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 the NACC’s Check-list. Below is a brief rundown of those changes. (You can read the Supplement here, and you can read the committee members’ comments on the proposal here.)
Be sure to check out ABA’s annual “Check-list Redux” in the upcoming Birder’s Guide to Listing & Taxonomy. There, you’ll find photos, maps, and more detailed analysis of these changes. (You can 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.
You can read all the proposals on which the NACC voted this year at checklist.aou.org. Species marked with asterisks (*) in the U.S. and Canada section 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 that have not been admitted to the list. Daggers (†) denote extinct species. Nowadays, it can be assumed that any change in taxonomy is due (at least partly) to analysis of new genetic data, so that is not always mentioned below.
As a general policy, the NACC accepts as additions to its North American Check-list any species the ABA’s Checklist Committee adds to its list. Those changes are not listed here.
The largest and most-likely-to-be-talked-about change this year is a radical “reshuffling of the deck”, so to speak. The sequences of non-passerine orders and oscine passerine families are changing substantially. Whether this will impact field guides is yet to be seen. Some authors (e.g., Howell et al. in the Nov. 2009 issue of Birding) advocate for stability, while others suggest we immediately update the sequence of field guides after each change, as is currently the case in most authoritative field guides. The former may start to look more appealing to many people in light of this year’s changes—at least until it seems clear that changes in higher-level taxonomy have settled down.
Speaking of higher-level taxonomy, there were a number of changes to superorders, infraclasses, parvclasses, and such, which are not described here.
CHANGES AFFECTING THE U.S. AND CANADA
New Sequence for Non-Passerine Orders
The sequence of non–passerine orders between Galliformes (“chickens”) and Trogoniformes (trogons) is now as follows:
Caprimulgiformes (goatsuckers and nighthawks)
Apodiformes (swifts and hummingbirds)
Gruiformes (cranes and rails)
Charadriiformes (shorebirds, gulls, terns, auks)
Eurypygiformes (Sunbittern and Kagu)
Suliformes (gannets and boobies)
Pelecaniformes (pelicans, herons, ibises)
Cathartiformes (New World vultures)
Note the new appearance of Cathartiformes, which was split from Accipitriformes. Steatornithiformes and Nyctibiiformes, also making new appearances, were split from Caprimulgiformes; they do not occur in the ABA Area.
New Sequence for Some Old World Passerine Families
A group of mostly Old World passerine families move in sequence to immediately follow Peucedramidae (Olive Warbler) and precede Calcariidae (longspurs). They are, in sequence:
Passeridae (Old World sparrows)
Motacillidae (pipits and wagtails)
Fringillidae (true finches)
Split of Western Scrub-Jay
- California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)
- Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii)
This long-anticipated split has finally happened. The two “new” species barely overlap in range. A recent study states that the only place this seems to happen regularly is the Pine Nut Mountains of Storey County, Nevada, and that hybridization is limited to this very small area; however, local birders report overlap in Reno, as well. Limited hybridization in addition to consistent differences in voice, habitat, behavior, and morphology, was enough to tip the scales toward a split.
California Scrub-Jay is the more coastal species, and, predictably, it is darker in overall color. It lives in oak woodlands, which likely has led to its having a larger bill than Woodhouse’s, a species that, in the Great Basin, mostly lives in piñon-juniper scrub.
Most vagrant scrub-jays seem to have been Woodhouse’s, but there are records of vagrant Californias in eastern Washington and southwestern British Columbia.
Traditionally, Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay has not referred to the two southernmost subspecies of “Western Scrub-Jay”. Found in southern Mexico, the remota and sumichrasti subspecies differ substantially in genetics, behavior, and morphology, and are usually referred to as the sumichrasti group, or “Sumichrast’s Scrub-Jay”. The proposal submitted to the NACC suggests that it (and perhaps the subspecies texana) may deserve species status, as well, but that more study is needed. In light of this, one may wonder whether including sumichrasti and remota under the name “Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay” is well advised, as it sets up another potential sensu stricto/sensu lato issue. Would a more inclusive and less specific name such as “Inland Scrub-Jay” have been preferable?
For more on identification of “Western Scrub-Jays”, see Dessi Sieburth’s article in the April 2016 issue of Birding.
Split of Leach’s Storm-Petrel
- Leach’s Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa)
- Townsend’s Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma socorroensis)
- Ainley’s Storm-Petrel* (Oceanodroma cheimomnestes)
You may be wondering, “Which of these have I seen?” The answer is, “Probably not more than one, and that one is probably Leach’s.”
In North America, Leach’s Storm-Petrel (sensu stricto) now consists of two subspecies. The nominate is found in the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Any Leach’s seen north of Santa Barbara, California, can probably be safely assumed to be leucorhoa. The subspecies chapmani breeds on islands (such as San Benito and the Coronados) fairly close to the Baja California mainland. Compared to leucorhoa, chapmani is smaller on average and usually has a darker rump. It may also appear to have a more deeply forked tail. “Chapman’s Storm-Petrel”, as it is called, can be fairly common off the southern California coast in summer.
Townsend’s and Ainley’s storm-petrels are sympatric; they both nest on small islands off the southern tip of Guadalupe Island, which is itself well off the west coast of Baja California. They both average smaller than chapmani and leucorhoa, with a more subtle carpal bar. Townsend’s tends to be smaller and darker than Ainley’s, with a larger white rump patch, but some Townsend’s are completely dark-rumped, and some are intermediate. The two differ substantially from one another, and from Leach’s sensu stricto, in vocalizations. Townsend’s nests in summer, and Ainley’s nests in winter, so the two cannot interbreed, even though they are sympatric. This phenomenon is referred to as temporal isolation, and it is another reason for the three-way split.
Identification of these four forms is complicated by the fact that all of them have variable rump patterns. Even leucorhoa can have a totally dark rump, as has been observed on breeders from the Farallones, but light-rumped leucorhoa usually have a dark mark down the center of the rump—something not seen in many white-rumped Ainley’s and Townsend’s. Field identification should be approached cautiously, to say the least.
If you are confused, don’t feel bad. The issue is extremely complicated, and there’s a reason we’re only now starting to understand what’s going on. For more details, see Steve N. G. Howell’s Petrels, Albatrosses, & Storm-Petrels of North America, the article by Howell et al. in North American Birds (vol. 63, p. 540), and the article by David Ainley (for whom Ainley’s Storm-Petrel is named) in the Jan./Feb. 2005 Issue of Birding.
Split of Green Violetear
- Mexican Violetear (Colibri thalassinus)
- Lesser Violetear* (Colibri cyanotus)
This split separates birds of central and northern Middle America (Mexico through Nicaragua) from those that are found from Costa Rica to Bolivia. Besides being larger, Mexican Violetear, as “our” species is now called, has an indigo patch on the underparts that is lacking in Lesser Violetear.
No More Sky Lark
Alauda arvensis has had its English name changed from Sky Lark to Eurasian Skylark. This name conforms with widespread usage elsewhere in the world.
Lump of Caribbean Coot
This is the “final nail in the coffin”, so to speak. After having been removed from the ABA Checklist because of doubts about ID, the NACC has now made official the doubts that Caribbean Coot (Fulica caribaea) ever existed in the first place. Birds with expanded white frontal shields previously had been assigned to this species, and birds with restricted, dark red frontal shields were assigned to American Coot (Fulica americana). But we now know that there does not seem to be any assortative mating where the two forms occur together, and there are many intermediates. It is believed that “Caribbean Coot” is just a color morph of American Coot.
Name Change for Orange Bishop
Euplectes franciscanus has switched English names from Orange Bishop to Northern Red Bishop*. Though not on the ABA Checklist, the NACC recognizes introduced populations, such as those in southern California and the Houston area.
Split of Puffinus
The shearwater genus Puffinus has been split, and many of our shearwaters now have a “new” genus: Ardenna. New scientific names and a new sequence for species in Ardenna are listed below. They follow Cape Verde Shearwater on the Checklist.
- Wedge-tailed Shearwater (Puffinus pacificus ➛ Ardenna pacifica)
- Buller’s Shearwater (Puffinus bulleri ➛ Ardenna bulleri)
- Short-tailed Shearwater (Puffinus tenuirostris ➛ Ardenna tenuirostris)
- Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus ➛ Ardenna grisea)
- Great Shearwater (Puffinus gravis ➛ Ardenna gravis)
- Pink-footed Shearwater (Puffinus creatopus ➛ Ardenna creatopus)
- Flesh-footed Shearwater (Puffinus carneipes ➛ Ardenna carneipes)
New Genus for Sandhill Crane
The genus Antigone has been split from Grus. Scientific names for Whooping and Common cranes remain unchanged, but Sandhill Crane has changed from Grus canadensis to Antigone canadensis. The other members of Antigone are White-naped Crane*, Brolga*, and Sarus Crane*. Antigone is the name of Oedipus’s daughter/half-sister in Greek mythology.
New Sequence for New World Quail
The new sequence for the family Odontophoridae is as follows:
New Sequence for Vireos
Our understanding of relationships among the vireos has increased substantially over the past few years. New information didn’t yield a split of the genus Vireo, as some were anticipating, but it did yield a change in sequence:
Shorebird Subfamily Reshuffle
Relationships among the shorebirds are also now better understood. Below is the new classification scheme, including a change in subfamilies and in sequence. Within each genus, there is no change in sequence of the species.
Bartramia (Upland Sandpiper)
Numenius (traditional curlews)
Arenariinae (turnstones and Calidrine sandpipers)
Calidris (sandpipers, including peeps)
Scolopacinae (dowitchers, snipes, and woodcocks)
Lymnocryptes (Jack Snipe)
Gallinago (other snipe)
Xenus (Terek Sandpiper)
Actitis (Spotted and Common sandpipers)
Tringa (“legs”, “shanks”, tattlers, Willet, and Solitary, Green, Wood, and Marsh sandpipers)
Notable Changes That Were Not Accepted
- A revision of the genus Picoides
- Changing the “surname” of Myioborus redstarts to “whitestart” (as in “Painted Whitestart”)
- Split of Eastern Meadowlark (yielding Lilian’s Meadowlark)
- Transfer of Paint-billed Crake from Neocrex to Mustelirallus
- Lump of Common and Hoary redpolls
Finally, Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) was not split. The established population in Florida pertains to the subspecies poliocephalus; it is native in Asia from Turkey to northern Thailand. It is considered a full species (Gray-headed Swamphen) by the Clements Checklist of Birds of the World. eBird uses Clements taxonomy in the very few instances when it and NACC taxonomy disagree, so swamphens seen in Florida should be entered into eBird as Gray-headed Swamphens.
ADDITIONAL CHANGES AFFECTING MIDDLE AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN
(Asterisks are no longer used to label species not found in the ABA Area.)
Split of Gray-necked Wood-Rail
- Russet-naped Wood-Rail (Aramides albiventris)
- Gray-cowled Wood-Rail (Aramides cajaneus)
- and a species not found in North America
These two “new” species meet in Costa Rica. Russet-naped Wood-Rail is found from Mexico to the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica. Gray-cowled Wood-Rail is found from Argentina to the Pacific slope of Costa Rica. What happens where the two come into contact (if they do at all) was not studied in the paper used to justify this split, so the exact ranges are unknown. The two “new” species differ in morphology and song; genetics were not examined.
One may wonder whether a more distinctive name could have been chosen for A. albiventris. “Russet-naped” seems to invite confusion with the congeneric Rufous-necked Wood-Rail. Only time will tell.
Split of Blue-crowned Motmot
- Blue-capped Motmot (Momotus coeruliceps)
- Lesson’s Motmot (Momotus lessoni)
- Whooping Motmot (Momotus subrufescens)
- and species not found in North America
Similar to the wood-rail split, this split of Momotus momota (sensu lato) was based on morphology and vocalizations; it did not involve a genetic component.
Blue-capped Motmot is endemic to northeastern Mexico, from Nuevo León to northern Veracruz. It has a solidly turquoise crown and greenish underparts, and it is called “Blue-crowned Motmot” (sensu stricto) by the Handbook of Birds of the World (HBW) and the International Ornithological Congress (IOC). Lesson’s Motmot is found from central Veracruz to western Panama. It has a black crown with a blue lower border, and its underparts also tend to be greenish but with a golden or tawny breast in the southern portion of its range; it is called “Blue-diademed Motmot” (sensu stricto) by HBW and IOC. The songs of Lesson’s and Blue-capped seem to be very similar—a doubled WHOOP whoop!—and the current Howard & Moore checklist treats the two as one species, “Blue-diademed Motmot” (sensu lato). Whooping Motmot is found from central Panama to northern Venezuela and northwestern Peru; its song is a single whoop or a rapid whoop’UP. Its underparts are rufous in Panama. Little is known about any hybridization or sympatry among the various species.
Split of Sirystes
- Chocó Sirystes (Sirystes albogriseus)
- and species not found in North America
Sirystes sibilator has been split into a number of species, only one of which is found in North America. Chocó Syristes has a typical Chocó distribution: It is found from eastern Panama to northwestern Ecuador.
Split of Plain Wren
- Cabanis’s Wren (Cantorchilus modestus)
- Canebrake Wren (Cantorchilus zeledoni)
- Isthmian Wren (Cantorchilus elutus)
Plain Wren has been split based on a combination of vocal, morphological, and genetic evidence.
Cabanis’s Wren is found from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to northwestern Costa Rica; it has a rusty tail, rump, and undertail coverts, and it has a richy brown mantle. Canebrake Wren is found on Caribbean-slope lowlands from southern Nicaragua to western Panama; it is quite grayish overall and is the largest and darkest of the three. Isthmian Wren is found from southwestern Costa Rica to central Panama (including the Caribbean slope there); it is nearly identical in plumage to Cabanis’s Wren.
Of note is a “Plain Wren” recently photographed in Guerrero. This suggests that the range of Cabanis’s Wren may extend further “north” than previously thought. In light of this split, it’s probably worth studying the Guerrero population—if one exists—to confirm that it belongs to modestus (sensu stricto).
Split of Three-striped Warbler
- Costa Rican Warbler (Basileuterus melanotis)
- Tacarcuna Warbler (Basileuterus tacarcunae)
- and species not found in North America
Three-striped Warbler (Basileuterus tristriatus, sensu lato) was found to be paraphyletic. To fix this situation, Costa Rican and Tacarcuna warblers were elevated to species status. The “new” species inferred by genetic data also agree with differences in song. Costa Rican Warbler is found in highlands of Costa Rica and western Panama. Tacarcuna Warbler is found in the Cerro Jefe/Cerro Azul area of east-central Panama, the San Blas Mountains (where the popular birding site of Nusagandi is located), and the Cerro Tacarcuna highlands along the Panama–Colombia border; it is reported to have a longer and scratchier song compared to Costa Rican Warbler.
Split of Hispaniolan Parakeet
- Hispaniolan Parakeet (Psittacara chloropterus)
- Puerto Rican Parakeet† (Psittacara maugei)
The extinct Puerto Rican Parakeet has been afforded species status.
No More Black-mandibled Toucan
Back when Chestnut-mandibled Toucan was lumped with Black-mandibled Toucan, the name Black-mandibled Toucan was kept to refer to the “new” lumped species. That created a bit of cognitive dissonance when referring to swainsonii as the “chestnut-mandibled subspecies of Black-mandibled Toucan”. To remedy the situation, a new name was created. Ramphastos ambiguus (sensu lato) is now known as Yellow-throated Toucan.
Split of Porzana
The crake genus Porzana was found to be polyphyletic. Spotted Crake and Sora remain within Porzana. Laysan Rail, Hawaiian Rail, and Yellow-breasted Crake have been moved into “new” genera. The new sequence and scientific names are as follows:
Sora (Porzana carolina)
Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana)
Laysan Rail† (Porzana palmeri ➛ Zapornia palmeri)
Hawaiian Rail† (Porzana sandwichensis ➛ Zapornia sandwichensis)
Yellow-breasted Crake (Porzana flaviventer ➛ Hapalocrex flaviventer)
Split of Cercomacra
The antbird genus Cercomacra was found to be polyphyletic. In light of this, a “new” genus was created for Dusky Antbird and its South American relatives. Dusky Antbird is now Cercomacroides tyrannina. Its placement on the Checklist (between Rufous-rumped Antwren and Jet Antbird) has not changed.
New Genera for Black-capped and White-thighed Swallows
These two species comprise a sister group to White-banded Swallow (Atticora fasciata) of South America. They appear after Blue-and-white Swallow in the sequence and in the order listed below.
Black-capped Swallow (Notiochelidon pileata ➛ Atticora pileata)
White-thighed Swallow (Neochelidon tibialis ➛ Atticora tibialis)
Split of Hylophilus
The greenlet genus Hylophilus has been split. Scrub Greenlet remains Hylophilus flavipes, but the following species have a change in genus:
Tawny-crowned Greenlet (Hylophilus ochraceiceps ➛ Tunchiornis ochraceiceps)
Golden-fronted Greenlet (Hylophilus aurantiifrons ➛ Pachysylvia aurantiifrons)
Lesser Greenlet (Hylophilus decurtatus ➛ Pachysylvia decurtata)
New Sequence for the Vireo Family
The new sequence for Vireonidae is as follows:
Blue Mountain Vireo
San Andrés Vireo
Puerto Rican Vireo
New Sequence for New World Quail Family
The new sequence for Odontophoridae is as follows:
New Subfamily Classification and Genus Sequence for the Tanagers
The new classification and sequence within Thraupidae is as listed below. Within each genus, there is no change of sequence.
Thraupinae (core tanagers)
Bangsia (Blue-and-gold Tanager)
Thraupis (Blue-gray Tanager, etc.)
Tangara (“treetop tanagers”)
Diglossinae (highland tanagers)
Haplospiza (Slaty Finch)
Acanthidops (Peg-billed Finch)
Hemithraupinae (yellow-and-black tanagers)
Chlorophanes (Green Honeycreeper)
Chrysothlypis (Black-and-yellow Tanager)
Heterospingus (Sulphur-rumped and Scarlet-browed tanagers)
Hemithraupis (Yellow-backed Tanager)
Tachyphoninae (ornamented tanagers)
Volatinia (Blue-black Grassquit)
Eucometis (Gray-headed Tanager)
Tachyphonus (White-shouldered, White-lined, and Tawny-crested tanagers)
Ramphocelus (black-and-red tanagers)
Dacninae (blue tanagers)
Tersina (Swallow Tanager)
Cyanerpes (blue honeycreepers)
Coerebinae (dome-nesting tanagers)
Tiaris (Yellow-faced, Cuban, and Black-faced grassquits)
Loxigilla (Caribbean bullfinches)
Melopyrrha (Cuban Bullfinch)
Loxipasser (Yellow-shouldered Grassquit)
Melanospiza (St. Lucia Black Finch)
Pinaroloxias (Cocos Finch)
Emberizoidinae (grassland tanagers)
No more Brush-Finches
Similar to what happened with the Buteogallus “black hawks” a couple years ago, the brush-finches of the genera Arremon and Atlapetes are losing their hyphens because they’re not that closely related to one another. But in this case, the words were joined instead of separated by a space. This change also has the effect of eliminating the capital F in “Brush-Finch”, which may have suggested these emberizids were true finches.
Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch ➛ Chestnut-capped Brushfinch
Green-striped Brush-Finch ➛ Green-striped Brushfinch
Costa Rican Brush-Finch ➛ Costa Rican Brushfinch
Black-headed Brush-Finch ➛ Black-headed Brushfinch
White-naped Brush-Finch ➛ White-naped Brushfinch
Rufous-capped Brush-Finch ➛ Rufous-capped Brushfinch
Proposals Not Accepted
- Split of Emerald Toucanet
- Split of Cuban Bullfinch
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