individual of the Slate-colored subspecies, such a unique sighting deserves to be recognized in your checklist as Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco, not just as a comment under Dark-eyed Junco. [One caution. Don't record subspecies based only on range if you really can't identify them. For instance, in North America the default Osprey is the American form. There are other forms in Eurasia, the Caribbean, and Australasian regions that you can choose from eBird. But don't write down "Osprey (American)" for a bird in Idaho unless you have specifically identified that form and eliminated the others.]

What, though, is a "spuh"? Well, say you see some kind of swallow, but aren't sure exactly what species. Then the species is undetermined and you would record: swallow (species unknown), more often just abbreviated as: swallow (sp.), pronounced "swallow spuh."

You can add hybrids, subspecies, and spuhs to your checklist at any time. If they are common in your area, they may appear on the default area checklist already. If not you can add them. But how do you know if what you want to add exists in eBird? When you "add species" when submitting a checklist, a menu drops down. But what if the bird you want doesn't seem to exist in the list? One way to check is to broaden your search.

For instance, I just clicked the Add Species and entered Goose. All geese in the world come up. From there you can choose from several domestic types, hybrids, subspecies groups, and species pairs that often do not appear on the default checklist.

Remember, when you add a species to a checklist (hybrid or subspecies) it will go the the local eBird Reviewer for verification. So be sure to include a brief comment on how you identified it in the comments (size and shape, plumage, behavior, song, and habitat).

More help on this subject is available from eBird.