American Birding Podcast



2014 AOU Check-list Proposals, Part 2

The second document containing the proposed taxonomic updates to the AOU North American Check-list, which in turn are incorporated into the ABA Checklist, has been recently released. This batch contains 10 proposals that have been submitted in 2013, not all of which involve ABA-Area birds as the AOU’s North American jurisdiction includes Mexico and Central America to Panama’s southern border.

The second batch of proposals has a more neotropic focus than even the first, and there are only 3 proposals that refer to species in the ABA Area, and none of which are particularly ground-breaking or controversial from a taxonomic perspective. That said, we’ll look at them anyway.

It’s important to note that these are just proposals and the committee has yet to vote on them formally. As always there are some that are unlikely to make the cut, but in my opinion the proposals are often more interesting than the actual results anyway. If you’re interested in seeing the proposals in their entirety, including those from Middle America, please refer to the official list of proposals at the AOU’s website (.pdf).


Transfer Azure Gallinule Porphyrio flavirostris from the main list to the appendix

The presence of this unexpected South American species on the AOU list is something of an oddity. The record refers to a single bird killed by a cat and salvaged on Long Island, New York, in 1986. As rails are known for seemingly improbable incidences of vagrancy, the relevant records committees considered the report to plausibly represent a wild bird and the species was added to the official New York list, as well as those of the ABA and AOU.

Information suggesting that the record was, in fact, a illegally kept bird that had escaped from captivity led the ABA Checklist Committee to remove the bird from that list in 1999. In the interests of keeping the ABA and AOU lists in agreement, and with consideration that Azure Gallinule has never since been recorded in the AOU Area let alone the ABA, it is proposed that this record be reconsidered and moved to the appendix.


Split Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maurus from Common Stonechat S. torquatus

This Stonechat, photographed by Paul Lehman in Gambell, AK, last fall, would officially be Siberian Stonechat

This Stonechat, photographed by Paul Lehman in Gambell, AK, last fall, would officially be Siberian Stonechat

Common Stonechat is a widespread Eurasian species known in the ABA Area from a number of records from Alaska, as well as one each from California and New Brunswick. Many authorities consider the eastern Siberian Stonechat one of at least five and possibly six distinct species of Saxicola. A number of analyses of stonechat genetics have been published in recent years, and most agree that, at minimum, the species should be considered distinct from European and African birds. The presence of a second east Asian population, stejnegeri, confuses matters somewhat in that a number of Alaskan records are identified to that subspecies, though it seems unlikely that the committee will endorse that split just yet. The most likely result is that all central Asian stonechats, including stejnegeri, will be folded into maurus, and thus all North American records would convert to Siberian Stonechat.


Remove hyphens from English names of the “Black-Hawks”

Another bit of house-keeping here. Use of hyphens in bird names is one of those rather esoteric subjects that elicits passionate arguments. The gist is that the hyphen is used to denote close genetic relationships between those similarly hyphenated species. To use a North American species as an example, the sage-grouse – Greater and Gunnison – are distinct from the other grouse and form a group unto themselves therefore justifying the hyphen. The same can be said of whistling-ducks, screech-owls, and storm-petrels.

However, the black-hawks, while showing plumage similarities, are not actually all that closely related, notably Common Black-Hawk and the Great Black-Hawk. So they shouldn’t be black-hawks, which implies that genetic closeness, but rather black hawks. This was a proposal that passed among the South American committee some years ago, and the North American committee is now catching up.

The full list, including background information and recommendations, is available here (.pdf). We’ll continue to look at subsequent proposals as they’re released.