American Birding Podcast



2015 AOU Check-list Proposals, Part 3

Here it is, the third and likely last document containing the proposed taxonomic updates to the AOU North American Check-list, which in turn are incorporated into the ABA Checklist. This batch contains 10 proposals that have been submitted in 2014 and early 2015, 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.

Per usual, 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 in 2015.

This post will only mention those changes that affect the ABA Area and Hawaii, but if you’re interested in the entirety of this batch of proposals please refer to the official list of proposals at the AOU’s website (.pdf).


Add Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) to main list

Add Zino’s Petrel (Pterodroma madeira) to the main list

Add Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca) to the main list as an established exotic species

The ABA checklist always incorporates the taxonomic changes determined every year in the AOU’s check-list supplemental, but it goes both ways, too. Those new records of species seen in the ABA Area are added more or less pro forma to the AOU’s logs too, and as such every year we see what are essentially housekeeping proposals of this sort. These three species represent new additions to the ABA list. The Common Redstart from a bird photographed on St. Paul Island, Alaska, in October 2013, the Zino’s Petrel a long-considered acceptance of a bird seen off North Carolina in 1995, and the Egyptian Goose, accepted as an established exotic in August of last year.

Egyptian Goose nests

Egyptian Goose, now established in south Florida and increasingly elsewhere, was added to the ABA Checklist last year. It will likely be officially placed on the AOU check-list this year.


Add Demoiselle Crane (Anthropoides virgo) to the Appendix

Add Hooded Crane (Grus monacha) to the Appendix

These two cranes are also housekeeping, but of a more complicated sort. They both have the specter of unacceptability hanging over them. The Demoiselle Crane represents an individual seen in California in 2002, and what is almost certainly the same bird in British Columbia and Alaska later in the year. That bird was not accepted by the committees in California and British Columbia by virtue of unknown provenance, and was not considered in AK. The Hooded Crane, which spent time in Idaho, Tennessee, Indiana, and Nebraska from 2010-2012 was accepted by most of the relevant states (and still pending in ID), but not by the ABA’s committee.

The proposals suggest that both be added to the AOU Check-list Appendix for similar reasons, owing to the uncertainty over whether provenance can be conclusively determined either way and the fact that the records have been published as possible natural vagrants, chiefly in Howell, et al’s Rare Birds of North America.


Change the English name of Anthus rubescens from American Pipit to Buff-bellied Pipit

Despite it’s continental name, the species we refer to as American Pipit is also represented in Asia and is a regular stray to western Europe. Formerly lumped with the Eurasian Rock and Water Pipits as “Water Pipit”, the species was split in 1989 into the two aforementioned Old World representatives and the third, which we called American Pipit but everyone else called Buff-bellied.

The proposal argues that Buff-bellied Pipit is actually a better name for the species from a descriptive standpoint and that the benefits of simplification to a name used widely within and without the English-speaking New World outweigh the benefits of holding on to a name that isn’t even particularly accurate. This also opens up the possibility of “Japanese” Pipit as an appropriate name if/when the ssp. japonicus, an East Asian breeder and regular stray to western Alaska, is split.


Split Northern Harrier Circus hudsonius from Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus

Circus cyaneus is a holarctic species known as Northern Harrier in the Americas and Hen Harrier in the Old World. The two subspecies, hudsonicus in the New and cyaneus in the Old, have been considered good species by some authorities in the past, but such a treatment has not been official in nearly 100 years. Recent studies showing genetic distance, as well as subtle differences in plumage and voice suggest that the original treatment was probably appropriate. If accepted, this would be yet another New/Old World split, which in recent years we’ve seen in Common Gallinule/Moorhen and Snowy/Kentish Plover, among others.

Interestingly, this split would potentially add a new species to the ABA checklist, as wing from a presumed C. c. cyaneus was salvaged on Attu, Alaska, in 1999. C. c. hudsonicus is a rare vagrant to Great Britain and Ireland.


Revise generic boundaries in the Buteo group (SACC # 460)

This is, at its core, a rearrangement of species in the Buteo genus in response to new genetic information. It also trades the genus for a couple species that are found to be more distant to Buteo than thought. In the ABA Area this effects two species, both of which have limited ranges in the ABA Area but are widespread elsewhere in the Americas. The vagrant Roadside Hawk would be christened Rupornis magnirostris, and the White-tailed Hawk of coastal south Texas, which is removed from Buteo and placed in the genus Geranoeutus with Variable Hawk and Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, both of South America.

This proposal mirrors one already passed by the South America Check-list Committee.


Once again, the full list, including background information and recommendations, is available here (.pdf).