aba events

Announcing the 2016 ABA Awards Recipients!

The ABA Board of Directors recently voted to make three presentations of ABA Awards in 2016. The awardees… [read more]

Announcing the 2016 ABA Awards Recipients! Announcing the 2016 ABA Awards Recipients!

2016 AOU Check-list Proposals, Part 1

It's time, once again, for split and lump season, or at least the first part of the long prelude to changes… [read more]

2016 AOU Check-list Proposals, Part 1 2016 AOU Check-list Proposals, Part 1

The TOP 10: Craziest ABA Vagrants of 2015

By Nate Swick and George Armistead For the last couple years the annual Top 10 Best Vagrants post… [read more]

The TOP 10: Craziest ABA Vagrants of 2015 The TOP 10: Craziest ABA Vagrants of 2015

Introducing the 2016 ABA Bird of the Year!

We're excited, at last, to share this year's ABA Bird of the Year and artist. Thanks to artist… [read more]

Introducing the 2016 ABA Bird of the Year! Introducing the 2016 ABA Bird of the Year!

Photo Quiz: December 2015 Birding

Hmm... Well, it's a decent photo, and the bird is well presented. This can't be all that hard, can it? It's… [read more]

Photo Quiz: December 2015 Birding Photo Quiz: December 2015 Birding

The ABA’s Spark Bird Project Puts Binoculars in the Hands of Kids

What could a kid discover if they had the tools we birders often take for granted? What could they find? Birds,… [read more]

The ABA’s Spark Bird Project Puts Binoculars in the Hands of Kids The ABA's Spark Bird Project Puts Binoculars in the Hands of Kids
Nikon Monarch 7

Old World Birds in the New World Tropics


A pair of fascinating publications came out the other day that throw a wrench into what we know about bird taxonomy and evolution. Both pertain to two separate species, the endemic Blue-headed Quail-Dove of Cuba and the strange Sapayoa of Central America, but come to similar conclusions. That these two species are most closely related to birds in the Old World tropics, and that, by happenstance of biogeography, they were both marooned in the New World.

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 8.15.37 PM

photo: Wikipedia

The stunning Blue-headed Quail-Dove is one of the most wanted endemics on the endemic-rich island of Cuba. For decades it was placed with the quail-doves, the mostly terrestrial, skulky little forest doves of the Neotropics in the genus Geotrygon. Blue-headed was a species within and without that group, however, because it was always acknowledged as something a bit different. It was given its own genus, Starnoenas, and just considered a taxonomic mystery.

Researchers from the Smithsonian attempted to solve a little bit of that mystery, and recently published in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology. Storrs Olson and James Wiley looked at a number of factors, including morphology, anatomy, and behavior (though notably not DNA), and suggested some extraordinary findings. Namely, that Blue-headed Quail-Dove is not a quail-dove at all. In fact, it’s not that closely related to any New World doves. It’s closest relatives are from Australasia, mostly like the doves of the genus Geophaps, a group that consists of the Australian Spinifex and Crested Pigeons. Australia and South America have a lot of biogeographical similarities (lots of marsupials for starters), but those lineages are ancient. Olson and Wiley suggest that Blue-headed Quail-Dove and the Geophaps pigeons might share an ancestor that old as well. The researchers have suggested the name Blue-headed Partridge-Dove to signify the distinction from New World doves. The paper is available here. More research will undoubtedly follow.

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

The second incidence of strange intercontinental connections concerns a bizarre little flycatchery bird called the Sapayoa. This species has always been an oddball, and in the past has been placed with flycatchers and manakins, though it’s rather different from both. In 2003, genetic research firmly placed it among the Old World suboscines, perching birds that lack the songbird syrinx, the voicebox that makes so many of our birds sing so elaborately. The New World has suboscines, too – all of our tyrant flycatchers, as well as antbirds, manakins, and cotingas – but not as many. And with a few key differences.

Researchers from Cornell, including undergraduates Benjamin Van Doren and Sarah Dzielski, traveled to Panama to observe the strange Sapayoa. They found that its behavior, notably the practice of cooperative breeding, is unique among suboscines in the New World, and far more like those in the Old World where cooperative breeding among its presumed relatives is common. The findings were recently published in The Auk. More information is available from Cornell here.

#ABArare – Little Stint – California


On April 20, Will Brooks found an odd Calidris sandpiper in Alviso, California, near San Jose. Folks able to refind it and photograph it more closely in subsequent days were able to confirm it as an ABA Code 4 Little Stint. This would be only the second spring record for California. It has been present through the 26th, as of the writing of this post.


A nice photo showing the rufous tertials, diagnostic for stints. Photo: Aaron Maizlish

The bird has been seen near Alviso Marina County Park, northeast of San Jose and just off Hwy 237.  It has been seen mostly in the narrow impoundment between A12 and the train tracks. There are thousands of shorebirds in the area so care is warranted to find the right one.

Little Stint is an rare but regular vagrant to western Alaska, and exceptional elsewhere in the west, though reports of this species have increased in the last 20 years as birders begin to better understand Little Stint vagrancy and vagrant Calidrid identification.  Howell et al suggest in Rare Birds of North America that Little Stint may be a more regular vagrant in North America than the records indicate, but that it likely goes undetected among large numbers of Semipalmated and Western Sandpipers.

#ABArare – Little Egret – Maine

On April 23, Ian Carlson found an ABA Code 4 Little Egret at Gilsland Farm near Falsmouth Maine. This has been a fairly reliable spot for this ABA rarity in recent years, and a Little Egret spent much of last summer at the site.

Gilsland Farm is located just north of Portland, Maine. Take [read more…]

Blog Birding #271

Birdathon season is upon us, and Big Days will soon be run across the continent seeking out the biggest and best numbers for their regions. Some folks at Mass Audubon offer a rundown of some of the =more difficult species to find, at least in Massachusetts.

Last year, Team Drumlin Farm squeaked out a win [read more…]

The ABA and the Underground Railroad

The ABA is proud to host an event tomorrow night that explores a little bit of the history of the place we call home. With the recent announcement that the face of abolitionist and humanitarian Harriet Tubman will be gracing the US $20 bill in the not too distant future, there has been an increase [read more…]

Learning and Surviving in the Land of the Harpy Eagle

A review by Julia Zarankin

On a Wing and a Prayer: One Woman’s Adventure Into the Heart of the Rain Forest, by Sarah Woods

Bloomsbury, 2015

272 pages, $27—hardcover

ABA Sales / Buteo Books 14556

The problem with falling in love with wildlife, and with birds in particular, is the distressing accompanying narrative about the [read more…]

Rare Bird Alert: April 22, 2016

Our friends at Cornell’s Birdcast predicted a good week for migration across the continent this past week, and that’s certainly what we saw. Lots of movement from coast to coast from species like Broad-winged Hawk, Cassin’s Vireo, Summer Tanager and others, and that bore out in the listservs as FOY reports were springing up all [read more…]

A New Classic for North American Waterfowl and Their Watchers

A review by Keith Betton

Waterfowl of North America, Europe, and Asia, by Sébastien Reeber

Princeton University Press, 2016

656 pages, $45—hardcover

ABA Sales / Buteo Books 14588

This is the latest in the series of Helm Identification Guides, which includes such great titles as Robins and Chats, Woodpeckers of the World, and Owls of [read more…]

Birding Apps 2.0

Diana Doyle, in her “Tools of the Trade” column in the April 2016 Birding, writes of “Bird ID 2.0 for Apps” [ABA member password required for full access]. I’d like to turn that idea inside-out, and ask about “Apps 2.0 for Bird ID,” or more generally, “Apps 2.0 for Birding.”

In the past few [read more…]

#ABArare – Marsh Sandpiper – California

On Saturday, April 17, Frank Fogarty identified an ABA Code 5 Marsh Sandpiper at Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area in Yolo County, California. The bird had been seen by others the day before but not identified as Marsh Sandpiper. This is the 3rd record for California and only the 3rd record for Marsh Sandpiper away from [read more…]

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