House Crows & Magpies; a response to Mike Carter

To: birding-aus <>
Subject: House Crows & Magpies; a response to Mike Carter
From: David James <>
Date: Mon, 05 Mar 2001 16:26:13 +1000
Hello all,

I replied directly and privately to Mike Carter last Friday. I have since
been convinved that others might be interested in reading it. It's long so
please delete it and accept my apologies if you aren't interested.

Dear Mike,

I apologise if I have caused you any offence with my hasty posting to
Birding-Aus. I did not intentionally "ridicule" you. Thank you for the
courtesy copy of your reply posting to Birding-Aus. I do not intend to
reply to it on Birding-Aus, but I have no objection to you posting it.
Nevertheless I am not particularly compelled by your arguments, as
discussed below.

MIKE Wrote : >I would have thought you would have wished for consistency
with the practice overseas.

I would place a set of rational rules relevant to Australian circumstances
that can be consistently applied as a higher priority than a set of rules
consistent with overseas practices. Anyway, since there are many different
practices used overseas, which should we try to be consistent with? Are the
circumstances regarding seas, adjacent land masses, migratory behaviour of
birds, etc, consistent between Australia and Britain?

Regarding recent amendments to British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC)
rules, you wrote:
> ?Ship assistance is no longer a barrier to admission to the national
list as it is now regarded as a >normal means of dispersal?. It goes on to
qualify this by saying that direct human assistance, such as >the provision
of food or shelter, without which the bird would have died, is not acceptable.

You then dismiss the caveat as impractical. I don't see much consistency
with BBRC rules on your part if you choose to ignore certain parts of their
rules. Anyway, much of your argument for dismissing the qualification is
out of context in that the qualification SPECIFICALLY refers to
ship-assisted birds and NOT, as you imply, to wild breeding birds like
Kookaburras and OBPs).

MIKE Wrote : >What is the current regulation in the U.S.A.?

As far as I am aware there is no national records committee for USA that
votes on submissions of individual records. The AOU and the ABA both
maintain lists and add species to those lists, but I think they do this by
assessing the decisions of state committees and the published literature.
The 40 odd state rarities committees in the US have some variation in their
rules, but I am not au fait with them all. I am not aware of any American
state committee that accepts ship assisted birds. I have found the rules of
eight US state committees on the web and none of these have specific rules
regarding ship-assistance.

MIKE Wrote: >1. " No evidence of captivity"? >
>Lloyd Nielson sent me a message. This included the statement;
> "Apparently it is fairly tame so maybe it has been someone's pet from a

Maybe so, but who can say? Has Lloyd actually seen the Hay Point Magpie?
His use of the word "apparently" suggests that he has not and is merely
making an assumption. It is a ?fairly tame? species generally speaking.
When I saw the bird at Hay Point it was no more tame or approachable than a
Magpie-lark or a House Sparrow. According to you, Lloyd SPECULATES upon the
assumption of (unnatural?) tameness that the bird was maybe someone's pet.
You may call this evidence but speculation, especially if based on
unverified assumption, is not what I consider evidence. I saw NO EVIDENCE
of captivity, such as extreme or unbalanced wear, clipped wings and other
impediments to flight, jewellery on the legs, fluency in English nor
Cantonese, a preference for perching on shoulders, a habit of begging for
food from people. Are we using the same definition of ?evidence??
You have argued that we can't determine the circumstances of the Phillip
Island Crow's passage such as whether or not it was fed (or even held
captive) on passage. How can you then claim that there is evidence that the
Hay Point Magpie was held captive? I don't see any difference in the
available evidence about the circumstances of arrival of the two
individuals in Australia. Accordingly, I don?t see how an appraisal
committee could find a difference unless relying on subjective speculation
or circumstantial evidence. Don?t you think it would open a can of worms if
decisions had to be made about the circumstances of individual birds in the
absence of hard evidence? Wouldn?t the only scientific option be to reject
all cases where there was no evidence either way (ie not guilty beyond
reasonable doubt of being a bonified vagrant). The BBRC rule seems so
impractical to me.

MIKE Wrote: >the reluctance, even refusal, of the species to cross water,
its extreme sedentary nature >(average >dispersal 0.5 >km) (see BWP), and
compared with House Crow, no record of movements >which result in >the
establishment of >extralimital or feral populations.

This argument is irrelevant because both birds (almost certainly?) arrived
by ship and neither used their capacities to disperse. It is also wrong.
BWP quotes movements of up to 40km. Robinson (1999; A field Guide to the
Birds of SE Asia) lists the species as a vagrant to central Thailand which
must be at least 500 km from the nearest population. I saw the Hay Point
bird fly 0.5 km in one single flight. Capacity to establish extralimital
populations is irrelevant; how many extalimital populations of
Buff-breasted Sandpiper are there?

MIKE Wrote: >2. Is it tickable?
>Only those species on the Australian List, and individuals which meet the
acceptance criteria, are >tickable?. I would not vote for acceptance of the
Hays Point, or Newcastle, Magpies.

I wouldn't accept the Magpie either. But what makes the Phillip Island
House Crow any different from the Hay Point Magpie. You acknowledged that
the Crow almost certainly arrived in Australia by ship with no other
details known. You acknowledged that the Magpie almost certainly arrived in
Australia by ship, and you can have no other knowledge of the details of
its passage. Yet you argue the Crow belongs on the Australian List and the
Magpie does not. This seems slightly inconsistent. Besides, what are the
criteria that are to be met to accept a ship-assisted bird in Australia?.

MIKE Wrote: >3. BARC Rules.
>There is no rule that prohibits acceptance of live vagrants that may have
been ship-assisted.

BARC Rule 4.1 "The Committee will appraise records of species defined in
the Review List, and new additions to the Australian List including:
pelagic seabirds observed within the Australian 200 nautical-mile fishing
tide-line specimens, collected specimens, road kills, deceased passage
migrants and other specimens excepting those transported into Australia or
obtained illegally."

The wording "those transported into Australia" is rather imprecise, but I
was satisfied that it excludes instances of passage aboard ships from Asian
ports across thousands of kilometres of open ocean to within sight of the
Australian coast. However, perhaps this refers only to specimens. Are live
birds specimens, or only dead ones? Do they have to be not only dead but
also stuffed, labelled and filed? Then again, perhaps a bird stuck on a
boat for a couple of weeks could be considered to be ?captive?? Does,
captivity necessarily entail an intent to confine (on the part of a jailer
or aviculturist, for example) or is confinement in itself sufficient? As
Bob Patterson prepared these rules you could refer to him about the
intended meaning.

Note also that ship assisted species are not expressly permitted by BARC
rules. It is understandable that this area has been neglected as it is
almost irrelevant in Australia because so few species are involved. Where
rules are ambiguous or difficult to apply it is a common practice to
establish and follow precedents . Some precedents are discussed in the next

MIKE Wrote: >4. "There has been no change in policy in at least a decade".
>Well, why else was the House Crow removed from the Australian List? The
species was
>included in The Interim List of Australian Song Birds by Schodde (1975) and
>therefore on the List until the publication of Christidis & Boles in 1994.
>It was included in the first Atlas and in all or most field guides. It was
>included on BARCs predecessors review list (see RAOU Report No. 80,
>Patterson 1991) thus admitting its acceptance on the Australian List. It was
>first omitted from the review list in 1996 (RAOU Report No. 101, Patterson
>1996). Since the rules had not changed, its removal demands an explanation.
>By my calculations, this change was in the last decade!

There seems to be some confusion about the distinction between ?rules? and
?decisions?. In this case, the removal of House Crow from two lists
(Review, Australian) is the reversal of two ?decisions?, and has nothing
whatsoever to do with changes to a ?rule?. As I see it, changes in ?rules?
are changes in ?policy? but reversals of decisions are not changes of
?policy?. Nevertheless, as far as I am aware neither BARC nor RAC have ever
accepted any records of ship assisted birds to Australia.

The inclusion of House Crow on the Interim List (Schodde 1975) has little
import in my opinion. Its inclusion was the unilateral work of Dick
Schodde, although it does follow articles by McGill and Gibson (Emu 61:
244-5). Schodde's ?decision? did not follow any set of ?rules? as such, as
far as I can ascertain. It was qualified by him (p. 25) thusly: "...I
consider it most likely that it... reached Australia on ships only through
the agency of man and that it ought therefore to be regarded as introduced.
It has never become established." Note also that the 1975 list was hastily
published (see p.1) as an ?Interim List? which has since been superseded.

The inclusion of new "introduced" species is not the role of BARC but the
role of the Birds Australia's Taxonomic Advisory Committee (TAC).
Nevertheless, the species should not be considered "introduced" as it is
not established here.

In the most recent publication of the TAC (Christidis & Boles 1994) it was
argued that House Crow was removed from the list (contra Schodde 1975)
because records "are considered to be ship-assisted" (p. 73). Perhaps this
was a change in policy by the TAC which led to a reversal of an earlier TAC
decision. Since that time House Crow has not been on the BARC review list
(eg. Patterson 1996). It was not dropped from the Review List due to the
high frequency of occurrences (no cases submitted?; no cases accepted), but
because it is not on the Australian list. I interpret its removal as
agreement by BARC that House Crow is not on the Australian list because all
cases involve ship assistance and ship assisted records are not considered
valid. Whether the decision of removal was by Committee resolution and is
minuted, or whether it was an executive decision by Bob Patterson, I could
not say. Also take note that the Review list of 1988 (Anon 1988) when Terry
Lindsey was Chair, did not include House Crow. Thus, it would seem that
House Crow was added to the Review List in 1991 when Bob Patterson was the
Chair (Patterson 1991). I suspect it was included because the review list
was a list of all species on the Australian List that were sufficiently
rare to require appraisal. It was subsequently removed (Patterson 1996)
during the same chairmanship. I think this undermines your view that ?its
removal was an improper act [that] should be redressed?. Furthermore, the
removal from the list (by Christidis & Boles) was no less fluently
justified as was the original inclusion (by Schodde).

Clearly it comes down to the issue of whether or not ship assisted species
are considered valid. I think it is clear that both the BARC and the TAC
have set a precedent by excluding House Crow from the current Australian
list because of the role of ship assistance in the species' occurrences.
The Atlas (Blakers et al. 1984) merely followed the checklists of the day
(Condon 1975 and Schodde 1975 ) and reported on species observed by
atlasers. It played no role in decisions about what to include on the
Australian List and cannot be considered an authority in this area. What
relevance is there in the species lists adopted by field guides?

MIKE Wrote: >Eurasian Magpie & House Crow on the Australian List?
>For reasons given above, I have never contemplated advocating that the
Magpie be added to the >Australian List and David does me an injustice by
implying that I have. The House Crow is a different >matter and arguments
for its reinstatement are given above, below, and in my previous statement
dated >20 Feb. 2001. In my view, its removal was an improper act. This
should be redressed.

For reasons given above, I find your arguments that the Magpie and the Crow
are different matters to be inconsistent and uncompelling. The Australian
List is supposed to represent a scientific catalogue of the wild fauna of
this country. Both birds were presumably transported here by ship, and the
details of their passages are unknown.

MIKE Wrote: >Pertinent? is the paper by Arnold McGill in Emu 1949, p.
83-84, ?Australian Status of the >Colombo >Crow?addressing problems such as
ship-assistance. It quotes two examples of House >Crows
accompanying >liners from Colombo to Australia including an account of a
voyage by Keith >Hindwood. He noticed two House >Crows in the rigging of
the ship soon after it left Colombo. They were >seen ?on and off? and
departed when >the ship was in sight of land approaching Fremantle. Keith
was >unable to determine how they acquired their >food, if indeed they ate
at all on the voyage.

Given that these crows were transported to Australia I do not believe that
they are eligible to be accepted by BARC under BARC?s current rules or at
least under the most recent precedents. I have not read McGill?s paper and
will not comment further.
MIKE Wrote: >For a recent published opinion on the proper status of House
Crow see page 783 in
>Schodde & Mason 1999, They include it in their list of ?Accepted Vagrant
Taxa? and give their reasons >for so doing.

Schodde and Mason (1999) did put House Crow in their list of accepted
vagrants but asserted that all records of House Crow are ship-assisted.
They then said that the species could be omitted from the list altogether
or admitted as a self-introduced vagrant. Contrary to your assertion, they
did not give their reasons for choosing the latter course. I find their
treatment to be more ?ambiguous? than ?proper?. Schodde & Mason are not
compilers of the Australian List.

MIKE Wrote: >David and his supporters are out of step.

That I have a different opinion to you, Mike, does not make me out of step.

MIKE Wrote: > [David?s] opposition is based on fallacious arguments and an
out-dated premise.
>Good science first, ticking second.

Alas, we will just have to agree to disagree on the definitions of
fallacious arguments, relevant premises
and good science, and on the merits of admitting ship assisted birds to the
National list of wild fauna. I hope you do not take offence at this.

Best regards,
David James
David James
PO BOX 5225
Townsville Mail Centre,
Qld 4810, Australia

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