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David Sibley: How to make peace with changes to your checklist

Red-tailed Hawk and American Kestrel by David Sibley
A SPECIAL PLACE: Red-tailed Hawk (left, in the hawk family) and American Kestrel (right, falcon family) show fundamental differences in shape, behavior, voice, and more. Until recently, the two families appeared side by side in field guides. Art by David Allen Sibley.

Many birders are understandably frustrated by changes in birds’ names, and in the sequence of species on checklists. It can be hard to keep up, but each revision generally highlights a significant advance in our understanding of birds and is worth some reflection.

It is important to point out that the changes are the judgments of expert ornithologists who base their decisions on published research. There is no “last word,” and modifications will continue. Any apparent inconsistencies or occasional reversals reflect the difficult and subjective nature of the decisions.

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David Sibley

David Sibley

David Sibley writes the column “ID Toolkit” in every issue of BirdWatching. He published the Sibley Guide to Birds in 2000, the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior in 2001, and Sibley’s Birding Basics in 2002. He is also the author of the Sibley Guide to Trees (2009), the Sibley Guide to Birds-Second Edition (2014), and guides to birds of eastern and western North America (2016). He is the recipient of the American Birding Association’s Roger Tory Peterson Award for lifetime achievement in promoting the cause of birding and a recognition award from the National Wildlife Refuge System for his support of bird conservation.

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