Changes in Bird Names and Taxonomy from the AOU
The American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU) maintains the official list of birds for North America, the West Indies, and Hawaii—the so-called “AOU check-list area.” The AOU’s Committee on Classification and Nomenclature (the “Check-list Committee”) also has final say on the classification, English names, and scientific names for all bird species in the check-list area and periodically publishes this information in its Check-list of North American Birds , the seventh edition of which appeared in 1998. Because ideas on taxonomy change as new data become available, every year the AOU publishes a supplement to the Check-list in its official journal, The Auk. Some of the information in these supplements pertains to birds that occur in Montana, and I will strive to provide an overview of these changes each time they are published in The Auk.
The 44th Supplement to the Check-list was published in July 2003. The following changes are relevant to Montana birders. First, the English name for the good old domestic pigeon, once known as the Rock Dove (Columba livia), has been changed to Rock Pigeon to conform with usage in the rest of the world. On a somewhat related note, it was decided that all New World pigeons that were in the genus Columba (Rock Pigeon not included because it’s introduced from the Old World) should now be placed in the genus Patagioenas . The only Montana species affected by this change is the vagrant Band-tailed Pigeon, which becomes Patagioenas fasciata. Similarly, the genus of all but one New World species of screech-owl is changed from Otus to Megascops . Thus, the scientific names for the Eastern and Western screech-owls become Megascops asio and Megascops kennicottii , respectively. The genus for the Flammulated Owl remains Otus in recognition of the fact that this species has Old World affinities. On yet another owl matter, the genus for the Snowy Owl is changed from Nyctea to Bubo to reflect that the Snowy Owl is really an Arctic form of eagle-owl. The scientific name becomes Bubo scandiacus . The AOU also split the New World and Old World forms of Three-toed Woodpecker. Our North American species becomes the American Three-toed Woodpecker ( Picoides dorsalis ), whereas the Old World form retains the scientific name Picoides tridactylus but becomes the Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker.
You might remember from the last newsletter article on name changes (see article below) that I wrote the following: “owing to rules for agreement in gender of the genus and species in a scientific name, the specific name for Black-capped Chickadee becomes Poecile atricapilla (vs. the mistaken name atricapillus )....” Well, life just isn’t that simple, and the Check-list Committee discovered that atricapillus had been correct all along. So, in your field guide, erase atricapilla (if you were astute enough to make the changes in pencil) and reinstate the specific epithet atricapillus for Black-capped Chickadee. While you’re at it, draw a line, preferably in pencil, through the species name aurocapillus for the Ovenbird and pencil in what is now the accepted scientific name, Seiurus aurocapilla. That’s right, the Committee discovered they’d made a gender-agreement error in that scientific name as well.
As always, stay tuned for additional changes that no doubt will appear when the 45th Supplement to the Check-list is published in the July 2004 issue of The Auk. Perhaps with time, you will learn to make taxonomic changes in your field guide in pencil. It took me about six years to figure this out.
The 42nd Supplement to the Check-list was published in July 2000. Five species of Montana birds are mentioned in this supplement. First, the English name of Clangula hyemalis , formerly known as Oldsquaw, becomes Long-tailed Duck to conform with widespread usage of the latter name in the Old World, where this species also occurs. Second, the population of Sage Grouse confined to the Gunnison Valley of Colorado is recognized as a distinct species, the Gunnison Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus minimus), based on body measurements, plumage, behavior, and genetics. Grouse that occur outside the Gunnison Valley (including Montana) retain the scientific name Centrocercus urophasianus , but the English name is now Greater Sage-Grouse. (Note that “sage-grouse” must now be hyphenated because it is a “group name” for more than one species.) Third, on the basis of morphological, behavioral, and genetic characters, the Black-billed Magpie in North America is considered a distinct species from that in the Old World. The English name for our magpie does not change, but the scientific name becomes Pica hudsonia . The Old World bird becomes Eurasian Magpie and retains the scientific name Pica pica . And finally, owing to rules for agreement in gender of the genus and species in a scientific name, the specific name for Black-capped Chickadee becomes Poecile atricapilla (vs. the mistaken name atricapillus ), and that for Boreal Chickadee becomes Poecile hudsonica (vs. hudsonicus ). But wait, you might be thinking, isn’t the genus for chickadees Parus? Indeed, it was Parus up until the 1998 Check-list appeared, at which time it was revealed that the Old World tits were different enough from our New World chickadees to warrant placing the two groups in separate genera, Parus and Poecile, respectively.
The 43rd Supplement to the Check-list was published in July 2002, and three species of Montana birds were affected. First, populations of Common Snipe from the Old and New Worlds are split into two species. Our birds revert back to Wilson’s Snipe, scientific name Gallinago delicata, whereas Old World birds retain the names Common Snipe and Gallinago gallinago . This change is particularly satisfying for Jeff, because on his visit to Kazakhstan last May, he was shocked to hear winnowing “Common Snipe” that sounded completely different from the birds he knew in North America. He insisted to his British birding partners that the birds could not be the same species as those in North America, being completely unaware that several North Americans had been saying the same thing for years, and had finally convinced the AOU that two species were involved! Second, the scientific name for the Red Phalarope becomes Phalaropus fulicarius (vs. fulicaria ) so that the genus and species names agree in gender. Finally, the Blue Grosbeak, long placed in its own genus, Guiraca , is recognized as being a rather large member of the bunting genus Passerina, thus grouping it taxonomically with the Lazuli Bunting, Indigo Bunting, and the four other species of Passerina. The English name is unchanged (we already have a Blue Bunting, which occurs in Mexico and Central America), but the scientific name becomes Passerina caerulea .
Stay tuned for additional changes that no doubt will appear when the 44th Supplement to the Check-list is published in the July 2003 issue of The Auk. Among the proposals being considered are splitting the New World populations of Herring Gull into a separate species from those in the Old World, and moving the Yellow-breasted Chat from the wood-warbler family Parulidae into the blackbird family Icteridae!
Summary of Changes in Bird Names, 2000 to 2004