I was thinking about posting this to curators but maybe this is better, so I can get a public opinion too. Please share your thoughts.
I’m no curator but I want to address a concern of mine about data quality in certain Passerellidae (New World Sparrows) species on iNaturalist. Let me give you a couple of examples. The Dark-eyed Junco has 14 recognized subspecies on iNaturalist. Seven of those subspecies are used by birders typically as the group Oregon Junco. They differ from eastern juncos by having a solid black hood and rich orange-buff sides. Males of each Oregon Junco subspecies can be identifiable in on breeding grounds. But winter plumages and range overlaps happen so often in winter, that identifying to the subspecies level is next to impossible. And if you look at iNaturalist reports, there’s a significant amount of more junco sightings in winter than summer. Yet to me, just simply saying you saw a Dark-eyed Junco is wasting valuable information, especially since the Oregon Junco group looks so much different from the Slate-colored. Wouldn’t it be logic to make a subspecies complex/group to represent the 7 Oregon Junco subspecies for winter-type situations. It would make data more accurate and more useful than just saying Dark-eyed Junco when you know it’s at least the Oregon group.
Yet the Dark-eyed Junco isn’t the only one I think needs group complexes. The Fox Sparrow has some very distinct-looking subspecies group. If I find a “Sooty” Fox Sparrow in a northeastern Oregon winter, I can say it’s P. i. sinuosa (called the Valdez Fox Sparrow on iNat) is the likely subspecies because studies in California state that that subspecies tends to be more inland-ish. But I can’t be certain especially when another subspecies or two migrate down the coast right past me. Any of them may go inland and I could never tell. So subspecies groups for both Sooty and Slate-colored (cause they had a similar issues in southern US/Mexico) Fox Sparrows. Because once again, we’d be wasting information just saying Fox Sparrow in our observation.
But it was explained to me that this argument can be applied to many, many species outside of Passerellidae and by going forward in these complexes will create a huge mess in the family tree especially since most subspecies are field identifiable and experts disagree on what subspecies belong to which group anyway.
I’m not asking for subspecies groups for every single species that has them but for those where the differences are subtle and ranges overlap, such as the Dark-eyed Junco. I’m not saying to make the Eastern and Rocky Mountain subspecies groups for Black-capped Chickadees because that species is non-migratory so most can be subspecies identified by range anyway. I’m not saying to make the Eastern, Alaskan or San Francisco Saltmarsh Song Sparrow groups because most of subspecies identified. Winter can get crazy in California sure but Song Sparrows don’t have winter/summer plumages that may make the plumage differences between subspecies nearly nonexistent. I’m just asking for an easier way to get more accurate information on Dark-eyed Juncos and to a lesser extent Fox Sparrows. And I know others want to id their juncos as Oregon as well. I went through Oregon/Washington Dark-eyed Junco sightings that needed an id and that was because they all had ids but it was four or five people saying J. h. oreganus (Alaskan Dark-eyed Junco) when it could be any of the seven because you really can’t tell the difference in winter. And all I can do is correct them to Dark-eyed Junco because I can’t tell them what subspecies it is. I know its likely J. h. montanus or J. h. shufeldti, but still it could also be the other five. I can’t blindly guess but I know it’s an Oregon junco, just not the exact subspecies. Hopefully someone hears me out here because I believe we’re wasting information by not providing users with something like this.