How the North American bird checklist is changing in 2019

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The newly renamed Blue-throated Mountain-gem. Photographed in Arizona by Joe McDonald/Shutterstock

Only a few of this year’s changes to the official checklist of North American birds pertain to species found in the United States and Canada. Instead, most of the significant revisions affect the names and taxonomies of birds in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. The changes, announced today in the 60th supplement to the American Ornithological Society’s Check-list of North American Birds, published by The Auk: Ornithological Advances, include:

— A split of White-winged Scoter. As we reported last month, this widespread sea duck is being split into three species, based largely on the continents on which they live. The North American species will retain the English name White-winged Scoter, and its new scientific name will be Melanitta deglandi. Velvet Scoter is the new name for the European species, matching the name used by other taxonomic authorities, and it retains the scientific name M. fusca. The Asian species will be Stejneger’s Scoter (M. stejnegeri). The supplement notes that Stejneger’s Scoter is considered casual in late spring in northwestern Alaska.

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— A new name for Blue-throated Hummingbird. The AOS Committee on Classification and Nomenclature-North and Middle America has decided to rename the species as Blue-throated Mountain-gem. This is primarily a Mexican species, ranging from Oaxaca north through woodland mountains and canyons to southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, and western Texas. Vagrants have occurred as far north as northern Colorado, eastern California, and eastern Louisiana, according to eBird.

Similarly, the name of the closely related Amethyst-throated Hummingbird, a resident in Mexico and Central America, is now Amethyst-throated Mountain-gem.

“There are seven hummingbird species in the genus Lampornis, and all but two of them already had the common name ‘mountain-gem,’” explains committee chair Terry Chesser, USGS research zoologist at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. “Usually we don’t like to change the English names just to make them ‘better,’ because you could go through and make practically any bird name better if you wanted to, but in this case we thought it was worthwhile. We hope that calling all the birds in that genus by the name ‘mountain-gem’ will help birders understand a little bit more about the birds they’re looking at, both in terms of associating these seven species with each other and in recognizing them as distinct from species in other genera simply called ‘hummingbird.’”

— A new genus for six warbler species. The “dull-colored” species that were until recently in the genus Oreothlypis — Tennessee, Orange-crowned, Colima, Lucy’s, Nashville, and Virginia’s Warblers — have now been reassigned to the genus Leiothlypis. Two Middle American species, Flame-throated Warbler and Crescent-chested Warbler, differ considerably in plumage and vocalizations from the other six and will remain in Oreothlypis.

A wild Budgerigar. Photo by Tracey Heimberger/Shutterstock

— A new genus for 14 storm-petrels. The birds previously listed in the genus Oceanodroma, including Leach’s and Ashy Storm-Petrels, have been moved into the genus Hydrobates.

— A tweak to a common name for doves. The committee is removing the hyphen from “Ground-Dove” for five species in the genus Columbina, including Common Ground Dove and Ruddy Ground Dove.

— Removal of the Budgie. A species familiar to parrot fanciers, the Budgerigar, was removed from the list. Native to Australia, escaped pet Budgies established a wild breeding population in central Florida in the 1950s. However, the population had been declining for decades, and as of 2014, Florida’s Budgies have died out, possibly due to competition for nest sites from other non-native birds.

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and BirdWatchingDaily.com. He joined the staff of BirdWatching (formerly Birder’s World) in 2000 and has worn many hats over the years: reporter, story wrangler, photo editor, managing editor, and now editor. Originally from Omaha, he lives with his wife and two daughters in Milwaukee and holds a Bachelor’s in journalism from Marquette University. You can reach Matt at (617) 706-9098 and [email protected].

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