Every summer, birders anxiously await publication of the “Check-list Supplement” by the American Ornithologists’ Union’s North American Classification Committee (NACC). The Supplement details revisions to its Check-list (e.g., lumps, splits, new species, new classifications, etc.). Below is a brief rundown of those changes. (You can see the Supplement here.) Be sure to check out the ABA’s annual “Check-list Redux” in Birder’s Guide to Listing & Taxonomy this September. There, you’ll find photos, maps, and more detailed analysis of these changes. (You can see last year’s Check-list Redux here.)
As a general policy, the NACC accepts as additions to the Check-list any species the American Birding Association’s Checklist Committee (ABA CLC) adds to its list that are not already on the AOU’s list. See the ABA CLC’s annual report in the Nov/Dec 2013 issue of Birding for details on those species. Likewise, the ABA CLC automatically adopts all taxonomic changes accepted by the NACC.
You can read all the proposals on which the NACC voted this year by visiting its webpage. Species marked with asterisks below are those which do not appear on the ABA Checklist, either because there are no currently accepted records in the ABA Area or because they are non-natives which have not yet been admitted to the list. When a split is discussed, the species that retains the scientific name of the “old” lumped species is listed first. These days, you can assume that any change in taxonomy is due (at least partly) to analysis of new genetic data, so that is not always mentioned below.
Clapper Rail Split
Mangrove Rail* (Rallus longirostris)
Ridgway’s Rail (Rallus obsoletus)
Clapper Rail (Rallus crepitans)
Recent genetic studies have looked at the relatedness of the New World “big rails”, that is, what we have traditionally known as Clapper Rail and King Rail. King Rail was split into two species, and Clapper Rail into three. (For an article on the different “Clapper Rails” in the ABA Area, check out the Sep/Oct 2013 issue of Birding.)
Finally, Robert Ridgway has an English bird name to celebrate his storied contributions to North American ornithology! Ridgway’s Rail includes the “California” (obsoletus), “Yuma” (yumanensis), and “Light-footed” (levipes) subspecies, plus others further south in Mexico. Any “Clapper Rail” observed in California, Nevada, or Arizona is now this species.
The name “Clapper Rail” was retained for the birds on the east coast of the U.S. (this species also extends partially into Middle America and the Caribbean), but its scientific name has changed.
Mangrove Rail is thought to be restricted to coastal South America.
Ridgway’s Rail. Sinaloa, Mexico. Photo by © Marco Antonio González Bernal.
King Rail Split
King Rail (Rallus elegans)
Aztec Rail* (Rallus tenuirostris)
“King Rails” found in freshwater marshes of interior and western Mexico are now split as “Aztec Rail”. The large rails of freshwater marshes in the eastern U.S. and Canada retain the same scientific and English names.
Arctic Warbler Split
Arctic Warbler (Phylloscopus borealis)
Kamchatka Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus examinandus)
Japanese Leaf Warbler* (Phylloscopus xanthodryas)
These three species are almost identical in appearance but differ markedly in voice. That makes it extremely difficult if not impossible to identify sight records of silent migrants. And most migrants are unfortunately silent. It is thus unknown which species are represented by many records of migrant birds on Alaskan islands and in western Canada, the Lower 48, and Mexico. For details on differences among the three species, see Howell et al.’s Rare Birds of North America (2014). (They speculate that Kamchatka Leaf Warbler is rare to very rare as a migrant on the western and central Aleutians.) Also check out this website, where you can listen to the different vocalizations, and this one, which nicely shows their breeding ranges.
The “new” Arctic Warbler is the species that breeds in Alaska, so if you’ve seen an Arctic Warbler in Denali National Park, then you’ve still seen an Arctic Warbler. The Supplement lists four records of the “new” Arctic Warbler for California and states that Kamchatka Leaf Warbler is casual in the Aleutians and that two records from the Northwest Territories are not conclusively identified to species. Japanese Leaf Warbler has no confirmed records and is not placed on the Check-list.
Note that the newest edition of the National Geographic field guide mentions and illustrates xanthodryas, but the authors are really referring to what we today call examinandus.Kamchatka Leaf Warbler (examinandus) and Japanese Leaf Warbler (xanthodryas) were formerly considered the same subspecies (xanthodryas) of Arctic Warbler. So Kamchatka Leaf Warbler first became its own subspecies, and now its own species—quite a graduation!
Shy Albatross Split
White-capped Albatross (Thalassarche cauta)
Salvin’s Albatross (Thalassarche salvini)
Chatham Albatross* (Thalassarche eremita)
All three of the “Shy Albatrosses” nest on islands of the south Pacific; any appearances they make in the ABA Area are as vagrants.
Most records pertain to White-capped Albatross, of which there are a handful of records off the Pacific coast of the Lower 48. There are two of Salvin’s Albatross in the ABA Area—one from off the Aleutians and one very recent record from off central California. (There is another from Hawaiian waters.) Chatham Albatross is not yet confirmed for the ABA Area, but it may be added to the Checklist before long. Two records of young birds initially reported as White-capped Albatross off California are currently being reevaluated after Howell re-identified them as Chatham Albatross based on (orangeish) bill color. The AOU is waiting for the ABA CLC to act on this record.
For more on these albatross species, their identification, and their records within the ABA Area, see Rare Birds of North America; Steve Howell’s Petrels, Albatrosses, & Storm-petrels of North America (2012); and the current National Geographic field guide.
Salvin’s Albaross. Photo by Arthur Chapman.
Brown Hawk-Owl Split
Brown Hawk-Owl* (Ninox scutulata)
Northern Boobook (Ninox japonica)
This split separates resident Ninox owls of southern Asia (scutulata) from the highly migratory ones of eastern Asia (japonica); the latter are now called Northern Boobook. The two also differ in voice. Two records of Northern Boobook exist from Alaskan islands.
Scaly-breasted Munia. Photo by © Billtacular via flickr
Nutmeg Mannikin Changed to Scaly-breasted Munia
Lonchura punctulata, added to the ABA Checklist just last year, has had its English name changed from Nutmeg Mannikin to Scaly-breasted Munia. It has long been known in the pet trade as “Spice Finch” or “Nutmeg Mannikin”, but neither name is now widely used by ornithological authorities. The species has no particular association with nutmeg (or other spices), or even Indonesia’s Banda Islands whence nutmeg originates. For largely extralimital species, the NACC generally follows regional authorities on issues of common name usage. Almost all other taxonomic authorities call this species Scaly-breasted Munia, and thus, the AOU has followed suit. This change also has the benefit of eliminating some potential confusion among birders who, when reading “mannikin”, may mistakenly infer a relationship with the neotropical manakins of the family Pipridae.
Black-Hawks Changed to Black Hawks
The black-hawks of the genus Buteogallus have lost the hyphen from their “last name”. This affects three species: Common Black Hawk, Great Black Hawk*, and Cuban Black Hawk*. Great Black Hawk has no accepted records from the ABA Area, but it occurs rather far north into Tamaulipas, so it wouldn’t be an outlandish prospect to show up north of the U.S-Mexican birder. Cuban Black Hawk has been recorded in Florida and Georgia, but those records have not been accepted by the ABA CLC. This change in names is taking place because the “black hawks” are a paraphyletic group. That is, they are not each other’s closest relatives. Some black hawks are more closely related to other Buteogallus, such as Solitary Eagle*, than they are to other species called “black hawk”.
Pallas’s Leaf-Warbler Changed to Pallas’s Leaf Warbler
Much as with the black hawks (above), the Phylloscopus leaf-warbers were found to be a paraphyletic group. So goes the hyphen.
Scientific Name and Checklist Sequence Changes
The genus Geotrygon (quail-doves) was found to be paraphyletic. Therefore, it was split into three genera. Ruddy and Key West quail-doves are still in Geotrygon, so the only consequence for ABA Area birders is a reshuffling of the sequence of some of the doves. Why the hyphen didn’t drop out of “quail-dove” I don’t understand. Coming after Spotted Dove, the new dove sequence is as follows.
Key West Quail-Dove on Cayo Coco, Cuba. Photo by Michael Retter.
Key West Quail-Dove
Green Parakeet is now Psittacara holochlorus. Harlingen, Texas. Photo by Michael Retter.
The genus Aratinga was found to be paraphyletic and was split into four genera, three of which occur in the ABA Area. Additionally, the genus Nandaya was absorbed into the “new” Aratinga. All of the species listed below have populations in the ABA Area. The new scientific names and the new checklist sequence are as follows.
Dusky-headed Parakeet* (remains Aratinga weddellii)
Nanday Parakeet (Nandayus nenday ➛ Aratinga nendaya)
Blue-crowned Parakeet* (Aratinga acticaudata ➛ Thectocercus acuticaudatus)
Green Parakeet (Aratinga holochlora ➛ Psittacara holochlorus)
Mitred Parakeet* (Aratinga mitrata ➛ Psittacara miratus)
Red-masked Parakeet* (Aratinga erythrogenys ➛ Psittacara erythrogenys)
White-eyed Parakeet* (Aratinga leucophthalma ➛ Psittacara leucophthalmus)
The Old World family Megaluridae has had its name changed to Locustellidae. Middendorff’s Grasshopper-Warbler and Lanceolated Warbler are the only species in this family on the ABA Checklist.
Bronze Mannikin. Photo by gisela gerson lohman-braun.
The estrilid finch genus Lonchura was found to be paraphyletic. Therefore, it was split into three genera. Also, the genus Padda was absorbed into the “new” Lonchura. The new scientific names and the new checklist sequence are as follows.
Bronze Mannikin* (Lonchura cucullata ➛Spermestes cucullata)
African Silverbill* (Lonchura cantans ➛ Euodice cantans)
Java Sparrow* (Padda oryzivora ➛ Lonchura oryzivora)
Tricolored Munia. Photo by Krayker.
Scaly-breasted Munia (remains Lonchura punctulata)
Tricolored Munia* (remains Lonchura malacca)
Chestnut Munia* (remains Lonchura atricapilla)
Bronze Mannikin is an African species with an established population in Puerto Rico; a small population also exists in the southwestern suburbs of Houston. African Silverbill is established in Hawaii. Java Sparrow is established in Hawaii and turns up as an escapee in California and Florida. Tricolored Munia has exploded in numbers across the Caribbean and Middle America over the last decade; in 2013 presumed vagrants from Cuba turned up on Key West and Dry Tortugas, whence come at least three prior records. Chestnut Munia is established in Hawaii.
Notable Proposals That Were Not Accepted
Lump of Thick-billed Parrot and Maroon-fronted Parrot*.
Split of Siberian Stonechat from Common Stonechat.
Split of Curve-billed Thrasher into Plateau Thrasher and Palmer’s Thrasher.
Transfer of American Goldfinch, Lesser Goldfinch, and Lawrence’s Goldfinch into their own genus, Astragalinus.
Removal of Azure Gallinule* from the AOU Check-list.
ADDITIONAL CHANGES IN MIDDLE AMERICA AND THE WEST INDIES
(Asterisks no longer used to label species not found in the ABA Area.)
No More Bush-Tanagers!
At least not in North America. All the members of the genus Chlorospingus—which are not tanagers, but emberizid “sparrows”—have had their “last name” changed from “bush-tanager” to “chlorospingus”.
Common Bush-Tanager ➛ Common Chlorospingus (Chlorospingus flavopectus)
Tacarcuna Bush-Tanager ➛ Tacarcuna Chlorospingus (Chlorospingus tacarcunae)
Pirre Bush-Tanager ➛ Pirre Chlorospingus (Chlorospingus inornatus)
Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager ➛ Sooty-capped Chlorospingus (Chlorospingus pileatus)
Yellow-throated Bush-Tanager ➛ Yellow-throated Chlorospingus (Chlorospingus flavigularis )
Ashy-throated Bush-Tanager ➛ Ashy-throated Chlorospingus (Chlorospingus canigularis)
Sooty-capped Chlorospingus. Savegre Valley, Costa Rica. Photo by Michael Retter.
Dark-eyed Junco Split
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)
Guadalupe Junco (Junco insularis)
Guadalupe Junco is a severely endangered endemic of Mexico’s Guadalupe Island, off the west coast of northern Baja California. For a captivating look into this species and its unique home, be sure to watch this video.
Painted Parakeet Split
Painted Parakeet (Pyrrhura picta)
Santarem Parakeet (Pyrrhura amazonum)
Bonaparte’s Parakeet (Pyrrhura lucianii)
Rose-fronted Parakeet (Pyrrhura roseifrons)
The endemic “Azuero Parakeet” (eisenmanni) of Panama is still treated as a subspecies of Painted Parakeet. The other subspecies of the “new” Painted Parakeet are found in South America, as are Santarem, Bonaparte’s, and Rose-fronted parakeets. So there is no appreciable change as far as North America is concerned.
Bicolored Antbird along Pipeline Road, Panama. Photo by Michael Retter.
Bicolored Antbird Split
White-cheeked Antbird (Gymnopithys leucaspis)
Bicolored Antbird (Gymnopithys bicolor)
This is, unfortunately, an A = A + B split at the English name level and a B = A + B split at the scientific name level (as with Clapper Rail). The formerly lumped Bicolored Antbird was G. leucaspis. But G. leucaspis now refers to White-cheeked Antbird, found east of the Andes. The “new” Bicolored Antbird (G. bicolor), found west of the Andes, is the one that occurs in North America.
Male Variable Seedeater in Chiapas, Mexico. Photo by Michael Retter.
Variable Seedeater Split
Wing-barred Seedeater (Sporophila americana)
Variable Seedeater (Sporophila corvina)
Like the preceding example, this is one where the English name stays with one species and the scientific name with another. Wing-barred Seedeater is not found in North America, so the major effect is a change in the scientific name of Variable Seedeater.
Additions to the Check-list
The following two species were added to the AOU’s North American list due to well-documented records, both from Costa Rica.
Magauri Stork (Ciconia maguari)
Lined Seedeater (Sporophila lineola)
More Scientific Name and Checklist Sequence Changes
The genus Geotrygon (quail-doves) was found to be paraphyletic. One of them (now Leptotrygon) is allied with Leptotila. Some others (Zentrygon) are allied with Zenaida. See what they did there? The new scientific names (when applicable) and the new checklist sequence are as follows, starting immediately after Spotted Dove.
Key West Quail-Dove
Olive-backed Quail-Dove (Geotrygon veraguensis ➛Leptotrygon veraguensis)
Tuxtla Quail-Dove (Geotrygon carrikeri ➛Zentrygon carrikeri)
Buff-fronted Quail-Dove (Geotrygon costaricensis ➛Zentrygon costaricensis)
Purplish-backed Quail-Dove (Geotrygon lawrencii ➛Zentrygon lawrencii)
White-faced Quail-Dove (Geotrygon albifacies ➛Zentrygon albifacies)
Chiriquí Quail-Dove (Geotrygon chiriquensis ➛Zentrygon chiriquensis)
Russet-crowned Quail-Dove (Geotrygon goldmani ➛ Zentrygon goldmani)
Buff-fronted Quail-Dove is now Zentrygon costaricensis. Monteverde Cloudforest Reserve, Costa Rica. Photo by Michael Retter.
The genus Aratinga was found to be paraphyletic and was split into four genera. Additionally, the genus Nandaya was absorbed into the “new” Aratinga. The new scientific names (if applicable) and the new checklist sequence are as follows.
Orange-fronted Parakeets near Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo by Michael Retter,
Olive-throated Parakeet (Aratinga nana ➛ Eupsittula nana)
Orange-fronted Parakeet (Aratinga canicularis ➛Eupsittula canicularis)
Brown-throated Parakeet (Aratinga pertinax ➛Eupsittula pertinax)
Dusky-headed Parakeet (remains Aratinga weddellii)
Nanday Parakeet (Nandayus nenday ➛Aratinga nendaya)
Great Green Macaw
Blue-crowned Parakeet (Aratinga acticaudata ➛ Thectocercus acuticaudatus)
Green Parakeet (Aratinga holochlora ➛ Psittacara holochlorus)
Pacific Parakeet (Aratinga strenua ➛ Psittacara strenuous)
Crimson-fronted Parakeet (Aratinga finschi ➛ Psittacara finschi)
Cuban Parakeet (Aratinga euops ➛ Psittacara euops)
Hispaniolan Parakeet (Aratinga chloropterus ➛ Psittacara chloroperus)
Mitred Parakeet (Aratinga mitrata ➛ Psittacara miratus)
Red-masked Parakeet (Aratinga erythrogenys ➛ Psittacara erythrogenys)
White-eyed Parakeet (Aratinga leucophthalma ➛ Psittacara leucophthalmus)
The sequence of North America’s three Dendrocincla woodcreepers has changed to
Reevaluation of relationship among some of the furnariids has resulted in a couple genus changes and a reordering, as follows.
Ruddy Foliage-gleaner (Automolus rubiginosus ➛ Clibanornis rubiginosus)
Streak-breasted Treehunter (still Thripadectes rufobrunneus)
Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner (still Automolus ochrolaemus)
Striped Woodhaunter (Hyloctistes subulatus ➛Automolus subulatus)
The sequence within the genus Saltator has changed to the following.
Lesser Antillean Saltator
Yellow-winged Cacique at La Bajada, Nayarit, Mexico. Photo by Michael Retter.
The pigtailed Yellow-winged Cacique—long known to literally be an odd bird—has been given its own genus. It changed from Cacicus melanicterus to Cassiculus melanicterus. It seems to be from a relatively old lineage that predates diversification of many of the oropendolas and caciques.
The genus Oryzoborus (seed-finches) has been absorbed into the genus Sporophila. Their new sequence (and scientific names, where applicable) are as follows.
Thick-billed Seed-Finch (Oryzoborus funereus ➛ Sporophila funerea)
Nicaraguan Seed-Finch (Oryzoborus nuttingi ➛ Sporophila nuttingi)
Large-billed Seed-Finch (Oryzoborus crassirostris ➛ Sporophila crassirostris)
The silverbills got their own genus, Euodice. Indian Silverbill is established on Puerto Rico but does not occur in the ABA Area, so it was not mentioned above with the other estrilids. Its new scientific name and place within the sequence are as follows.
Indian Silverbill (Lonchura malabarica ➛Euodice malabarica)
Additional Notable Proposals That Were Not Accepted
Split of Cuban Parrot.
Transfer of the neotropical siskins (represented in North America by Yellow-bellied, Black-headed, and Red) to their own genus, Sporagra.
Black-headed Siskin occurs quite far north in Mexico and is a good candidate to show up in the ABA Area. (There is an unaccepted record from South Padre Island, Texas.) This one was along the Durango highway in Sinaloa. Photo by Michael Retter.