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.
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.
CHANGES AFFECTING CANADA AND THE U.S.
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)
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 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
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
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 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 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
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.
“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)
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.
===ADDITONAL CHANGES AFFECTING MIDDLE AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN
(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)
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 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.
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.
Haplospiza (Slaty Finch)
Acanthidops (Peg-billed Finch)
Volatinia (Blue-black Grassquit)
Tiaris (Yellow-faced, Black-faced, and Cuban grassquits)
Loxigilla (most Caribbean bullfinches)
Melopyrrha (Cuban Bullfinch)
Loxipasser (Yellow-shouldered Grassquit)
Melanospiza (St. Lucia Black Finch)
Pinaroloxias (Cocos Finch)
Saltator (saltators and Slate-colored Grosbeak)
Change of Sequence Among the “Black-and-Red” Tanagers
Change Sequence Among the Seedeaters
Hodgepodge of Oddball “Tanager” Genera Moved to Incertae Sedis
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
Two Scientific Name Changes which Fix Old Typos
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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