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More 2012 AOU Checklist Changes

House_Finch_Magnus_ManskeI know what you're thinking. "More checklist changes–what have they done now?!" On the species level, there have been no more changes affecting the ABA Area than were covered in the September 2012 issue (pp. 30–33) of Birding. But there were a number of higher-level taxonomic changes and scientific name changes that were not covered or only briefly mentioned.

Perhaps the most boring of these is the change in scientific name of Purple Gallinule from Porphyrio martinica to Porphyrio martinicus. This has to do with whether the specific epithet, martinic(us/a), is considered to be an adjective or a noun, because the former must agree in gender with the genus, while the latter need not. See, I told you it was pretty boring. I promise it gets more interesting.

Our three "red finches" (i.e., House Finch, Purple Finch, and Cassin's Finch) were transferred out of the genus Carpodacus and into a new genus all their own: Haemorhous. Genetic data have shown that these three species are not that closely related to Carpodacus, which is represented in the ABA Area by the vagrant Common Rosefinch. In fact, the Carpodacus rosefinches seem to be more closely related to the incredibly diverse Hawaiian Honeycreepers than they are to other members of the finch family!

450px-Sumac_Berries_at_Volo_Bog_M. ReadeyHow exactly does one pronounce Haemorhous? Well, there's no 100% correct way, of course, but the word's origin can give us some clues. Haemo– comes from the same Greek word (meaning "blood") as hemophilia and hemoglobin. So "HEE-moh" is probably a good bet. As for –rhous, I've seen two different explanations. One is that orrhos (meaning "rump") is the root. Indeed, "blood rump" seems a good description of these birds. The adult males of all species have reddish rumps. The other explanation is that rhous means "sumac", a plant which has reddish berries. In that case, the meaning would be "red (like) sumac". So, I'm not sure if "HEE-moh-roos" or "HEE-mohr-os" is the better call. But in the end, you can really pronounce it however you want!

Sage Sparrow also got a genus change, from Amphispiza to Artemesiospiza. Genetic data show it to be quite distinct from all the other sparrows. Artemesia is the plant genus that includes sagebrush (and wormwood, whence absinthe is made). Spiza means finch. So the new genus means "sagebrush finch"–very appropriate! The most likely pronunciation is "ahr-tuh-MEEZ-ee-uh-SPY-zuh". This is a monotypic genus, meaning that it only has one member. At least, until (and if) Sage Sparrow is split.

Some Selasphorus hummingbirds seem to me more closely related to Calliope Hummingbird than they are to other Selasphorus. That makes Selasphorus what is called a paraphyletic taxon–something that taxonomists don't really like. In order to correct this, Calliope Hummingbird was moved into Selasphorus, making the species' former (and monotypic) genus, Stellula, now defunct.

CWWICarolina Wren was once thought to be related to a large and diverse group of tropical wrens, and they were placed in the genus Thryothorus along with it. But genetic data show that's not likely the case. In fact, none of the other wrens seems to be closely reated to it, so all those other species classified in the same genus had to be moved. In the end, they moved into three different genera, one of which, Thryophilus, is the new home of the Sinaloa Wren.

Our goatsuckers were long placed in the genus Caprimulgus because of their similarity to the "original" European Nightjar. Once again, genetic data show that similiraity to be only skin deep: our American nightjars are only distantly related. In fact, our nighthawks seem to be more closely related to European Nightjar than they are to our American nightjars. The result is that Chuck-will's-widow, Buff-collared Nightjar, and both whip-poor-wills all move to the genus Antrostomus. Antrum means "cave", and stoma means "mouth". They do indeed have gaping, cave-like mouths!


House Finch photo by Magnus Manske.

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) photo by M. Readey.

Chuck-will's-widow painting by John James Audubon. 

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Michael Retter
Michael L. P. Retter is the editor of the ABA's newest magazine, Birder's Guide. He also wears his ABA cap while working as a Technical Reviewer for Birding magazine. When not at home, Michael is often leading tours in Middle America (Mexico through Panama). He currently lives with his fiancé, Matt, in Fort Worth, Texas. In his fleeting free time there, he pursues interests in horticulture (especially orchids), music, cooking, and numismatics. Michael also runs GBNA, the continent's informal club and email list for LGBT birders.
Michael Retter

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