Nikon Monarch 7

aba events

2014 AOU Check-list Supplement is Out!

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 (October 2014). There, you’ll find photos, maps, and more detailed analysis of these changes. (You can also 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.

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 (perhaps the same young) Shy Albatross off California are currently being reevaluated after Howell re-identified it/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.

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 punctulataadded 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 in southern Texas. (Records of this species from Florida have been treated as suspect.) Cuban Black Hawk has been recorded in Georgia, but that record was not 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 bl

ack 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.

  • Zebra Dove*
  • Passenger Pigeon
  • Inca Dove
  • Common Ground-Dove
  • Ruddy Ground-Dove
  • Key West Quail-Dove
  • White-tipped Dove
  • White-winged Dove
  • Zenaida Dove
  • Mourning Dove


Green Parakeet is now Psittacara holochlorus. Harlingen, Texas. Photo by Michael Retter.

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 current or former 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 nenday)
  • Blue-crowned Parakeet* (Aratinga acticaudata Thectocercus acuticaudatus)
  • Green Parakeet (Aratinga holochlora ➛ Psittacara holochlorus)
  • Mitred Parakeet* (Aratinga mitrata ➛ Psittacara mitratus)
  • 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.


Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 3.00.03 PM

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)
  • 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 a presumed vagrant from Cuba turned up on Florida’s 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.

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 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.

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. Maguari 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.

  • Zebra Dove
  • Passenger Pigeon
  • Inca Dove
  • Common Ground-Dove
  • Plain-breasted Ground-Dove
  • Ruddy Ground-Dove Blue Ground-Dove
  • Maroon-chested Ground-Dove
  • Blue-headed Quail-Dove
  • Crested Quail-Dove
  • Ruddy Quail-Dove
  • Violaceous Quail-Dove
  • Gray-fronted Quail-Dove
  • White-fronted Quail-Dove
  • Key West Quail-Dove
  • Bridled Quail-Dove
  • Olive-backed Quail-Dove (Geotrygon veraguensis Leptotrygon veraguensis)
  • White-tipped Dove
  • Caribbean Dove
  • Gray-chested Dove
  • Gray-headed Dove
  • Grenada Dove
  • 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)
  • White-winged Dove
  • Zenaida Dove
  • Eared Dove
  • Mourning Dove
  • Socorro Dove
Buff-faced Quail-Dove is now Zentrygon costaricensis. Monteverde Cloudforest Reserve, Costa Rica. Photo by Michael Retter.

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,

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)
  • Chestnut-fronted Macaw
  • Military Macaw
  • Great Green Macaw
  • Red-and-green Macaw
  • Scarlet Macaw
  • Cuban Macaw
  • Blue-and-yellow 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 Ruddy Woodcreeper Tawny-winged Woodcreeper Plain-brown Woodcreeper


 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. Black-headed Saltator Buff-throated Saltator Slate-colored Grosbeak Lesser Antillean Saltator Grayish Saltator Streaked Saltator


Yellow-winged Cacique at La Bajada, Nayarit, Mexico. Photo by Michael Retter.

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. Ruddy-breasted Seedeater Thick-billed Seed-Finch (Oryzoborus funereus Sporophila funerea) Nicaraguan Seed-Finch (Oryzoborus nuttingi Sporophila nuttingi) Large-billed Seed-Finch (Oryzoborus crassirostris Sporophila crassirostris) Variable Seedeater White-collared Seedeater Yellow-bellied Seedeater Lined Seedeater Slate-colored Seedeater


 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. Bronze Mannikin Indian Silverbill (Lonchura malabarica Euodice malabarica) African Silverbill


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. This one was along the Durango highway in Sinaloa. Photo by Michael Retter.

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.


The following two tabs change content below.
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.
  • Carl

    Great run-down! FYI: The link to the Arctic Warbler vocalizations is given as but it is returning a ‘Not found’ as of a few minutes ago.

  • Carl

    Also, I could not find mention of the Waved Albatross record in the AOU supplement. They do cite the Chiffchaff record from Gambell as one of the three new records added to the checklist based on new distributional data.

    • Michael Retter

      Thank you, Carl! I’ve fixed the Arctic Warbler link and and looking into the Waved Albatross. I may have simply jumped the gun on that one!

  • Cyanocitta

    Very disappointed about the “Chlorospingus” decision…

  • Peach Front

    What about Aratinga aurea formerly E. aurea? So is it Eupsittula aurea again?

    • Michael Retter

      That species is not found in North America, so it wasn’t covered by the supplement. You can see the current taxonomy of the AOU’s South American Checklist Committee here:

      • Peach Front

        Thanks a million. That’s what I realized after I posted…Appreciate the link. I think I had it before but I’d lost it.

  • Rick Wright

    Thanks for this excellent précis, Michael!
    I hate to be the first one to complain, but man, is it ever hard to talk about big rails now: bad enough that they’ve retained the old inclusive name for one of the new less inclusive taxa, but the old scientific name now goes with a new English name. Same goes for the bicolored antbird and the variable seedeater — how easy it would have been to create names and keep all this straight!

    • Michael Retter

      I agree with you 100%, Rick. I advocated “Elegant Rail” and “Saltmarsh Rail”.

  • Anon

    Chaos reigns. Pandemonium in the streets. Birders will render up their now-obsolete Sibleys and NatGeos as burnt offerings to ye gods of the AOU. Bush-tanager is an unbird, and Latin names are undead. (All hail Chlorospingus!) More (split) rails than ya can shake a stick at. Does the Great Splitting and Renaming of ’14 draw us closer to the end of field identification? Twilight of the amateur birder, dawn of the professional ornithologist? Ah, Science.

  • Todd McGrath

    Michael, a couple of minor corrections on the Albatross. The 2000 and 2001 California records now believed to be Chatham by Howell and many others were never believed to be young White-capped. The CBRC reports indicated they were likely Salvin’s, but the committee did not officially assign the records past Shy Albatross. I saw the Sep 10 2000 bird at the Cordell Bank, and thought it was a good possibility for a Chatham at the time, though little was known about the separation of these two in sub-adult plumages.

    I was also fortunate to see the Salvin’s last Saturday off Half Moon Bay, and I am now more convinced that the Sep 2000 bird was not a Salvin’s.

    Glad to see Ridgway get his rail, long overdue, and thanks for the great summary of the latest supplement.

    • Michael Retter

      Thank you, Todd!

  • James

    Chlorospingus! What. What.

    Was Bush-Tanager just a little too easy to say? On the plus side, Chlorospingus does rhyme with dingus, so Bart Simpson would be happy…

    • Cyanocitta

      The problem with these birds is that they are not tanagers, they’re the newest addition to the sparrow family. On that note, though, would it have been so hard to call the Bush-Sparrows?

  • Jeff Bouton

    Unfortunate name choice. I think there is bound to be great confusion with the Mangrove Rail due to the fact that USFWS has posted this species profile for the “Mangrove Clapper Rail” (Rallus longirostrum insularum) with range occurring throughout Florida!

    • Andy Kratter

      Given that the name Mangrove Rail has been used for the birds in the Florida Keys, I agree that this is a poor name for longirostris. However, since this taxon occurs outside of the AOU area, it will ultimately be up to the SACC to decide what to call longirostris.

    • Michael Retter

      Van Remsen sent me his comments from when he voted, and gave me permission to post them here. He also says that he hopes the comments of the entire committee will be available online soon!

      “Remsen: YES. I reviewed the paper at an early stage and consider the authors’ taxonomic arrangement to be the one that matches best the existing data. The elegans and crepitans groups have extensive, multiple contact zones, yet hybridization is limited by apparent selection against hybrids; thus, they have to be treated as separate species. Ripley’s treatment (in his Rallidae monograph) of them as conspecific is incorrect. Given that the other two groups are successively more distantly related to the two for which we have a test of sympatry, the logical taxonomic treatment is to consider them each also as separate species.

      As for English names:

      Aztec Rail for R. tenuirostris: The Maley-Brumfield name is a good one, or at least better than anything else I’ve seen suggested. “Mexican” (although used by Ridgway and others) is bad for a number of reasons, including that other members of this same complex also occur in Mexico and that tenuirostris occupies but a tiny portion of that country.

      King Rail for R. elegans: Although the normal policy is to create new names for daughter species to avoid confusion with broader taxonomic concept of parent, the range and “literature space” occupied by this vs. R. tenuirostris is so skewed that the disruption of stability for the North American bird is not worth it. I know of only one minor paper on tenuirostris, and Google Scholar has only 20 hits for this taxon vs. 1,120 for “R. elegans” s.l.). Also, these two are NOT sisters, so not really “daughters” in the phylogenetic sense, but only under an erroneous taxonomic concept. See further discussion below on this point.

      Mangrove Rail for R. longirostris: Again, the Maley-Brumfield name is a good one for reasons stated in their paper. In the case of R. longirostris (s.l.) vs. Clapper Rail (s.s.), the ratio of geographic range sizes is not highly asymmetrical — the Mangrove Rail’s range actually might be larger and certainly includes far more countries. However, the “literature space” ratio is even more highly skewed (e.g., 3 vs. 2,380 Google Scholar hits) than in the King Rail example, and to the best of my knowledge, not one paper has ever been published on the species. In other words, the Mangrove Rail is a remarkably obscure bird relative to Clapper Rail (s.s.).

      Ridgway’s Rail for R. obsoletus and retaining Clapper Rail for R. crepitans: This is the one that will be controversial, on two fronts, namely (A) NOT coining new names for all daughter species, and (B) use of a patronym.

      First, Problem A: New names for “daughter” species:

      I favor ditching the usual policy on this one for the following reasons. Note that strict adherence to that policy would have produced “Cuban Red-winged Blackbird” (instead of Red-shouldered Blackbird) and “Common Red-winged Blackbird” for the species that occupies 99+% of the range of this lineage, much to the horror of anyone with any sense of English bird names.

      1. This is not the usual case of splitting. The whole point of the Maley-Brumfield paper, and the reason that we are changing species limits, is that the obsoletus group is NOT the closest relative of the true Clapper Rail, R. crepitans. The sisters, already split, are Clapper Rail and King Rail. Thus, this is NOT the same as in, for example, Solitary Vireo splitting 3 ways, with each daughter getting a new name, and retaining a handy “Solitary Vireo” for the threesome. In fact, referring tocrepitans + obsoletus + longirostris collectively as “Clapper Rail” perpetuates this misinformation. Incidentally, suggestions for retention of “Clapper” in the names of the pseudo-daughter species, e.g., “California Clapper Rail,” are unacceptable for the same reason – even without a hyphen, insertion of “Clapper” into the compound names without also doing it for Aztec Rail and King Rail misleadingly signals a tighter relationship than exists.

      2. The cost in stability by changing eastern Clapper Rail to “Saltmarsh Rail” or whatever is enormous. This name has been associated with eastern Clappers since the dawn of English names, more than a century ago. Under-appreciated is that standardized NACC English names have a clientele that extends far beyond the few hundred professional ornithologists and taxonomy-savvy amateurs who care about the nuances of English names and taxonomy. Our broader clientele, likely several orders of magnitude more numerous, dislikes ANY change at all and is often baffled by the seemingly whimsical (in their view) name changes. These people are the predominant owners of the books and other literature that would immediately become obsolete if the name is changed. I read that there are something like 3 million copies of Peterson Eastern bird guides out there, and something like a half-million copies of Sibley. There must be roughly that many copies out there of the Robbins guide, the Nat Geo guides, and the other guides, in addition to who knows how many copies of many popular and reference books. Also, these birds are game birds in the Eastern USA (not California), so there is a fairly large literature out there, technical and popular, in the management world that represents a dimension we seldom think about that calls the eastern bird “Clapper Rail”. And so on. For all these printed copies of literature, millions of them, “Clapper Rail” will become obsolete for California birds no matter what. However, by retaining Clapper for the eastern one, which occurs in many more states and has a much larger population than the California birds, and which has ALWAYS had the name Clapper Rail, for more than 100 years, we can keep that printed literature from becoming obsolete, at least for eastern North America. In my opinion, that’s what we should do. A major goal of English names is to counteract the instability in scientific name changes generated by taxonomic changes, and by retaining Clapper for Eastern USA birds, that goal is achieved.

      In contrast to eastern Clapper Rail, the name “Clapper” has not been so intimately associated with the California/W. Mexico birds. The California populations are often referred to with modifiers such as “California” (225,000 Google hits), “Yuma” (12,000 Google hits), or “Light-footed” (9,500 Google hits) anyway. Astute California field people have always been aware that “their” Clappers might not be ““real” Clappers, and often use those informal modifiers. Historically, Hellmayr & Conover’s (1942) influential classification did not consider them to be “Clappers” at all, but rather King Rails. So, for example, the CA coastal population was “California King Rail, R. elegans obsoletus”, andlevipes was just “Light-footed Rail”, yumanensis was “Yuma King Rail”, and beldingi just “Belding’s Rail.”

      Will there be some confusion? Yes, obviously. There will be confusion, however, no matter what. Those who really care about this stuff will handle it easily. Changing eastern Clapper Rail to something else would cause vast amounts of confusion. So will changing the California birds to something besides Clapper Rail. I think the ornithological world will survive.

      At the purely subjective level, I might feel differently if Clapper Rail were a bad or insipid name for which a change in taxonomy would be a good excuse to purge. Although the same “Clapper” description could be applied to other members of the complex, it is definitely an above-average name in colorfully describing the voice of the species, albeit not uniquely.

      Second, Problem B: “Ridgway’s Rail” vs. “California Rail” or something else:

      Many people don’t like patronyms, and I understand the reasons for that view. However, I favor it in this case because (a) Ridgway described two of the subspecies, (b) the Maley-Brumfield paper already uses it, and (c) most of all, Ridgway of all people could use some more recognition in my opinion. He established the foundation of North American bird taxonomy, and his several huge, extraordinarily detailed volumes on our birds are valuable resources even today. In many cases, his taxonomy turned out to be more accurate than that of the generation of ornithologists who followed him. The only other “Ridgway’s Something” is Ridgway’s Hawk, B. ridgwayi, of Hispaniola, and there are no “Ridgway’s Somethings” in the USA or Canada. I could live with “California” even though much of the species range is beyond California given that one could interpret “California” to include Baja California and the general Gulf of California region to make it less gringo-centric.”

  • Paul Lehman

    Enjoyed the summary of the AOU changes. I would suggest heavily
    modifying one statement, however: something is very wrong with the
    statement under the Arctic Warbler split that “most migrants are
    presumed to be Kamchatka Leaf Warbler.” This is certainly not the case
    except in the w. Aleutians. Could one or two Kamchatka Leaf Warblers
    turn up along our Pacific Coast from St. Paul, Gambell, and anywhere from coastal
    mainland AK to Baja? Sure. Birds with somewhat similar ranges have
    occurred a very few times. But certainly kennicotti Arctics, which are
    common in AK, are much more likely in CA, where there are several
    records of the pre-split Arctic, for example, rather than Kamchatka
    Leaf, which gets no closer than s. Kamchatka. The few records from nw Canada are almost certainly overshooting kennicotti Arctics from Alaska. And obviously migrants at
    places like Gambell, where fairly common, are virtually all kennicotti,
    going back and forth across the Bering Strait region.
    Probably the most interesting unassigned record is from St. Paul from late in the season in early October, a few years back–as most Arctics are long gone by then. But nominate borealis Arctic from ne. Russia has been collected once on St. Matthew Island, AK, and is a fly-in-the-ointment in perhaps bridging some of the miniscule differences between kennicotti Arctic and Kamchatka Leaf (e.g., perhaps slightly larger overall and larger billed than kennicotti?).

    Paul Lehman, San Diego

    • Michael Retter

      Thanks for the thorough comment, Paul. I’m confused, though. Nowhere above does it state that, “most migrants are presumed to be Kamchatka Leaf Warbler.”, as you quoted me saying. Did you read that somewhere else?

    • Michael Retter

      Ah, I think I see the passage you’re talking about. That’s not exactly what I said, but it could be cleaned up. I will do so. I think I misinterpreted Howell et al. Thank you again!

    • Michael Retter

      More on this topic. Terry Chesser, one of the NACC members, writes this to ID Frontiers:

      Thanks for your interest in the checklist and in the P. examinandus question in particular. After the proposal on splitting P. borealis was submitted and voted on by the committee, the identification of purported examinandus specimens in the Alaska Museum from the Aleutians was confirmed using genetic methods, and the committee voted to add examinandus to the checklist. As a result of the confusion regarding this issue, we will be adding the following statement as an addendum to the proposal, to clarify the rationale for the committee’s decision:

      Numerous Aleutian Island specimens at the Alaska Museum, previously thought to beexaminandus on morphological grounds, have now been positively identified as examinandususing DNA (J. Withrow, pers. comm.). All specimens from which genetic samples have been analyzed (12+ specimens from the Aleutians) have been confirmed as examinandus. In addition, Kenyon 1961 (Auk 78, pp. 322-323) previously published two specimens of examinandus (before Vaurie lumped this race with xanthrodryas) that are in the bird collection at the USNM. P.examinandus has not yet been added to the Alaska list because they follow AOU taxonomy and it is only now being split. Ordinarily we would wait for the local committee to accept the records before we add the species, but in this case there are peer-reviewed published specimens at USNM, the Alaska Museum specimens have been confirmed as this species, and Dan Gibson has said that there will be no difficulty adding P. examinandus to the Alaska list, so the committee has voted to add this species to the AOU Check-list coincident with the splitting of this species from P. borealis.

      Best regards,
      Terry Chesser

  • Alvaro Jaramillo

    Thanks Michael! Much more fun to read this summary than the complete paper, although I will do so. I like Chlorospingus, I am all for funky names that are memorable. Glad about the albatross split as I was the one that wrote the proposal 🙂

  • Bates Estabrooks

    Since I’m pretty much a tyro in all this taxonomy business, can anyone enlighten me on why the term “obsoletus” was chosen for Mr. Ridgway’s rail? Is the brand new species now, so suddenly after its birth, obsolescent?

    • Michael Retter

      It was not chosen. It was mandated. See

    • Rick Wright

      “Obsoletus” is a description of the bird’s back pattern; the word means “dull, plain, as if worn.”
      The original description of the taxon reads
      “grayish above, where the stripes are nearly obsolete….”

      • Bates Estabrooks

        Rick, Thanks for the informative response. I suspected that it was chosen, at some point, due to a descriptive feature.

  • Georgia Conti

    Thank you Michael and all other commenters. I’ve cleaned up my database as a result.

  • Josh Beck

    It is great to read the summary in this format, thank you for the effort. It is surprising that the Azuero Parakeet was excluded from the split, I will have to read more on that, I wonder if it was a lack of information available?

    As well, I see photo credits for a Key West Quail-Dove from Cayo Coco. We won’t mention where that is but what was a good American doing there ?Besides, we have FAR worse photos of Key West Quail-Dove you could have used 😉

  • Pingback: SPLITSVILLE IN TAXONOMY-WORLD | Towheeblog()

  • Ted Floyd

    Dunno if this has already been mentioned, but, even if so, it probably doesn’t hurt to repeat it. So here goes. Here’s a ton of info on the various taxa of the large-rail complex:

  • Pingback: Taxonomic changes, July, 2014 | Birdspix()

  • JohnM

    The change of Nutmeg Mannikin (adorable, fitting for their coloration) to the hideous Scaly-breasted Munia (ain’t nobody like scaly-breasts) is unacceptable. Disgusting. I will get it changed back. Mark my words.

  • Pingback: This Week in Birding 77 by Charlotte Wasylik | Nemesis Bird()

  • Pingback: Taxonomy updating now! | Gaia Gazette()

  • Pingback: Birding News #77 | Prairie Birder()

  • Bill Pranty

    Hi Michael, The black hawks in Florida are Great Black Hawks, not Cuban Black Hawks,

    Also, Dusky-headed Parakeet has been extirpated from Florida — and therefore the ABA Area — since 2005.

    Also, there is no observation of Tricolored Munia from Key West; eBIrd shows a mis-mapped report of the 2013 Dry Tortugas record.

    • Michael Retter

      Thank you, Bill. Should be all corrected now.

  • Bill Pranty

    Hi Michael, one more comment, if I may. Earlier this month, the Florida Ornithological Society Records Committee accepted Tricolored Munia as a natural colonist/disperser to Dry Tortugas National Park from populations in the West Indies and tropical America (presumably from Cuba, only 105 miles distant). There have been four photographic records of the species in the park (June 1999, April 2003, July 2009, and December 2013). National Park Service biologists ruled out any possibility that the munias are escaping or being released by Cuban immigrants to the Tortugas, and no exotic population in Florida is known.

    The ABA Checklist Committee is currently voting on whether or not to add Tricolored Munia to the ABA Checklist based on the Florida records.

    Bill Pranty
    Bayonet Point, Florida
    ABA Checklist Committee chair

    • Michael Retter

      Thank you, Bill!

American Birding Podcast
Birders know well that the healthiest, most dynamic choruses contain many different voices. The birding community encompasses a wide variety of interests, talents, and convictions. All are welcome.
If you like birding, we want to hear from you.
Read More »

Recent Comments




ABA's FREE Birder's Guide

If you live nearby, or are travelling in the area, come visit the ABA Headquarters in Delaware City.

Beginning this spring we will be having bird walks, heron watches and evening cruises, right from our front porch! Click here to view the full calender, and register for events >>

via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • Open Mic: Young Birder Camp at Hog Island: Coastal Maine Bird Studies for Teens September 11, 2017 3:07
    At the mic: Dessi Sieburth, an avid birder, photographer, and conservationist, is a 10th grader at Saint Francis High School in La Canada, California. He is a member of the Pasadena Audubon Young Birder’s Club and Western Field Ornithologists. Dessi enjoys birding in his home county of Los Angeles. Last summer, Dessi attended Camp Colorado, […]
  • Introducing the Whimbrel Birders Club! September 7, 2017 2:33
    Whimbrel Birders Club was established at the first annual Illinois Young Birders Symposium in August 2016. We are a birding club truly meant for everyone, no matter your age, disability, or ethnicity. […]
  • Open Mice: Kestrels–An Iowa Legacy May 16, 2017 6:29
    A few years ago, a short drive down my gravel road would yield at least one, if not two, American Kestrels perched on a power line or hovering mid-air above the grassy ditch. Today, I have begun to count myself lucky to drive past a mere one kestrel per week rather than the daily sightings. […]

Follow ABA on Twitter