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2015 AOU Supplement is Out!

Every summer, birders anxiously await publication of the “Check-list Supplement” by the American Ornithologists’ Union’s Committee on Classification and Nomenclature of North and Middle American Birds (NACC). The Supplement details revisions to its Check-list. 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 (Oct. 2015). There, you’ll find photos, maps, and more detailed analysis of these changes. (You can also see last year’s Check-list Redux here.) Note that although the NACC does not use diacritical marks (and completely deletes some letters from Hawaiian bird names), such marks and letters are used here in order to facilitate communication and pronunciation.


American Tree Sparrow is no longer in the genus Spizella. Photo by Shanthanu Bhardwaj.

American Tree Sparrow is no longer in the genus Spizella. Read below to find out its new genus! Photo by Shanthanu Bhardwaj.

As a general policy, the NACC accepts as additions to its North American Check-list any species the American Birding Association’s Checklist Committee (ABA CLC) adds to its list that are not already on its own Check-list (e.g., Egyptian Goose).

You can read all the proposals on which the NACC voted this year by visiting its webpage. Species marked with asterisks (*) in the “U.S. and Canada” section 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. Daggers (†) denote extinct species. 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.





Herald Petrel (sensu stricto) is no longer on the ABA Checklist. Pablo Caceres Contreras photographed this bird near Eastern Island in the Pacific Ocean.

Herald Petrel (sensu stricto) is no longer on the ABA Checklist. Pablo Caceres Contreras photographed this bird near Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean.

Herald Petrel Split

– Trindade Petrel (Pterodroma arminjoniana)
– Herald Petrel* (Pterodroma heraldica)

Trindade Petrel is found in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and nests on (among others) Brazil’s Trindade and Martim Vaz archipelago. Herald Petrel is a species of the Pacific Ocean, and although there are no accepted records for the ABA Area, there are records off Hawaii and the Pacific Coast of Mexico, so birders should be cognizant of this species during pelagics off southern California. Both species are quite variable in plumage, and the ability to ID a vagrant bird on the wrong ocean is probably beyond our current knowledge. “Trindade”, being of Brazilian Portuguese origin, is more-or-less pronounced as “tree-DAH-jee”.


Townsend’s Shearwater Split

– Townsend’s Shearwater* (Puffinis auricularis)

– Newell’s Shearwater (Pufinis newelli)

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 9.23.07 AM

This poor photo is one of the few photos in existence of Townsend’s Shearwater (sensu stricto) away from the breeding grounds. Here, one associates with three Wedge-tailed Shearwaters off Puerto Ángel, Oaxaca. Photo by Michael Retter.

Townsend’s Shearwater (sensu stricto) nests only on Isla Socorro in Mexico’s Revillagigedo (ray-BEE-yah-hee-HEY-doh) Archipelago, in the Pacific Ocean. It has been extirpated from two historic breeding islands and is critically endangered due to human-introduced goats and rats. (You can read more about the situation and donate to help eliminate these invasive species here.) The species has no records in the ABA Area, but if number increase, warm waters off southern California—especially in El Niño years—would be a good place to look. Newell’s Shearwater is a Hawaiian-breeding endemic with one record from San Diego County, CA.

Separation of the two species (and from Manx Shearwater) is often very difficult and beyond the scope of this post, but see the caption and excellent illustration by Ian Lewington on p. 147 of Steve N. G. Howell’s Petrels, Albatrosses, & Storm-Petrels of North America.

Great Skua Split

-Great Skua (Stercorarius skua)

-Brown Skua* (Stercorarius antarcticus)—no common name given by NACC, but called this by the AOU’s South American Checklist Committee

This Antarctic Skua was photographed by David Cook off the South Shetland Islands.

This Brown Skua was photographed by off the South Shetland Islands. Photo by David Cook.

This is rather obvious split was long overdue. Great Skua is the only large skua breeding in the Northern Hemisphere. There are no accepted records of Brown in the ABA Area, but three birds widely speculated to have been this species have been documented in ABA Area waters (two in NC, one in NJ). In addition, two have been positively identified from the UK, proving that the species does venture north of the equator. See Birding, December 2000, p574 and this link for details. Identification of the two is tricky and beyond the scope of this post.


New Genus for American Tree Sparrow

The species’s scientific name has changed from Spizella arborea to Spizelloides arborea. Genetic data show it to be not at all closely related to Spizella sparrows. Instead, it is related to a group containing Fox Sparrow, Zonotrichia sparrows, and juncos.


New Genera for Some Hawaiian Honeycreepers

'I'iwi is now in the same genus as (the extinct) Black and Hawaii mamos. Photo by Michael Retter.

‘I’iwi is now in the same genus as (the extinct) Black and Hawaii mamos. Photo by Michael Retter.

ʻI­­­­­­­­­ʻ­­­­iwi* (Vestiaria coccinea  Drepanis coccinea)

Lesser ‘Akialoa*† (Hemignathus obscurus  Akialoa obscura)

Greater ‘Akialoa*† (Hemignathus ellisianus  Akialoa ellisiana)

Hawai‘i ‘Amakihi* (Hemignathus virens  Chlorodrepanis virens)

O‘ahu ‘Amakihi* (Hemignathus flavus  Chlorodrepanis flava)

Kaua‘i ‘Amakihi* (Hemignathus kauaiensis  Chlorodrepanis stejnegeri)

Greater ‘Amakihi* (Hemignathus sagittirostris  Viridonia sagittirostris)


Splits for Some Hawaiian Honeycreepers

Hawai'i 'Akepa is the only 'akepa species to have so far escaped extinction. Photo by Michael Retter.

Hawai’i ‘Akepa is the only ‘akepa species to have so far escaped extinction. Photo by Michael Retter.

A grim reminder of the plight of Hawaii’s birdlife comes in the form of four splits. Nine of the eleven resulting species are extinct. In all cases, the names of the new species describe where they are found.

Greater ‘Akialoa† (Hemignathus ellisianus) has been split into three species and changed genus: Kaua‘i ‘Akialoa*† (Akialoa stejnegeri), Maui-nui ‘Akialoa*† (Akialoa lanaiensis), and O‘ahu ‘Akialoa*† (A. ellisiana)

Nukupu‘u† was split into three species: Kaua‘i Nukupu‘u*† (Hemignathus hanapepe), Maui Nukupu‘u*† (Hemignathus affinis), and O‘ahu Nukupu‘u*† (Hemignathus lucidus).

‘Akepa was split into three species: O‘ahu ‘Akepa*† (Loxops wolstenholmei), Maui ‘Akepa*† (Loxops ochraceus), and Hawai‘i ‘Akepa* (Loxops coccineus ).

‘Apapane was split into ‘Apapane* (Himatione sanguinea) and

Laysan Honeycreeper*† (Himatione fraithii).


New Genus Sequence for the Hawaiian Honeycreepers






















Bahama Woodstar Split

-Bahama Woodstar (Calliphlox evelenae)

-Inagua Woodstar* (Calliphlox lyrura)

This Bahama Woodstar (sensu stricto) was photographed in Pennsylvania in April 2013 by Chris Bortz.

This Bahama Woodstar (sensu stricto) was photographed in Pennsylvania in April 2013 by Chris Bortz.

This split was adopted on the basis of differences in sounds (vocal and mechanical), genetics, and morphology. ABA Area records of birds from this complex are thought to pertain to Bahama Woostar (sensu stricto). A proposal to name the two species “Bahama Sheartail” and “Inagua Sheartail” was not accepted for now, because the committee wants to wait until the entire hummingbird family undergoes a major overhaul of scientific and common names, based on a 2014 phylogeny that challenged much of the status quo, including ABA Area species like Anna’s and Costa’s, which seem to be nested within Selasphorus.


New Genera and Sequence for White-tailed Hawk and Roadside Hawk

White-tailed Hawk is no longer in the genus Buteo.

White-tailed Hawk is no longer in the genus Buteo. Photo by Richard Crossley.

White-tailed Hawk changes from Buteo albicaudatus to Geranoaetus albicaudatus.

Genetic data show that it is not a Buteo, but rather, is more closely related to Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle* and Variable Hawk*. Speaking of which, Red-backed Hawk (Buteo polyosoma)—of which there is an unaccepted Colorado record—has changed to Variable Hawk (Geranoaetus polyosoma).

Roadside Hawk changes from Buteo magnirostris to Rupornis magnirostris.


New Buteonine Hawk Sequence


Roadside Hawk

Harris’s Hawk

White-tailed Hawk

Gray Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk

Hawaiian Hawk*

Short-tailed Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

We now believe that Laughing Falcons (here) are related to forest-falcons. Photo by Michael Retter.

We now believe that Laughing Falcons (here) are related to forest-falcons. Photo by Michael Retter.

Zone-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk


Falcon Subfamily Reshuffle

The caracara subfamily was absorbed into the “regular falcon” subfamily, Falconinae. Laughing Falcon* moved from that subfamily into the forest-falcon subfamily, which had to be renamed because of priority. The subfamily containing forest-falcons and Laughing Falcon is now called Herpetotherinae.


Western Spindalis Is a Tanager No Longer

The genus Spindalis has joined that great taxonomial purgatory known as “Incertae sedis”. The spindalises appear immediately after the true tanagers in the sequence.

White-collared Seedeater is now the only regularly-occurring species of tanager found in the ABA Area.

White-collared Seedeater is now the only regularly-occurring species of tanager found in the ABA Area. Photo by Amy McAndrews.

“New” Tanagers and a Reshuffle

As long expected, the seedeaters, grassquits, and Bananaquit have been added to the tanager family. The new sequence of genera is as follows, and the following are the only species of true tanager now found in the U.S. and Canada.

Paroaria (including Red-crested* and Red-capped* cardinals)

Coereba (Bananaquit)

Tiaris (including Yellow-faced and Black-faced grassquits)

Sporophila (including White-collared Seedeater)


Parrot Family Split

Psittacidae is no longer just “the parrot family”, but rather, the “African and New World parrot” family. Split from it was Psittaculidae, the newly-created “lory, lovebird, and Australasian parrot” family. Most parrot species found in North America belong to the former family, but Rose-ringed Parakeet (established populations in Hawaii and California) Rosy-faced Lovebird (established populations in Arizona), and Budgerigar (nearly extirpated population in Florida) are members of the latter. Each of those three species is in a different subfamily. Respectively, these are Psittaculinae (Australasian parrots), Agapornithinae (lovebirds and hanging-parrots), and Loriinae (lories).


Notable Proposals That Were Not Accepted

-Separation of Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius) from Hen Harrier (C. cyaneus).

-Separation of “Vizcaíno” Thrasher* (Toxostoma arenicola) from Le Conte’s Thrasher.

-A two-way split of Painted Bunting.

-A six-way split of Northern Cardinal.

-Giving Hawaiian Creeper its own genus (Manucerthia).

-A change in the English name of American Pipit (to Buff-bellied Pipit).

-The universal adoption of American English spellings in bird names. This would have affected the spelling of birds like Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and “Ochre” Oriole.




(Asterisks no longer used to label species not found in the ABA Area.)


Long-billed Hermit Split

-Long-billed Hermit (Phaethornis longirostris)

-Mexican Hermit (Phaethornis mexicanus)

This Mexican Hermit was photographed nectarine from an Erythrina tree at Rancho Dioon in Oaxaca. Photo by Jerry Oldenettel.

This Mexican Hermit was photographed nectaring from an Erythrina tree at Rancho Dioon in Oaxaca. Photo by Jerry Oldenettel.

The former species is widespread in Middle America, north to southeastern Mexico. The latter is endemic to southwestern Mexico and comprises two subspecies: griseoventer of Nayarit, Colima, and Jalisco (with roughly the same range as Mexican Woodnymph) and mexicanus of the Sierra Madre del Sur of Guerrero and Oaxaca. Differences in males’ lekking behavior (including song), genetics, and morphology led to this split. Compared to Long-billed, Mexican Hermit averages larger and duskier. Its flight call is more slurred and drawn-out, and the individual notes of its song are lower-pitched and flatter. Range is the best clue to ID, as the two species are allopatric.


Rusty-backed Spinetail Split

-Rusty-backed Spinetail (Cranioleuca vulpina)

Coiba Spinetail (Cranioleuca dissita)

Differences in vocalizations, genetics, and behavior led to this split. Coiba Spinetail is  endemic to Panama’s Isla Coiba, in the Pacific Ocean. Rusty-backed is found in South America, so this species drops off the Check-list.


Green Manakin. Photo by Francesco Veronesi.

Green Manakin. Photo by Francesco Veronesi.

Green Manakin Gets Its Own Genus

Say goodbye to Xenopipo holochlora and hello to Cryptopipo holochlora. Genetic data indicate that Green Manakin’s closest relatives are members of the genus Lepidothrix—not Xenopipo.


Change in Sequence for Manakins

After taking into account the change above, the new sequence of manakins is as follows.









Saffron Finch, one of the yellow-finches, is now considered a tanager. It was formerly placed with the emberizids.

Saffron Finch, one of the yellow-finches, is now considered a tanager. It was formerly placed with the emberizids. It has established populations in Panama and Hawaii. Photo by Michael Retter.

Saltators, Flowerpiercers, Caribbean Bullfinches, and Others Become Tanagers

The following boldfaced genera have been moved to the true tanager family, Thraupidae, with an updated sequence as listed. Many of these are from a mostly Caribbean radiation that includes Darwin’s famous Galápagos “finches”. The new sequence of tanager genera is as follows.






Sicalis (yellow-finches)

Haplospiza (Slaty Finch)

Acanthidops (Peg-billed Finch)

Diglossa (flowerpiercers)





Volatinia (Blue-black Grassquit)








Coereba (Bananaquit)

Tiaris (Yellow-faced, Black-faced, and Cuban grassquits)

Euneornis (Orangequit)

Loxigilla (most Caribbean bullfinches)

Melopyrrha (Cuban Bullfinch)

Loxipasser (Yellow-shouldered Grassquit)

Melanospiza (St. Lucia Black Finch)

Pinaroloxias (Cocos Finch)

Sporophila (seedeaters)

Emberizoides (grass-finches)

Saltator (saltators and Slate-colored Grosbeak)

Change of Sequence Among the “Black-and-Red” Tanagers

Crimson-collared Tanager

Flame-rumped Tanager

Passerini’s Tanager

Cherrie’s Tanager

Crimson-backed Tanager


Change Sequence Among the Seedeaters

Lined Seedeater

Thick-billed Seed-Finch

Large-billed Seed-Finch

Nicaraguan Seed-Finch

Variable Seedeater

Slate-colored Seedeater

White-collared Seedeater

Yellow-bellied Seedeater

Ruddy-breasted Seedeater


Hodgepodge of Oddball “Tanager” Genera Moved to Incertae Sedis

Rosy Thrush-tanager (here, a male) is one of a number of odd Caribbean and Middle American species that may well constitute its own family.

Rosy Thrush-tanager (here, a male) is one of a number of odd Caribbean and Middle American species that may well constitute its own family. Photo by HarmonyonPlanetEarth.

The following genera were formerly placed in Thraupidae, but are now moved to Incertae Sedis (place unknown) while their eventual placement is worked out. Moving them to this category recognizes that their previous placement was incorrect, without committing on a final resting place.

Nesospingus (Puerto Rican Tanager)

Phaenicophilus (Hispaniolan palm-tanagers)

Calyptophilus (Hispaniolan chat-tanagers)

Rhodinocichla (Rosy Thrush-Tanager)

Mitrospingus (including Dusky-faced Tanager)

Spindalis (“stripe-headed tanagers”)


Change in Sequence of the Following Hawks

Barred Hawk

Roadside Hawk

Harris’s Hawk

White-tailed Hawk

White Hawk

Semiplumbeous Hawk

Gray Hawk

Gray-lined Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Ridgway’s Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk

Hawaiian Hawk

Short-tailed Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

Zone-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk


Two Scientific Name Changes which Fix Old Typos

Gray-chested Dove has has a misspelling of its specific epithet corrected.

Gray-chested Dove has had a misspelling of its specific epithet corrected. Photo by Tom Benson.

Gray-chested Dove changes from Leptotila cassini to Leptotila cassinii (double I at the end).

Steely-vented Hummingbird changes from Amazilia saucerrottei to Amazilia saucerottei (one R).

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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.
  • Mike Judd

    Was there not a 3 way split of White-breasted Nuthatch coming? Or am I in the wrong arena [wouldn’t be the first time.]

    • Rick Wright

      Rejected in the 2013 supplement.

      • Mike Judd

        Thanks Rick, was not aware of that.

    • Michael Retter

      A little bird told me there’s another paper being published on them this summer. So maybe 2016 or 2017?

  • Tom Benson

    Can I get credit for the Gray-chested Dove photo? ([email protected]/16441475243/)

    • Michael Retter

      Of course! Sorry about that, Tom. I accidentally put it in the “description” instead of the “caption” box for the image. Should be all fixed now. My apologies. Thanks for allowing you images to be used widely!

  • Amy McAndrews

    Can I get credit for the White-collared Seedeater photo?

    • Michael Retter

      Or course! Same happened to yours as with Tom’s, Amy. I put the information in the wrong field when uploading the photos in a rush this morning when the news broke. My sincere apologies!

      • Amy McAndrews

        No problem, thanks for the credit and keep up the great work

  • Steve Sosensky

    The supplement also shows acceptance of Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca)

  • Dan Lane

    I hope the “n” in Trindade is pronounced, so that it would be “treen-dah-djee” not “tree-dah-jee” as you have above. Also, in the caption for I’Iwi, I believe you meant to write “Black” not “ueack” Mamo.

    • Michael Retter

      Thanks for catching the typo, Dan. I’m curious why you hope that. It is my understanding that the final Ms and Ns (immediately following vowels) are not pronounced as such in Portuguese; rather, the two work to nasalize the preceding vowel. See the two pronunciations (presumably Brazilian and Peninsular Portuguese) listed here, neither of which features a pronounced N as we understand it in English:

  • Jim Mountjoy

    Michael, I am surprised to see your comment that the W Spindalis has joined the Y-b Chat in incertae sedis. While it might make sense for the chat to be placed there (or somewhere else), the AOU NACC seems to have it still in Parulidae (in the current checklist, and I don’t see any change in the latest supplement).

    • Michael Retter

      I believe you are correct, Jim. I was thinking of the asterisk, which kind of means the same thing.

  • jmorlan

    Despite the newly recognized close relationship of the American Tree Sparrow to the Fox Sparrow/Junco group, it does not seem to have moved there. Instead, if I read it correctly, it remains in its old position at the beginning of the Spizella. Am I missing something?

  • Michael Rieser

    In your list “New Genus Sequence for the Hawaiian Honeycreepers” the extinct genus Akialoa should be marked with a dagger.

    • Michael Retter

      Thank you, Michael.

  • Michael, there is a discrepancy in your article, the ABA Checklist PDF, and the ABA Checklist XLS file for Newell’s Shearwater. Your article above, and the XLS file depict the genus as “Pufinus” with 1 f, while the PDF has it as “Puffinus”. I believe “Puffinus” is correct. Just wanted to point it out in case other’s have noticed but kept quiet.

    • Michael Retter

      Thank you, Rob. We always appreciate it when people point out errors so that we can fix them!

  • Olaf Danielson

    Was just printing off the new checklist with the changes and noticed the Condor is still on as a “6,” did I mis-understand the change from 2015 about the Wisconsin Whoopings, Aplomado, and the Condor….?

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