American Birding Podcast



2014 AOU Check-list Proposals, Part 3

And here we are with the third and final(?) installment of the American Ornithologists’ Union’s annual check-list committee supplement proposals, which in turn are incorporated into the ABA Checklist.

This batch contains an additional 9 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.

There are some really interesting proposals in this document, but per usual, 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 for birders with an interest in recent research on the taxonomy of North American birds, they can be interesting even if unaccepted. In fact, I’d go so far to say that occasionally the unaccepted proposals are more interesting than those that make it through.

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).


Change the type locality of Craveri’s Murrelet

A bit of housekeeping here. A species’s “type locality” refers to the site where the species was initially found and is usually associated with a “type specimen”, which resides in a museum. Craveri’s Murrlet is an uncommon postbreeding visitor to southern California, and the species nests exclusively on both sides of Baja California, in Mexico. The type locality of this species, as published in the AOU Check-list has been incorrect for years, however,  and confusingly refers to a specific island on the west side of Baja as being in the Gulf of California. And more, the lat-long coordinates associated with the locality are not in the Gulf of California, but somewhere on mainland Sonora. This proposal fixes both.

Craveri's Murrelet, whose type locality is to be recitified, off San Diego, CA. photo by Nate Swick

Craveri’s Murrelet, whose type locality is to be rectified, off San Diego, CA. photo by Nate Swick


Adopt a new classification for the Quail-Doves (Columbidae)

Quail-doves (genus Geotrygon) are represented in the ABA Area by two vagrant species. The group consists of 18 mostly ground-dwelling doves of the Neotropics with most exhibiting distinctive facial markings. DNA sequencing finds that the genus Geotrygon should be revised, with some members to Zenaida, some to Leptotila, and two additional genera established, Leptotrygon and Zentrygon. Both species recorded in the ABA Area, Key West Quail-Dove and Ruddy Quail-Dove, are to remain in Geotrygon.


Split Ninox japonica from Brown Hawk-Owl Ninox scutulata and adopt the English name Northern Boobook

Brown Hawk-Owl is represented in the ABA Area by two records from western Alaska, one on St. Paul Island in 2007 and another found dead on Kiska Island in 2008. Many Old World authorities have split the species three ways based on differences in vocalizations, calling the northernmost and migratory subspecies  – japonica, ussuriensis, and totogo – Northern Boobook. Other mostly resident subspecies in the Philippines and southeast Asia would be Chocolate and Brown Boobook, respectively. The name “boobook” is used widely in the Old World to refer to many of the Ninox hawk-owls, and would solve the problem of confusion with Surnia ulula, the unrelated holarctic species Northern Hawk-Owl.


Add Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita to the main list

Common Chiffchaff is added to the AOU Check-list on the basis of a bird found and photographed at Gambell, St. Lawrence Island, Alaska, in June 2012. It was accepted by the Alaskan Rare Bird Committee and subsequently the ABA Checklist Committee.


Change the English name of Lonchura punctulata from Nutmeg Mannikin to Scaly-breasted Munia

Nutmeg Mannikin was added to the ABA Checklist in 2013 on the basis of established populations in southern California. The species has had many names in the ornithological literature and the pet trade, including Spice Finch, Spotted Munia, and Scaly-breasted Munia. The proposal to change the name is based on the fact that most Lonchura species are referred to as Munia in their native ranges, and it also saves the North American birding community from the embarrassment of regular misspelling when thinking of the unrelated neotropical family Pipridae, known as manakins.

Nutmeg Mannikins, I mean Spice Finches, I mean Scaly-breasted Munias, in San Diego, CA, photo by Nate Swick

Nutmeg Mannikins, I mean Spice Finches, I mean Scaly-breasted Munias, in San Diego, CA, photo by Nate Swick


Split the Shy Albatross Thalassarche cauta into two or three species: (a) split cauta/steadi from salvini/eremita, and (b) split salvini from eremita.

Now to the fun stuff. Tubenose taxonomy is an ever-changing enterprise. Shy Albatross is known in the ABA Area on the basis of a handful of vagrant records from California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, remarkably representing at least three recognized taxa.  The South American Check-list Committee has already split Shy Albatross into three species and it seems likely that the NACC would do the same. The subspecies shakes out as follows: cauta/steadi becoming White-capped Albatross (Howell, et al, splits them further, calling them Tasmanian Shy and Aukland Shy Albatrosses, respectively, in Rare Birds of North America), salvini going by Salvin’s Albatross and eremita going by Chatham Albatross.

This split would add two additional species to the ABA Checklist and assign the following species to the following states.

California: White-capped Albatross (1999), Chatham Albatross (2000, 2001)

Oregon: White-capped Albatross (1996, 2001)

Washington: White-capped Albatross (1951, 2000)

Alaska: Salvin’s Albatross (2003)


Split Toxostoma palmeri from Curve-billed Thrasher T. curvirostre

This is not the first time that this particular split has come before the Check-list Committee. In 2009, a proposal to split Curve-billed Thrasher into two species based on field identifiable plumage and vocal differences between the western palmeri and eastern oberholseri did not pass muster among a majority of the members. Despite findings showing a narrow and stable hybrid zone and mtDNA analysis showing three distinct clades, the committee seemed concerned about the relatively small sample size of the study and elected to postpone such a decision.

In the intervening period new research suggests strong fidelity to both breeding and winter ranges in both populations, few hybrids in the narrow range where the species overlap and evidence showing that, in areas where the two groups do overlap, they seem to segregate by altitude. The proposal suggests the names Plateau Thrasher for the eastern oberholseri and Palmer’s Thrasher for the western palmeri.

If accepted, this split would add a species to the ABA Checklist and send a number of state and provincial records committees back to the archives to determine the identity of the several extralimital records of this species in North America.

Potentially Plateau Thrasher in Hidalgo Co, Tx, identified by location and tail patter, photo by Nate Swick

Potentially Plateau Thrasher in Hidalgo Co, Tx, identified by location and tail pattern, photo by Nate Swick


For the entire list of proposals, including those not mentioned here, see the AOU Check-list Committee website.