Goodbye Northwestern Crow, Hello American Crow

By Zak Pohlen July 22, 2020
American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos

Every year, the North American Classification Committee (NACC) evaluates proposals to amend the American Ornithological Society’s (AOS) Checklist of North and Middle American Birds. The results of the NACC review are made public through AOS’s annual supplement which updates the checklist with new splits, lumps, additions, taxonomic reordering, and renaming based on proposals that passed the committee. The most recent changes to the checklist that had a memorable impact on Alaskan birders came in split of Stejneger’s Scoter Melanitta stejnegeri from White-winged Scoter Melanitta deglandi in 2019 and an English name changes of Perisoreus canadensis from Gray Jay to Canada Jay in 2018. The 2019 supplement has a few interesting revisions, and one that will regularly impact eBirders in Southcentral and Southeast Alaska – the crows.

Renewed interest in the Northwestern and American Crow situation resulted from the recent publication by Slager et al. in Molecular Ecology, Cryptic and extensive hybridization between ancient lineages of American crows. The subsequent NACC proposal by David Slager used this new information to recommended treating Northwestern and American Crow as conspecifics. NACC ultimately accepted this recommendation, and Northwestern Crow will now disappear on the Checklist of North and Middle American Birds.

For eBirders, these changes are usually addressed in the months following the annual AOS supplement in eBird’s annual taxonomic update. This update automatically updates all eBird records with the latest splits/lumps and rearrangements across the globe, and removes the necessity to update these yourself. However, in 2020, eBird’s annal taxonomic update is being postponed to 2021, which delays the transition from Northwestern Crow to American Crow.

In the meantime, how should you submit crow sightings in Alaska? In order to maintain accurate eBird data products in the interim, please continue to submit crow sightings as you would have before the lump (Northwestern Crow). Next year they will seamlessly transition to American Crow and all user lists will be updated accordingly.