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2018 AOS Classification Committee Proposals, Part 1

2018 is a new year, and time for new bird taxonomy proposals submitted to the American Ornithological Society’s North and Middle America Classification Committee, the volunteer group of ornithologists who make the split, lump, and name-change decisions that influence the ABA Checklist and our field guides.

We suggest the usual caveat, that it’s important to note that these are just proposals and the committee has yet to vote on them formally. There are some that are unlikely to make the cut for whatever reason, but in my opinion the proposals are often more interesting than the actual results anyway as we get a peek into the wild world of bird taxonomy as it exists from year to year.

This post will only mention those changes that affect the ABA Area, but if you’re interested in the whole ball of wax – the committee’s jurisdiction includes all of the North America south to Panama – please refer to the official list of proposals at the AOS’s website (.pdf).

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Transfer Japanese Bush-Warbler from Cettia to Horornis

Right off the bat we’re dealing with species added to the ABA Checklist because of the inclusion of Hawaii. Japanese Bush-Warbler is a member of the wide-ranging bush-warbler family Cettiidae, one of groups formerly considered together as “Old World Warblers” and since split into nearly a dozen new families with varying degrees of relatedness. It is native to east Asia but is an established non-native species on many of the southeast Hawaiian islands. New evidence suggests that the genus Cettia is made up of at least two, sort of related, groups of birds, and that Japanese Bush-Warbler and its closest relatives should be removed to the genus Horornis, a name that has already been widely adopted in the Old World.

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Change the English name of Rock Pigeon Columba livia back to Rock Dove

If you began birding in the 20th Century, you will likely recall the big, introduced, city pigeon as “Rock Dove”. The name was changed to Rock Pigeon in 2003 to conform to a change made by the British Ornithological Union (BOU) and has been so since. This proposal suggests that the common name of one species should not be the group name of other species, citing confusion with the unrelated Petrophassa pigeons of Australia, White-quilled and Chestnut-quilled Rock-Pigeons. Therefore, we may be seeing the return of Rock Dove to describe our feral population in North America and around the world.

What once was Rock Dove, may be Rock Dove again. Photo: Luke Seitz/Macaulay Library

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Split extralimital Mitrephanes olivaceus from Tufted Flycatcher M. phaeocercus, and extralimital Fluvicola albiventer from Pied Water-Tyrant F. pica

Tufted Flycatcher is an infrequent visitor to the ABA Area, primarily in southeastern Arizona and western Texas. It consists of two populations, a northern group of the nominate subspecies, and a South American group of ssp. olivaceus, often called Olive Flycatcher, Olive Tufted-Flycatcher, or Olive-tufted Flycatcher, depending on who you ask. Splitting the northern population from the southern will not add a bird to the ABA Checklist, but it could see a name change. A name like Northern Tufted-Flycatcher would indicate the relationship with the southern population. Neither Fluvicola species occurs in the ABA Area.

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Split Luscinia to recognize Larvivora, Calliope, and Cyanecula

Luscinia is a largely Old World genus in the family Muscicapidae. They are essentially Old World flycatchers that act more like thrushes. In the ABA Area, Luscinia is represented by one localized Alaska breeder–Bluethroat–and three rare Alaskan vagrants–Siberian Rubythroat, Rufous-tailed Robin, and Siberian Blue Robin (also recorded in Yukon). Like many of the Old World mega-families, Muscicapidae has seen its share of taxonomic revision in recent years. This proposal would see all four species split among three new genera. Bluethroat becomes Cyanecula svecica, Siberian Rubythroat would get the endearing Calliope calliope, and Rufous-tailed and Siberian Blue Robin become Larvivora sibilens and cyane respectively.

Calliope calliope, coming soon to a Bering Sea island near you. Photo: Eric VanderWerf/Macaulay Library

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Transfer Lesser Whitethroat from Sylvia to Curruca

Lesser Whitethroat is an ABA Code 5 species, represented on the ABA Checklist from a single record from Gambell, St. Lawrence Island, Alaska, in 2002. Much like the Cettiid warblers above, the Sylviid warblers have been the recipient of much taxonomic revision in recent years, though this proposal does appear to be on slightly shakier ground than the bush-warbler proposal. In any case, should it pass, Lesser Whitethroat would appear on the ABA Checklist as Curruca curruca.

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The full list, including background information and recommendations is available here (.pdf). We’ll post the results of the voting when we see them this summer.

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
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