A few weeks ago, I sent out a summary of the most recent changes to AOU's
Check-list of North American Birds. Since then, the AOU has stated that one
of the changes was an error: Black Scoter should have retained its English
name rather than being changed to American Scoter. The split remains in
place, so it is still a new species (Melanitta americana).
AOU did not explain what happened, but it appears that in the UK the sister
species is called "Common Scoter" so 'we' can keep the name Black Scoter
(at least for now...)
-- Scott Schwenk
Once again, the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) has released its annual
supplement to the official Check-list of North American Birds, and I thought
Vermont birders might be interested in the changes. The full report is in
July's "Auk," the journal of the AOU. I expect it to be made freely
available on the AOU's website but as of this afternoon it has not yet been
posted. Much new genetics data are contributing to the trend of splitting
species and other taxonomic groupings (frequently restoring old
classifications that were subsequently lumped together). Here are some
A) Changes to common American names:
1) Whip-poor-will has been split into 2 species. "Our" 'whip' is now
"Eastern Whip-poor-will," with the same scientific name (Caprimulgus
vociferus). The disjunct population of the Southwestern U.S. and Mexico is
now "Mexican Whip-poor-will" (C. arizonae). Basis: DNA and differences in
vocalizations. Differences in appearance (including eggs) also noted.
2) The Black Scoter (Melanitta nigra) has been split into 2 species, with
"our" scoter now called "American Scoter" (M. americana), as distinguished
from its Eurasian sister species. Basis: distinctive courtship calls and
appearance of bill.
3) What we know as Winter Wren has been split into 3 species, but is
still called Winter Wren here in Vermont (with a new scientific name,
Troglodytes hiemalis). The Eurasian version, often simply called "Wren,"
retains the original scientific name (T. troglodytes). The third species is
"Pacific Wren" (T. pacifica), found along the Pacific coast from Alaska to
California but also in the interior continent in Washington, Oregon, Idaho,
Montana, to SW Alberta. Winter Wren breeds as far west as NE British
Columbia and northern Alberta (but not along the Pacific coast) and then
east across Canada to the Atlantic coast. Basis: vocalizations, DNA, and
lack of interbreeding where the two American species ranges are nearby.
4) Greater Shearwater (Puffinus gravis) is now known as Great Shearwater.
Basis: to conform to general worldwide usage of its name.
B) Changes to scientific names that affect species of the Northeast:
1) Blue-winged warbler: changed from Vermivora pinus to V. cyanoptera.
Basis: the original name, dating all the way back to 1766, was determined to
have been misnamed based on confusion between this species and Pine Warbler.
The new name is a correction.
2) 8 warbler species also with the genus name Vermivora have been moved
to a new genus name "Oreothlypis." In our area, this applies to
Orange-crowned, Tennessee, and Nashville Warblers (the others are
Western/Mexican sp.). Vermivora now only applies to Blue-winged,
Golden-winged, and Bachman's Warblers. Basis: the 2 sets of species are not
closely related, based on genetic work.
3) Northern and Louisiana Waterthrushes have a new genus name,
"Parkesia." Basis: genetic data indicate these species are not particularly
closely related to Ovenbird, with which they used to share a genus name
C) Changes to scientific names of species not found in the Northeast:
1) Brown Jay has been restored to its own genus, "Psilorhinus." Basis:
distinctive appearance and DNA.
2) The group of "brown towhees" (including Canyon, CA, and Abert's
Towhees), formerly genus Pipilo, have been given their own genus,
"Melozone." Basis: genetic data.
3) A group of sparrows has been moved out of the genus Aimophila, with
the prior genus name "Peucaea" restored. U.S. species: Rufous-winged,
Botteri's, Cassin's, and Bachman's Sparrows (but not Rufous-crowned). Basis:
DNA and appearance.
4) Five-striped Sparrow, also moved out of Aimophila, gets its old genus
name "Amphispiza" back. Basis: DNA and appearance.
5) The old genus name for McCown's Longspur, "Rhynchophanes," is
restored. Basis: genetic data as well as morphology indicate this species is
more closely related to Snow Bunting than other Longspurs and so should not
share a genus name with them.
D) Higher level changes - orders and families:
1) Two old orders, Pelecaniformes and Ciconiiformes, are broken up. The
i) Tropicbirds are moved out of Pelecaniformes into their own order:
ii) Other groups of species are also moved out of Pelecaniformes to
create a new order, "Suliformes." The members of this new order are gannets
and boobies; frigatebirds; cormorants; and anhingas.
iii) Herons/egrets (Ardeidae) and ibises/spoonbills
(Threskiornithidae) are moved out of Ciconiiformes and into Pelecaniformes.
As a result, Ciconiiformes is just the storks and Pelecaniformes contains
pelicans, herons, and ibises (and some allied groups outside of North
Basis: genetic data.
2) Falcons (still called Falconiformes) are split from the other raptors
traditionally placed in this order, resulting in the new order
"Accipitriformes" (hawks, eagles, New World vultures, osprey, kites, etc.).
Basis: genetic data indicate falcons are not closely related to the other
3) Ospreys are restored to their own family, "Pandionidae." Basis:
genetics and distinctive appearance.
4) Longspurs and snow buntings are moved out of Emberizidae into a new
family, "Calcariidae." Basis: DNA data.
5) Gnatcatchers are moved out of Sylvidae (as are several other groups
rare to North America) to a new family, "Polioptilidae."
6) Wrentit is moved back to Sylvidae.
-- Scott Schwenk
University of Vermont