American Birding Podcast



ABA Checklist Changes

One of the highlights of the year for many birders is the arrival of the July issue of The Auk, the journal of the American Ornithologists’ Union. The July Auk is “the checklist issue,” presenting a detailed accounting of all the latest “splits” (yay!), “lumps” (boo…), and revisions to linear sequence (aaargh).

The AOU Checklist Committee has wrapped up its 2011 deliberations well ahead of schedule, with the result that checklist changes will appear in the forthcoming April issue of The Auk. The ABA has obtained an advance copy of the April Auk, and we thought it would be nice to provide a brief overview of the checklist changes reported therein. Of course, you should read the full report; see the link at the bottom of this post. In the meantime, here’s a basic summary:

01 Type II Crossbill 1. Splits. The biggies involve the Dark-eyed Junco and Red Crossbill species complexes. Oregon Junco and Slate-colored Junco are restored to full-species status, and, in something of a surprise, Cassiar Junco is elevated to full-species status. White-winged, Pink-sided, and Gray-headed Juncos will still be known as Dark-eyed Junco. Now for the crossbills… Although the “South Hills” Crossbill of Idaho remains a subspecies of the Red Crossbill, various other populations have been split into full species. These are the “types” until recently known as “Type II,” “Type IV,” and “Type VIII” Red Crossbills. The word “ Red” will be deleted from their names. So the crossbill species in North America will now be known as Red Crossbill, Type II Crossbill, Type IV Crossbill, Type VIII Crossbill, and—you would think—White-winged Crossbill. But keep reading… (Above: Type II Crossbill. Photo by © Bill Schmoker.)

2. Lumps. We’re not done with crossbills and juncos. The Hispaniolan and White-winged crossbills have been lumped—relumped, actually. Although this action does not result in a change in the number of species on the ABA Checklist, it does necessitate a name-change. By rules of nomenclatorial priority, the relumped taxon will be known as Hispaniolan Crossbill—an odd name for all those crossbills in Labrador and Minnesota. Well, the rules are the rules. As to the juncos, the dorsalis subspecies—sometimes called “Red-backed” Junco—of the Dark-eyed Junco has been reassigned to Yellow-eyed Junco, a return, actually, to a much older taxonomy. As with the relumping of the crossbills, the reassignment of dorsalis to Yellow-eyed Junco does not affect the number of species on the ABA Checklist.
02 American Variable Blue Bunting      But a few of the new lumps do have consequences for our lifelists, and they are painful. The Spotted and Eastern towhees have been relumped, and together they’ll be known as the Rufous-sided Towhee, a name familiar to many longtime birders. Sadly, the Baltimore and Bullock’s orioles have been relumped, and they’ll go back to that despised moniker from the late 20th century: Northern Oriole. Also, the Lazuli and Indigo buntings have been lumped. Genetic evidence shows that the “American Variable Blue Bunting,” as the bird is to be known, is just a single species. A proposal to lump the Black-headed and Rose-breasted grosbeaks failed, but narrowly so; the committee anticipates acceptance of this proposal in 2012. (Above: American Variable Blue Bunting. Photo by © Bill Schmoker.)

03 Iceland 3. Checklist Regions. First off, Hawaii. The Aloha State will not be admitted to the “North American” checklist area. In arriving at this decision, an independent ad hoc “Lifelist Verification Committee” (LVC) cited the “imperative of tradition” and its “commitment to the virtues of conformity and conservatism.” The Komandorski Islands, however, will be admitted to the checklist area. “Basically, they’re just an extension of the Aleutian Islands,” notes LVC committee member Onde Dyolf. “It’s analogous to Saint-Pierre-et-Michelon,” Dyolf explains. In other news, the committee affirmed its support for including Greenland within the checklist area. But there’s a strange twist: The island Kingdom of Iceland will be coming along for the ride. “Greenland is huge,” writes committee member April Zimbello in a separate commentary, “and Iceland is part of the package.” Zimbello adds, “Besides, the Western Palearctic birding community doesn’t want Iceland. Somebody has to take them.” The main consequence of this action, from the lister’s point of view, is that Meadow Pipit is now a very easy “tick” for the “North American” checklist. (Above: Can you say “Meadow Pipit”? Iceland and Greenland have been added to the ABA Area.)

There you have it. And those are just the highlights. The report also lumps the Golden-crowned and White-crowned sparrows; splits the Willow Flycatcher into two species (but, intriguingly, reassigns nominate traillii to Alder Flycatcher); adds 17 (!) species of exotic psittacids (parrots, parakeets, and macaws) to the list of “countable” birds in Florida and California; rejects a proposal to admit Bermuda and the Azores to the checklist area; and announces the formation of a new committee to study the idea of restoring lifelist thresholds for attainment of associate membership status in the ABA.

See for yourself. It’s all in the April 2011 Checklist Report.

Have a great day!