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ABA Adds Nutmeg Mannikin, #981

The News


Photo by © Billtacular via flickr

During August of 2013, the California Bird Records Committee (CBRC) ratified the Nutmeg Mannikin (Lonchura punctulata) as an established exotic in California. That action, recently reported to the ABA Checklist Committee (CLC) by CBRC Secretary Guy McCaskie, in turn spurred the ABA Checklist Committee to vote. The day before yesterday, the CLC concluded voting and unanimously accepted the Nutmeg Mannikin to the ABA Checklist based on the population in southern California. The Nutmeg Mannikin increases the ABA Checklist to 981 species. A full account in the upcoming 24th report by all members of the ABA CLC will be published in the November/December 2013 issue of Birding, but some preliminary information is provided here.



Nutmeg Mannikins have been present in southern California since at least 1988, and were considered common in Los Angeles and Orange counties by 1997–1999, when the population was studied by Scott Smithson as part of his master’s thesis at California State University at Long Beach. The population ranges from San Luis Obispo County south into extreme northwestern Baja California, Mexico. The overall size of the California population is thought to number in the several thousands of individuals. A summing of the highest eBird counts for each geographical cluster of reports during August–November 2011 totaled 1,399 individuals, according to an analysis by Brian Sullivan and Kimball Garrett.

The Nutmeg Mannikin is a “polytypic” species (meaning it has multiple named subspecies) that is widespread from northeastern Pakistan through the Indian subcontinent and Indochina to southeastern China, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Because of its popularity as a cagebird, exotic populations are known from many regions, including Australia, California, Hawaii, Jamaica, Japan, and Puerto Rico. In most regions of the world, it is known as the Scaly-breasted Munia. Because the American Ornithologists’ Union area for North and Middle America includes Hawaii, the Nutmeg Mannikin is already on the AOU Check-list. As such, its English name and taxonomic placement are automatically accepted by the ABA CLC. However, a proposal to the AOU to change the English name to Scaly-breasted Munia may be forthcoming.

11-5-11-F15b [NuMa]

This flock of Nutmeg Mannikins was photographed in June 2005 in Pensacola, Florida. Photo by © Vernon Gibb.


Given the presence of Nutmeg Mannikins elsewhere in the ABA Area (for example, small to moderate populations are found in the San Francisco Bay, Houston, Pensacola, and Miami areas, and escapees can be found virtually anywhere), some may wonder about the “countability” of mannikins outside southern California. According to Rule 2(B)(iii) of the the ABA Recording Rules and Interpretations, “an introduced species may be counted only where and when it meets the ABA Checklist’s definition for being an established population. An introduced species observed well away from the accepted geographic area is not counted if it is more likely to be a local escape or release rather than an individual straying from the distant population.”

The ABA CLC developed eight criteria for defining when an exotic population can be considered established. These criteria were published in 2008 in the seventh edition of the ABA Checklist, and are provided online by the ABA. Note that all eight criteria must be met for an exotic population to be considered by the CLC to be established. Currently, only the Nutmeg Mannikin population occurring in California from San Luis Obispo County south to the Mexican border meets the CLC’s definition of an established population and is thereby “countable” on lists submitted to ABA.

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Bill Pranty

Bill Pranty

Bill Pranty has lived and birded in central Florida for more than 35 years. Pranty’s studies emphasize the documentation of Florida’s diverse avifauna, with a focus on its exotic species. His research has added four species to the ABA Checklist—Egyptian Goose, Purple Swamphen, Nanday Parakeet, and Common Myna—all of them exotics from Florida. Pranty is chairman of the ABA Checklist Committee, and a technical reviewer for and frequent contributor to Birding magazine. He has written dozens of peer-reviewed ornithological papers and is the author or co-author of six books, among these a Birder's Guide to Florida, the ABA Checklist, and the ABA Field Guide to Birds of Florida.
  • Rick Wright

    Bill, does this mean that the species will be added to the AOU Check-list by a pro forma vote?

    • Michael Retter

      What do you mean, Rick? It’s already on the the AOU Check-List because of populations in Hawaii and the Caribbean.

      • Rick Wright

        “Duh,” as they say. Thanks, Michael!

  • Derek

    Is there a blog post or list out that there keeps track of what populations of exotic species are countable in the ABA area?

    • The rules on exotics are here:

      From that page: “The 17 exotics species presently on the ABA Checklist are the
      Mute Swan, Chukar, Himalayan Snowcock, Gray Partridge, Ring-necked
      Pheasant, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Spotted Dove, Budgerigar,
      Monk Parakeet, Green Parakeet, White-winged Parakeet, Red-crowned
      Parrot, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Spot-breasted Oriole, House Sparrow, and
      Eurasian Tree Sparrow. (The European Starling is a native vagrant based
      on a specimen from Shemya Island, Alaska).”

      It’s a bit out of date however. The CLC has added Nanday Parakeet, Purple Swamphen, and now Nutmeg Mannikin.

      • Derek

        Thanks. Is there a resource that lists all of the established populations though? For instance, I recently drove through Connecticut and had no idea that they had countable Monk Parakeet colonies.

        • Bill Pranty

          It’s a goal of mine that the ABA CLC eventually keep track of which populations/in which states or provinces each exotic is established, but I suspect this will never occur. For several years now, the CLC has identified the geographical region in which each new exotic is considered established; this information is easily found in the annual CLC reports. Ultimately, the ABA Recording Standards and Ethics Committee, which has been long-defunct but is being reconstituted, will be responsible for determining countability with CLC guidance.

          • Ted Floyd

            Here’s an added complication. Many “exotics” are native to North America.

            In Colorado, Chukars (native to the Old World) appear to be established in the western part of the state, but not in the eastern part of the state. Many birders would say that a Chukar “counts” in Grand Junction (in western Colorado) but not in Burlington (in eastern Colorado).

            But what about Northern Bobwhites? They “count” in Burlington, many would say, but not in Grand Junction. Northern Bobwhite is native to the ABA Area, of course, but questions of “countability” for this species are the same for Colorado listers as for the Chukar.

            And what about stocked Wild Turkeys? What about White-tailed Ptarmigan in the Sierra Nevada (where they’re not native)? What about exotic populations of the Muscovy Duck (which occurs naturally in small numbers in Texas)? What about the whole House Finch introduction in eastern North America? What about re-establishing populations of captive-bred Whooping Cranes and Trumpeter Swans?

            The “Nutmeg Mannikin conundrum,” if you will, applies not just to the 20ish species designated on the ABA Checklist as exotics.

          • Mary DeLia

            Speaking of Bobwhite, here in NJ they had been a native species but are now almost certainly all pen-raised and released birds, or their not too distant off-spring. There was a big discussion of this recently on our listserv. Very muddy situation.

      • Jon Mann

        Also – Rosy-faced Lovebird was added for the Phoenix area

  • Morgan Churchill

    Although I can’t dig up the specific blog posts and birding articles, some other ABA folks have argued the opposite of the last paragraph…

    • Morgan Churchill

      calling Ted Floyd?

      • Ted Floyd

        Hey, Morgan.

        Be sure to see Birder’s Guide, vol. 1, no. 2, coming out later this year. A commentary, penned by these two guys Bill and Ted, examines that very question.

        Am I a tease or what?

    • Bill Pranty

      True, but I’m not sure what criteria they’re using (if any). IMHO, Rule 2(B)(iii) is pretty straight-forward, although I would like to see the language tightened up a bit (e.g., remove vague terms such as “well away”). Certainly the “ABA Checklist’s definition” should read the “ABA Checklist Committee’s definition.” Books don’t define things; people do.”

    • Michael Retter

      Morgan, you may be thinking of the lead article in the December 2012 Winging It:

      • Michael Retter

        (I should point out that while I agree with most of the interpretations in Mr. Skrentny’s article, they are only informed opinions. As Bill alludes to above, ultimately, it will be up to the RSEC to clarify these issues.)

        • Morgan Churchill

          Thanks for the link…I couldn’t recall the authors name only that it was published “recently”.

          I am inclined to agree with Skrentny, if only for consistency reasons. Currently the ABA does not require any vetting of records, and as far as I know no requirement is made of only counting “accepted” records of vagrants, etc (unless they are new additions to the checklist). Ultimately we all operate on the honor system. I think decisions on whether or not someone saw a bird well enough to check it, believe it is a legitimate vagrant, or if a bird comes from an established population, should be left to the individual birder. At the end of the day, birders are really only competing with themselves, and I don’t think anyone likes to tick dodgy birds.

          • Bill Pranty

            Hi Morgan,

            I wish you were right, but I think that most listers compete far more against each other than against themselves. Otherwise, there would be no reason for a continental association to publish personal lists. We’d each have our own lists and nobody else would know or care where we stand relative to their lists.

            I know lots of birders who either count birds observed while violating the ABA Code of Ethics (e.g., iPodding rarities or dragging ropes through grasslands to try to flush rails) or find all sorts of “creative” ways to count birds that aren’t truly countable. At least one birder in Florida counts an exotic on his Florida list even though the Florida Ornithological Society Records Committee does not accept that species as an established exotic in the state

          • Michael Retter

            Bill raises an interesting conundrum: what to do with “vagrant exotics”, like the Eurasian Tree Sparrow records that are dotted across the middle of the continent, in places as far from the St. Louis area as Manitoba and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. And Eurasian Collared-Doves seen flying past hawk watches in the Northeastern US. I think most birders would agree that these birds are vagrants from an established population, but we can’t know for sure. Likewise, how are we to know that a small mannikin population 100 miles north of the one in southern California wasn’t started by members of the (agreed-to-be) established population further south? I certainly don’t know the answers to these questions, and I don’t envy those tasked with trying to make sense of it all!

  • Mary DeLia

    In terms of “countability”, are there time as well as geographical limits on this or any other bird’s countability? Suppose you saw the bird before it was an established species – in this case, say 1980? Still countable? I’m just curious how this “arm chair” birding works.

    Thanks in advance.

    • I interpret the rules as saying that you *can’t* count exotics before they are officially added to the list. But, speaking solely for myself and not as an ABA rep, I don’t think that should be the case.

      A reconstituted Recording Standards and Ethics Committee, which is something the ABA is working towards pretty seriously right now, would have the final word on that, however.

      But I agree with you that things are a bit unclear as they stand now.

      • And in looking at the actual RSEC rules, it turns out my interpretation was wrong. There’s nothing that says you *can’t* count banked exotics, but nothing that clarifies that rule either.

        Goes to show how hearsay can muddy the waters.

        • Bill Pranty

          The RSEC has its work cut out for it creating new or clarifying vague or outdated ABA rules.

        • Mary DeLia

          Thank you, Nate.
          Confusing, yes.

  • Ted Floyd

    Good discussion.

    One thing to keep in mind is that certain questions of “countability” are unavoidably problematic. How far away from L.A. can you be and still count a mannikin?…

    And some questions, unlike the mannikin one I just posed, are inherently subjective.

    The late Craig Roberts told me the story of how he and several of his “800 club” friends were all looking at the exact same White-cheeked Pintail. The inevitable question arose: Was it a wild vagrant (and thus countable) or an escape (and thus not countable)? One of the guys present counted it; he was satisfied that the bird was a naturally occurring vagrant. Another elected not to; he was not convinced that the bird wasn’t an escape.

    There’s nothing wrong or illogical or impossible about the preceding. It just goes to show that some questions of countability, instead of being shades of gray (how far can a mannikin be from L.A.?), are simultaneously black and white. Yes and no at the same time. Countable and not countable at the same time.

    By bizarre coincidence, I was reading just this morning a book about a crisis in mathematics in the 1920s and 1930s regarding these very questions of either/or and mutual exclusiveness. The mathematicians got past it. So can we… 🙂

  • Ted Floyd

    Re: Scaly-breasted Munia.

    I just had a thought. Only a birder would get mixed up about two spellings and meanings of the word /ˈmanikən/, yet still not be thinking about a third spelling and meaning–one which the rest of the English-speaking world automatically defaults to.

  • Bill Pranty

    Just an FYI: the flickr photo of the adult, from Australia, is of the subspecies topela, which is NOT the subspecies found in California (or Florida), but it is found in Hawaii. The subspecies found in the ABA Area is the noninate punctulata.

    • Yeah, I realize that. It’s surprisingly hard to find images of Nutmeg Mannikin in CA that we have permissions to use. Perhaps it’s addition to the ABA list will change that.

      • Ok, I found a better one. A photo actually taken in California.

  • Paul Clapham

    981? Did I miss something?

    First there was Version 7.4 with 976 species, as the website still says:

    Then there was #977, Purple Swamphen! on February 13 of this year.

    Then the AOU issued their annual supplement in July, splitting Sage Sparrow. That makes 978.

    And now we have Nutmeg Mannikin. That makes 979 by my count. So what did I miss?

    • Michael Retter

      Common Chiffchaff and Common Moorhen have also been added since then.

      • Paul Clapham

        And where did I miss those announcements? I went through all of the ABA Blog entries back to February before posting, and I didn’t see any mention of checklist changes. Although there were a lot of blog entries, so there’s a good chance I missed those.

        • Michael Retter

          I don’t think you missed anything, Paul. I’m just privy to information that’s yet-to-be published. You can read the details in the upcoming issues of Birder’s Guide and Birding.

          • Paul Clapham

            Ah, I see. Having seen announcements of two species I had made the assumption that this was the new process for updating the checklist — updates in the blog as they became effective along with periodic reports in one of the magazines consolidating those updates.

          • i think that’s the plan, particularly if Bill Pranty becomes a regular contributor, but we haven’t been consistent there so far. It’s a good idea.

          • Ted Floyd

            “[W]e haven’t been consistent there so far.”

            Fair enough, but I think it’s important to consider why some additions (most recently, Nutmeg Mannikin, Purple Swamphen, and Rosy-faced Lovebird) are announced at The ABA Blog, whereas others (Common Chiffchaff, Asian Rosy-Finch, and others) are not.

            In offering the following interpretation, please note that I speak for myself, and not necessarily on behalf of the ABA. Here goes:

            1. Although considerable thought went into the ABA CLC’s deliberations on, say, Asian Rosy-Finch, the decision has relatively little impact on the birding community. Either you saw the bird or didn’t (the latter, for almost all of us!). In terms of listing, countability, etc., this is an open-and-shut case: Bird added to the ABA CLC list, end of story.

            2. The Nutmeg Mannikin is different. Questions of listing and countability are potentially complex and even contentious. Can you count a bird you saw in L.A. 5 years ago? Can you count a bird you saw 50 miles from L.A.? Can you count a bird from a well-established population (I’m being hypothetical) on the northern Gulf Coast? These sorts of question are ideal for The ABA Blog. There are already 33 comments to this mannikin post; the Purple Swamphen post has 43 comments; and the Rosy-faced Lovebird post has 62 comments.

            The ABA CLC does a lot of work! They don’t just add species to the Checklist. In my opinion, The ABA Blog needn’t report on each and every committee deliberation. Some deliberations are quite cut-and-dried. But others are some combination of intrinsically interesting and potentially complex–like decisions to add exotics. ABA members naturally have questions about mannikins and lovebirds and swamphens, o my! Hence, the coverage here The ABA Blog.

            Finally, I note that the committee’s full deliberations are indeed published annually by the ABA, and that ABA Checklist Committee chairman Bill Pranty frequently pens commentaries and updates about the workings of the committee. (In regard to the latter, Bill and I have one such commentary coming out in the next issue of Birder’s Guide.)

          • Morgan Churchill

            I am pretty sure the ABA vote on Hooded Crane, when that happens, is going to inspire lots of comments…

          • Paul Clapham

            Yes, what you say is perfectly understandable, Ted. However the result of this blog post was that we knew there were now 981 species on the checklist but we didn’t know what all of them were. I found this a little bit disconcerting.

  • Frank

    I think the new RSEC should consider charging themselves with determining whether a species (not a population) is established in the ABA area by scientific criteria in addition to whether it meets the countability criteria for listing, which in some cases seems to be totally artibrary with reagrd to the areas selected or not selected. This may not be a subtle point but the differences between enforcing rules of a game (e.g., the 8 criteria within very specific regions) and whether an exoctic species is breeding and living “in the wild” should be explictly stated by ABA. If a new colony of an exotic establishes itself somewhere and a birder notices this, that is great information to have and should be “counted” by that birder. If folks who have willingly entered into a listing competition do not count that bird, that’s totally fine. I do not think that the ABA should try to use the same rules on all birders as they do on listers, and I think doing so discourages people from reporting real evidence of exotics that are actually established and takes some of the joy out of watching these species. Yes, there should be specific criteria for what counts as established but these do not need to be the same as the rules for listing. A committee whose task it is to make rules for listing can not possibly weigh all the evidence of all of the individual established populations of all exotics least of all in a timely fashion, nor should they try. The fact that a particular population is not “accepted” has no bearing on the true status of the population. It doesn’t need the committee’s approval to continue to exist or not. Perhaps “things to consider when encountering exotic species” would be more appropriate for the general birding community and save the “rules” for the competitive listers. This may be the ABAs intention but if so, it needs to be clarified becasue the rules and the countability discussion seems to often drown out both the scientific discussion and the “chickadee at my feeder” folks. At least that is the opinion of one non-competitive birder. Thanks.

    • Michael Retter

      Hi, Frank. You make some good points. Other parts of your comments I don’t quite understand.

      You said, [the] RSEC should consider charging themselves with determining whether a species (not a population) is established in the ABA area by scientific criteria in addition to whether it meets the countability criteria for listing….

      The ABA Bylaws specifically charge the Checklist Committee (CLC) with adding species to the checklist. So whether the species as a who has established itself within the ABA Area really should fall to the CLC, given the way the “ABA law” is currently written. The RSEC is then charged with deciding the rules for counting the species that are already on the checklist.

      Regardless, the “countability criteria” you mention above already include the scientific ceriterion you seem to be striving for:

      8) A publication, ideally in a peer-reviewed journal or book, describes, how, when, and where the above seven criteria have been met. (You can read more at )

      As for non-competive birders vs. competitive listers, there are many, many birders who fall somewhere in between. I’m one of them. I don’t really list competitively save the odd big day every 5 years. I don’t list much at all anymore, but what little I do is for my own enjoyment, not as competition. I think both camps can be served at the same time with a good set of rules. Of course, no one forces anyone to follow the rules. In the end, it’s always “your list”.

  • Barbara Hunsberger

    Do you know the subspecies for the CA population from San Luis Obispo south?

    • So far as I can tell, the only subspecies found in the ABA Area is the nominate punctulata.

      • Bill Pranty

        Nate is correct; it is punctulata that is found in the ABA area. Another subspecies, topela, is found in Hawaii.

  • Ted Floyd

    This is brilliant commentary on the addition to the ABA Checklist of the Nutmeg Mannikin:

  • Susan Epps

    There are now at least 2 populations in Mississippi. I have over 100 mannikins visiting my feeders in Diamondhead, MS and there is a small flock in Biloxi. Very cute. My birds are all Lonchura punctulata punctulata, even though the pet shop birds here are a different subspecies. Any comments on subspecies in other areas?

    • Larry Manfredi

      In south Florida Nutmeg Mannikins have been present and breeding for no less than 20-years! The birds are very nomadic and travel in flocks searching for seed. There are several reports of them nesting, I have photos of one nest that was collected. To me it does not make sense to count them only in California when Florida, Mississippi and probably the other adjoining states have large populations. There numbers are not as large as in southern California, but they are here and increasing in numbers.

      Larry Manfredi
      Homestead, FL

      • Jason Hoeksema

        I agree, Larry. By what process might these populations become ‘countable’? Does each state committee first have to add them before the CLC decides to add these populations to the list of ‘countable’ populations?

  • Nolan Lameka

    If the Nutmeg Mannikin is #981, and the last complete ABA bird list is 976, what birds are #977,#978,#979, and #980?

    • #977, Purple Swamphen. Sage Sparrow split adds 978.

      #979 and #980 are Common Chiffchaff and Common Moorhen.

  • Barbara Wood

    We are enjoying the huge bird population right on our deck in Carlsbad. The newest additions are those adorable Nutmeg Mannikins. We began seeing them early they must have decided to stay. Everyday we get a flock of 6 to 10 . They show up all day to feed and bathe. Our yard is rather colorful with goldfinches ( 10-15) on one end and Nutmegs etc on the other end. The quail come occasionally. Yes we are blessed!

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  • Al Wanamaker

    saw a group of them this morning at the Batiquitos Lagoon in Carlsbad CA. 7:00AM

  • Starhead

    Is everyone’s goal to have a nice list? I just bird for fun and making exhaustive lists isn’t fun to me. I just hope for a few good photos!

  • Roger Plank

    Thanks for the info. My wife and i yesterday saw three Nutmeg Mannikins at our backyard feeder. One was a juvenile. Didn’t realize they had been spotted in Houston until reading the above. Hope they flourish as they are very beautiful and unique.

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