Every summer, birders anxiously await publication of the “Check-list Supplement” by the American Ornithological Society’s (AOS) Committee on Classification and Nomenclature of North and Middle American Birds (a.k.a. NACC). The supplement details revisions to the NACC’s Check-list of North American Birds. Presented here is a rundown of this year’s more significant revisions. You can read the supplement itself in Ornithology by clicking here.
Nowadays, it can be assumed that any change in taxonomy is due (at least partly) to analysis of new genetic data, so that is not always mentioned here. As a general policy, the NACC accepts as additions to its Check-list any species the ABA’s Checklist Committee adds to its list. Those changes are not listed here. In instances where new species appear on the Check-list because of a split, the sequence in which they are listed here is the sequence in which they appear on the Check-list. Species marked with a single asterisk (*) below are those which do not appear on the ABA Checklist. Those which do not appear on AOS’s North American Check-list are marked with double asterisks (**). Extinct species are marked with daggers (†).
This year, the topics most likely to generate discussion within the ABA Area are the splits of Eastern Meadowlark and Stonechat. In addition, the genera for Violet-crowned Hummingbird and Mottled Owl have changed, and the same is true of their Neotropical congeners.
Further south, in Middle America and the West Indies, Tres Marías Hummingbird, Turquoise-crowned Hummingbird, Red-billed Streamertail, Black-billed Streamertail, Puerto Rican Mango, Hispaniolan Mango, Cuban Kite, Rufous-winged Antwren, and Cinnamon-bellied Saltator newly appear on the Check-list. Long-tailed Sabrewing is lumped into Wedge-tailed. And there are new scientific names for Zeledon’s Antbird, Lesser Kiskadee, and Yellowish Pipit.
Split of Eastern Meadowlark
Chihuahuan Meadowlark (Sturnella lilianae)
Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna)
This split has been anticipated for a while now, and the NACC actually voted down this action a few years ago. As it turns out, Eastern Meadowlark (sensu stricto) is more closely related to Western Meadowlark than it is to Chihuahuan Meadowlark, which birders have long known as “Lilian’s Meadowlark”.
Chihuahuan Meadowlark consists of two subspecies. The nominate breeds in high-elevation desert grasslands of the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico; many retreat from the northerly portion of the breeding range in winter. The second subspecies of Chihuahuan Meadowlark, auropectoralis, breeds in coastal western Mexico from Sinaloa south to Michoacán. It is unknown if the two subspecies overlap in range in winter, and exactly where auropectoralis reaches the eastern edge of its range is unknown. There are other populations of meadowlark (e.g., in interior and coastal Oaxaca) whose affiliations are not immediately apparent. Compared to nearby Eastern Meadowlarks, Chihuahuan Meadowlark has more extensive white in the tail, is paler overall, and is more golden yellow below. Its song is like Eastern’s but averages lower in pitch and may differ in having the highest note more consistently at the beginning of the song (rather than just before the end in Eastern). Chihuahuan’s song has been rendered as tortilla con chile.
Sequence change for Labrador Duck
Genetic data indicate that Steller’s Eider and Labrador Duck (Camptorhynchus labradorius)† are sister species. The latter now follows the former in the checklist sequence. Let me know if you find one!
Goodbye, Leucolia. Hello, Ramosomyia.
Violet-crowned Hummingbird (Leucolia violiceps ➛ Ramosomyia violiceps)
Green-fronted Hummingbird (Leucolia viridifrons ➛ Ramosomyia viridifrons)*
Leucolia was found to be unavailable, so yet another genus is being used for these two species. There is no change in checklist sequence. On a related note, Cinnamon-sided Hummingbird* (Ramosomyia viridifrons wagneri) was not split from Green-fronted this time around.
Mottled Owl (Ciccaba virgata ➛ Strix virgata)
Black-and-white Owl (Ciccaba nigrolineata ➛ Strix nigrolineata)*
The genus Ciccaba has been absorbed into Strix. The two species above follow Fulvous Owl in the checklist sequence.
Split of Stonechat
Asian Stonechat (Saxicola maurus)
African Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus)**
European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola)**
Asian Stonechat is the species with records in the ABA Area (mostly in Alaska, but also with single records in California and New Brunswick). Besides breeding in Asia, it also breeds in European Russia and has bred in Finland. This four-way split (unsurprisingly) affects populations in the Old World. Adult male maurus Asian Stonechats differ from European Stonechats (conceivably a vagrant to North America) in adult males having a more extensive white collar, less extensive orange below, and black (not gray) underwing coverts. Female maurus Asian Stonechats have a plain buffy rump (vs. darker and spotted). Note that eBird currently calls S. maurus Siberian Stonechat, as it also appeared on the AOS Check-list a decade or so ago.
Change in Sequence for Wrens
=== Further changes affecting only Latin America and the West Indies ===
Goodbye, Long-tailed Sabrewing!
(Lump of Long-tailed and Wedge-tailed sabrewings)
Pampa sabrewings in southern Veracruz and on the Gulf slope of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec are larger, longer-tailed, and paler below than their cousins to the east and west. Still, this wasn’t enough to save their species status, as Pampa excellens is now Pampa curvipennis excellens. To make matters even more confusing, some authorities (e.g., IOC) split this complex into three species: Curve-winged Sabrewing (P. curvipennis) of northeast Mexico, Long-tailed Sabrewing (P. excellens) of southern Veracruz at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and Wedge-tailed/Yucatán Sabrewing (P. pampa) of the Yucatán Peninsula.
Split of Antillean Mango
Hispaniolan Mango (Anthracothorax dominicus)*
Puerto Rican Mango (Anthracothorax aurulentus)*
These allopatric species differ in coloration of the males’ underparts and the females’ tails.
Split of Broad-billed Hummingbird
Broad-billed Hummingbird (Cynanthus latirostris)
Tres Marías Hummingbird (Cynanthus lawrencei)*
Turquoise-crowned Hummingbird (Cynanthus doubledayi)*
Tres Marías Hummingbird is endemic to the Tres Marías Islands off the coast of Nayarit. Adult males average more golden overall than adult male Broad-billeds, with emerald-green throats and golden-green upperparts. Turquoise-crowned Hummingbird is endemic to the coastal slope of southwestern Mexico, from western Guerrero to far western Chiapas. Compared to adult male Broad-billeds, adult male Turquoise-crowneds are more solidly and extensively cobalt-indigo blue below, and their crowns are blue-tinged, unlike in adult male Broad-billeds. The females of the three are, to my knowledge, morphologically indistinguishable in the field. Broad-billed Hummingbird (sensu stricto) is found from the southwestern U.S. south to Colima on the Pacific slope and to Puebla in the interior. Note that Turquoise-crowned Hummingbird has for decades been split by Mexican taxonomy authorities (such as Howell and Webb) as Doubleday’s Hummingbird.
Click here for a photo of Tres Marías Hummingbird.
Split of Streamertail
Red-billed Streamertail (Trochilus polytmus)*
Black-billed Streamertail (Trochilus scitulus)*
The national bird of Jamaica is now two species. Red-billed is the more westerly of the two parapatric species. Besides bill color, Black-billed differs from Red-billed in having a smaller and more slender bill and in having less golden sheen to the upperparts. Courtship displays seem to accentuate the males’ bill colors, thereby making hybridization less likely in the narrow contact zone.
Split of Hook-billed Kite
Hook-billed Kite (Chondrohierax uncinatus)
Cuban Kite (Chondrohierax wilsonii)*(†?)
The distinctive and newly recognized Cuban Kite is likely already extinct, as concerted efforts to relocate it over the past dozen years have been unsuccessful. It differs from Hook-billed Kite in being smaller overall with finer barring below, concealed pale barring on the upperparts, and a larger, all-pale bill. The only known photo of a living Cuban Kite appears on p. 23 in the January 2010 issue of Birding.
Scientific name change for Yellowish Pipit
Anthus lutescens ➛ Anthus chii
An older specific epithet with priority was found for Yellowish Pipit.
Split of Grayish Saltator
Cinnamon-bellied Saltator (Saltator grandis)*
Bluish-gray Saltator (Saltator coerulescens)**
Olive-gray Saltator (Saltator olivascens)**
Grayish Saltator was found to be paraphyletic with respect to Streaked Saltator, so it was split three ways. Only one, Cinnamon-bellied, occurs in North America. Note that eBird calls the two South American species Blue-gray and Olivaceous saltators. The three appear quite similar morphologically.
Lesser Kiskadee (Pitangus lictor ➛ Philohydor lictor)*
Neither kiskadee species has close relatives, and they certainly don’t belong in the same genus. Lesser Kiskadee arises from the basal lineage of and is sister to a large assemblage of “kiskadee things” (e.g., Social Flycatcher, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Variegated Flycatcher, etc.) and the kingbirds. Greater Kiskadee is, in turn, sister to all of those aforementioned species.
Split of Rufous-winged Antwren
Rusty-winged Antwren (Herpsilochmus frater)*
Rufous-margined Antwren (Herpsilochmus rufimarginatus)**
The nominate subspecies of Rufous-winged Antwren (sensu lato), which occurs in southeastern Brazil, Paraguay, and extreme northeastern Argentina, was found to be quite vocally distinct from the others and has been split away from them. Rusty-winged Antwren occurs in North America only in eastern Panama. The two appear quite similar and differ mostly in voice and genetics.
Zeledon’s Antbird (Myrmeczia zeledoni ➛ Hafferia zeledoni)*
The antbird genus Myrmeczia was a dumpster fire of a dustbin taxon and has been split into half a dozen new genera.
Split of Buffy Tuftedcheek
Buffy Tuftedcheek (Pseudocolaptes lawrencii)*
Pacific Tuftedcheek (Pseudocolaptes johnsoni)**
The North American species, endemic to the Chiriquí highlands of Costa Rica and Panama, retains both original scientific and English names. Pacific Tuftedcheek is endemic to the Western Andes of Colombia and Ecuador.
Split of Spectacled Thrush
Spectacled Thrush (Turdus nudigenis)*
Ecuadorian Thrush (Turdus maculirostris)**
Spectacled Thrush (sensu stricto) is found in northern South America, the Netherlands Antilles, and the Lesser Antilles north to Martinique. Ecuadorian Thrush is endemic to western Ecuador and northwestern Peru. Spectacled Thrush has also been known as Bare-eyed Thrush.
Split of Dull-mantled Antbird
Dull-mantled Antbird (Sipia laemosticta)*
Magdalena Antbird (Sipia palliata)**
Dull-mantled Antbird is (so far) endemic to middle elevations in Costa Rica, Panama, and extreme northwestern Colombia. Magdalena Antbird is endemic to interior valleys of northern Colombia and northwestern Venezuela.
Split of Vermilion Flycatcher
Brujo Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus nanus)**
Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus)
The Galápagos-endemic Brujo (BROO-hoh) Flycatcher has been split from Vermilion Flycatcher. Though the adult males of the two species appear similar, the females are quite distinct. Instead of the streaky breast and salmon-washed belly of female Vermilions, female Brujo Flycatchers are largely plain and pale yellowish below. Brujo means “wizard” or “warlock” in Spanish.
Split of Greenish Puffleg
Greenish Puffleg (Haplophaedia aureliae)*
Buff-thighed Puffleg (Haplophaedia assimilis)**
Greenish Puffleg is found from eastern Panama to northern Peru. Buff-thighed Puffleg is found from northern Peru to northern Bolivia.
Split of Gray-headed Kite
Gray-headed Kite (Leptodon cayanensis)*
White-collared Kite (Leptodon forbesi)**
Gray-headed Kite is found from southeastern Mexico to northern Argentina. White-collared Kite is endemic to northeastern Brazil.
Proposals not accepted included splits of Spruce Grouse, Band-tailed Pigeon, Green-fronted Hummingbird, Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, White-throated Mountain-gem, Squirrel Cuckoo, Whimbrel, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Barn Owl, Elegant Trogon, Resplendent Quetzal, Olive-striped Flycatcher, Greater Antillean Elaenia, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, American Crow, House Wren, Carolina Wren, American Robin, White-throated Thrush, and Red-legged Thrush; lumps of Cassia/Red crossbills and Black/Blackish oystercatchers; and a change of English name for Short-billed Gull.
I sincerely thank NACC Chair Terry Chesser and all the other members of the committee for their work in maintaining the checklist and for graciously providing an advance copy of the manuscript.