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Meadowlark split among 2022 checklist changes

Chihuahuan Meadowlark, checklist
The newly recognized species Chihuahuan Meadowlark (Sturnella lilianae) at San Raphael Grasslands in Arizona. Photo by Dominic Sherony (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Ninety-two years ago, in 1930, ornithologists reported that meadowlarks in the southwestern United States were somewhat different from the widespread Eastern and Western Meadowlarks. The birds, which have a darker yellow chest, paler upperparts, a shorter bill, and other differences from their cousins, were classified as a subspecies of Eastern Meadowlark — Sturnella magna lilianae. The subspecies was known as Lilian’s Meadowlark.

Four years later, the subspecies S. m. auropectoralis was described from central Mexico. It is similar to lilianae but has darker upperparts and shorter wings, and it nested in a region south of lilianae’s range.

Birders have speculated for decades that Lilian’s may be a distinct species, and now, after the better part of a century, the two populations are being recognized as distinct from Eastern Meadowlark. The North American Classification Committee of the American Ornithological Society announced that it is splitting lilianae and auropectoralis into a species to be known as Chihuahuan Meadowlark (Sturnella lilianae). The news appears in a new paper about the official checklist published August 3 in the journal Ornithology.

The bird’s breeding range extends from northern Arizona, northern New Mexico, and western Texas (and possibly southeastern Colorado) to northern Sonora and northern Chihuahua in Mexico. And separately, the subspecies auropectoralis breeds in Mexico, in southern Sinaloa and Durango south along the coast to Nayarit and in the interior to Michoacán and México. Chihuahuan Meadowlark winters from central Arizona and southern New Mexico through the remainder of the breeding range, and it has been recorded in winter west to the Colorado River in Arizona and east to Kinney and Val Verde Counties in Texas (which border the Rio Grande west of San Antonio).

In February, Johanna Beam, a Ph.D. student in biology at Penn State University, submitted an eight-page proposal to the classification committee arguing for the species split. Beam’s undergraduate honors thesis focused on speciation in Eastern, Western, and Lilian’s Meadowlarks, and she was lead author on a 2021 paper that found “Eastern, Western, and Lilian’s meadowlarks all have moderate but equal amounts of differentiation from one another, suggesting Lilian’s Meadowlarks is a full species.”

The committee’s decision to name the bird Chihuahuan Meadowlark reflects the fact that the lilianae subspecies is found in the Chihuahuan Desert.

For birders who keep life lists but don’t travel outside the U.S. or Canada, the meadowlark split is the most notable change to the official Check-list of North American Birds that AOS announced in its 63rd supplement to the list. The committee, however, made several other changes among birds in Central America and the Caribbean. So if you have been birding in Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Jamaica, or several other Latin American countries, your life list total may have risen thanks to new splits. The various moves bring the total number of recognized North American species to 2,178. Here’s a summary of other changes.

Splits

The two subspecies of Antillean Mango from the Caribbean islands of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico have been recognized as distinct species. Their new names reflect their home islands: Hispaniolan Mango (Anthracothorax dominicus) and Puerto Rican Mango (Anthracothorax aurulentus).

Broad-billed Hummingbird has been split into three species. The birds that breed in southwestern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and northern and central Mexico will retain the name Broad-billed Hummingbird and Cynanthus latirostris as the scientific name. The newly recognized species are Tres Marias Hummingbird (C. lawrencei), from the Tres Marías Islands, off the western coast of Mexico, and Turquoise-crowned Hummingbird (C. doubledayi), from the Pacific lowlands of southern Guerrero, southern Oaxaca, and western Chiapas states of Mexico.

Black-billed Streamertail has been split from Red-billed Streamertail. Photo by Dominic Sherony

On the island of Jamaica, Black-billed Streamertail (Trochilus scitulus) has been split from Red-billed Streamertail (T. polytmus), the country’s national bird.

On Cuba, Cuban Kite (Chondrohierax wilsonii) has been split from Hook-billed Kite (C. uncinatus). AOS says that Cuban Kite was formerly widespread, but it’s now restricted to extreme eastern Cuba. It adds: “Critically endangered or possibly extinct, with very few sightings in recent decades despite focused surveys.”

Several of the checklist updates involve birds of Mexico or Central America that have closely related species or subspecies found only in South America. For example, White-collared Kite (Leptodon forbesi) has been split from Gray-headed Kite (L. cayanensis). Gray-headed is widespread from southern Mexico to central South America. White-collared is endangered and is found only in eastern Brazil. 

Rusty-winged Antwren (Herpsilochmus frater) of Panama and South America has been split from Rufous-margined Antwren (H. rufimarginatus), also of South America.

Magdalena Antbird (Sipia palliata) of Colombia and Venezuela is now split from Dull-mantled Antbird (S. laemosticta) of Costa Rica and Panama.

Pacific Tuftedcheek (Pseudocolaptes johnsoni) of Colombia and Ecuador has been split from Buffy Tuftedcheek (P. lawrencii) of Costa Rica and western Panama.

Ecuadorian Thrush (Turdus maculirostris) of Ecuador is now split from Spectacled Thrush (T. nudigenis), which is found in South America and some Caribbean islands.

Cinnamon-bellied Saltator (Saltator grandis) of Mexico and Central America has been split from Blue-gray Saltator (S. coerulescens) and Olivaceous Saltator (S. olivascens) of South America.

From the other end of the AOS North American committee’s geographic jurisdiction comes a split among stonechat species. Asian Stonechat (Saxicola maurus, also known as Siberian Stonechat, or simply Stonechat) is considered a separate species from African Stonechat (S. torquatus) and European Stonechat (S. rubicola). Mostly a Eurasian bird, Asian Stonechat is considered casual in western Alaska, and has also been reported elsewhere in Alaska, as well as California and New Brunswick.

Lump

The one lump in the new update involves Mexican hummingbird species. Long-tailed Sabrewing (Pampa excellens) has been lumped with Curve-winged Sabrewing (Pampa curvipennis) and is now considered a subspecies of Curve-winged.

More changes

Lesser Kiskadee. Photo by Charles J. Sharp/Sharp Photography (Wikimedia Commons)

The committee is making changes to the genera or scientific names of some birds. For example, it shuffled the wren family Troglodytidae, changing the evolutionary order of 17 genera.

The committee is assigning Lesser Kiskadee, which is found from Panama to central South America, to its own genus: Philohydor. It used to be in the same genus as Great Kiskadee (Pitangus), and even though the species look similar, their DNA indicates that they are distant enough relatives to be placed in separate genera. The result is Lesser Kiskadee’s new scientific name is Philohydor lictor.

Violet-crowned and Green-fronted Hummingbirds have been assigned to a new genus. Instead of Leucolia, they’re now in Ramosomyia.

Similarly, Mottled and Black-and-white Owls have been assigned to the genus Strix and moved out of Ciccaba.

Zeledon’s Antbird, which is found from Costa Rica to Ecuador, is now in the genus Hafferia instead of Myrmeciza.

And Yellowish Pipit, which occurs from Panama to Argentina, has a new scientific name: Anthus chii instead of Anthus lutescens.

New to the checklist

The following species have been added to the checklist due to confirmed sightings in North America:

Hooded Crane of Asia is added due to sightings over the last decade in Alaska, Nebraska, Indiana, and Tennessee.

Northern Giant-Petrel, a species of the Southern Ocean, has been added to the list due to a record off the coast of Ocean Park, Washington, in 2019.

Small-billed Elaenia of South America is on the list due to sightings in northern Illinois in 2012 and 2021 and in eastern Quebec in 2021.

Naumann’s Thrush of Eurasia is also now on list because of a 2015 sighting at Gambell, on Alaska’s St. Lawrence Island, and previous sight reports on Alaskan islands.

Rejected proposals

Finally, the committee considered but rejected several other proposals, including splits involving Spruce Grouse, Band-tailed Pigeon, Squirrel Cuckoo, White-throated Mountain-gem, Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, Green-fronted Hummingbird, Whimbrel, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Barn Owl, Elegant Trogon, Resplendent Quetzal, House Wren, Carolina Wren, and American Robin, among others.

A proposed lump of Black Oystercatcher of North America and Blackish Oystercatcher of South America was rejected, as were pitches to merge Cassia Crossbill with Red Crossbill and to reinstate Northwestern Crow as a distinct species.

Post updated on August 5 to correct the name of the meadowlarks’ genus in the third paragraph.

Proposals considered for the 2022 update

Read past stories about checklist changes

Changes to North America’s bird list in 2021

McCown’s Longspur renamed Thick-billed Longspur

How the North American bird list is changing in 2020

How the North American bird checklist is changing in 2019

Checklist committee changes Gray Jay’s name to Canada Jay

Originally Published

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and BirdWatchingDaily.com. You can reach him at [email protected].

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