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Latest supplement splits Western Scrub-Jay into two species

California Scrub-Jay, San Jose, California. Photo by Eric Larson.

Until the 1990s, birders in North America could count only one scrub-jay. Then, in 1995, the species was split into three: Florida Scrub-Jay, Western Scrub-Jay, and Island Scrub-Jay. Now, thanks to the latest supplement to the American Ornithologists’ Union checklist of North American birds, we have four.

Because of differences in ecology, morphology, genetics, and vocalizations, Western Scrub-Jay is being split into a coastal species named California Scrub-Jay and an interior species, Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay.

The split was anticipated. “‘California Scrub-Jay’ is much more colorful and contrasting than its inland relative,” Kenn Kaufman stated in the April 2009 issue of BirdWatching, shortly after the change had first been proposed. “‘Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay’ has a more muted pattern, and its behavior seems muted, too: Often uncommon and sparsely distributed, it seems shier and more elusive than the coastal bird.”

Writing in July in the journal The Auk: Ornithological Advances, the AOU also announced that it had split the order Cathartiformes (New World Vultures) from Accipitriformes (hawks), recognized the new orders Steatornithiformes (oilbirds) and Nyctibiiformes (potoos), and reshuffled the resulting sequence of 21 orders between Galliformes (chickenlike birds) and Trogoniformes (trogons). The sequence of vireo species has also been changed.

David Sibley writes more about the checklist changes in “ID Toolkit” in the forthcoming October 2016 issue of BirdWatching.


See photos of scrub-jays.

Checklist update: AOU makes no changes to Northern Cardinal and Painted Bunting.

Lure of the list: How the American Ornithologists’ Union and American Birding Association determine bird checklists.


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