Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix) is a common and gregarious species within its core eastern and northern European range. With more than 50 records from Iceland, it was likely on the short list of potential ABA firsts to make it all the way to North America proper. So yesterday, when an unequivocal Hooded Crow was photographed at a fishing wharf in Staten Island, New York, (photos are available here), it was not entirely unexpected. It's a fabulous bird; big and flashy and attractively attired (at least compared to our native crows) in gray and black. But along with it comes the question that accompanies nearly every vagrant to the ABA area. Is it legit?
For the Hooded Crow, though, this is a two-parter. First, is this a captive bird? You wouldn't think so at first, though a handful of records in the middle of the continent – Chicago, Illinois (2000), New Braunfels, Texas (2002), Salton Sea, California (no details), Whitecourt, Alberta (2006) – suggests that there are, in fact, captive Hooded Crows in North America, that they do escape from time to time, and that birders are apt to report them when they find them. In the case of the Texas report, the birds were definitely tracked back to a bird trader, but the others remain in limbo. Certainly this record should be largely considered independent of those that came before, but they can't help but muddy the waters
And second, assuming the bird is determined to be wild, is ship-assistance an explanation for its presence in New York City? After all, New York is one of the busiest ports in the world; container ships abound. And another Corvid, the Indian House Crow (Corvus splendens), has famously taken to hitching rides on container ships to ports across the globe. In fact, ship-assistance might be* the dirty little secret behind many remarkable vagrants (Red-footed Falcon, anyone?), and the question as to whether is should be taken into account with determining the veracity of a vagrant record is a contentious one. But, if a legitimately wild Hooded Crow were to make the jump unassisted from Europe, the northeast United States is not a completely outlandish place for it to turn up.
These are certainly interesting questions to ponder, though probably academic for those of us not on the New York Rare Bird Committee.
We may never come to a satisfactory conclusion on this Staten Island Hooded Crow, but the questions are still worth considering. What do you think? Is it "countable"? And does the source and means by which it arrives even matter when a cool bird is hanging out just down the road?
*The post originally stated that "ship-assistance is probably the dirty little secret". I've edited the post to make it clear I was not implying there is evidence of ship-assistance in the case of the Martha's Vineyard Red-footed Falcon specifically, and long distance vagrants generally.