10 potential changes to the North American checklist

6/11/2018 | 1

Currently, both of these birds are known as Yellow Warbler. Taxonomy experts may split them into two species. Photos by Bradley Ouellette (left) and Juan Carlos Vindas (right)

In addition to the recent news that the North and Middle America Classification Committee of the American Ornithological Society is changing the name Gray Jay to Canada Jay, the committee is also considering several proposals that, if adopted, would affect birders’ checklists. They include the following 10, which I’ve listed in no particular order:

  1. Split Yellow Warbler into two species. Yellow Warbler, the most widespread warbler in the Americas includes the familiar migratory group as well as resident groups in Middle America and the Caribbean that have chestnut-colored heads, which is often called Mangrove Warbler. If they’re split, the common names would probably be Tropical Yellow Warbler (for the resident groups) and American Yellow Warbler (for the migratory groups).
  2. Split Red-eyed Vireo into two species. The proposal is to separate the resident subspecies in South America from the migratory subspecies that breeds in North America. The name Red-eyed Vireo would likely be retained for the migratory birds while the South American birds would be called Chivi Vireo.
  3. Change the English name of Rock Pigeon back to Rock Dove. This would avoid a naming conflict with an unrelated family of Australian rock-pigeons and bring the North American checklist in line with other checklists.
  4. Recognize Mexican Duck as a species. The darker, southern subspecies of Mallard may be more closely related to American Black Duck than to Mallard, research suggests.
  5. Split Barn Owl into three species. Recent studies suggest that the 28 subspecies of Barn Owl around the world are in fact three species: Western Barn Owl (in Africa, Europe, and southwest Asia), Eastern Barn Owl (in Australia and South Asia), and American Barn Owl (in the Americas).
  6. Split LeConte’s Thrasher into two species. This proposal would elevate a subspecies found in Mexico’s Baja California, Vizcaíno Thrasher, to full species status. The name LeConte’s Thrasher would be retained for birds in the U.S.
  7. Lump Taiga Bean-Goose and Tundra Bean-Goose. These Eurasian relatives of Greater White-fronted Goose sometimes turn up in Alaska and other spots in North America. They were split about a decade ago, but new evidence questions that decision, suggesting the birds be known as a single species.
  8. Rename Common Gallinule and Common Moorhen. The names of these marsh birds have been confusing for a long time. This proposal would change the name Common Gallinule to American Moorhen and Common Moorhen to Eurasian Moorhen. The Eurasian species has been spotted only once in North America (in 2010 on an Aleutian island).
  9. Split Cory’s Shearwater into two species. This change would recognize Cory’s Shearwater of the eastern Atlantic as distinct from Scopoli’s Shearwater of the Mediterranean Sea.
  10. Split White-collared Seedeater into two species. This proposal would separate birds from western and central Mexico (Cinnamon-rumped Seedeater) from the eastern group that occurs from southern Texas to Panama.

You can read all of the proposals the committee is considering here. The committee’s decisions are expected to be announced in July. — Matt Mendenhall, Editor

UPDATE, JUNE 22: CHECKLIST CHANGES ANNOUNCED

A version of this article appeared in “Birding Briefs” in the August 2018 issue of BirdWatching.

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  • ramanauskas

    “If they’re split, the common names would probably be Tropical Yellow Warbler and American Yellow Warbler” because of course they would. Why use the established names Yellow Warbler and Mangrove Warbler or the descriptive names Yellow Warbler and (say) Chestnut-Headed Warbler, when instead you can make things as confusing as possible?

    “Change the English name of Rock Pigeon back to Rock Dove.” Oh for the love of mud. Sure, change the common name of the bird that everyone in the entire world calls “The Pigeon” to something even more divorced from everyday reality. I see no possible downside to that.