No surprise. This month’s quiz bird is flying. I think most would agree that it is a bird of prey of some sort. I chose the photo this month to provide an opportunity to make a couple points about taxonomy that some or many birders apparently do not know.

Taxonomy is the “science” that endeavors to determine the relationships across the wide variety of… let’s use the Star Trek term “life forms.” Scientists use available data and information (those are NOT mutually interchangeable terms!) to present an interpretation of the degree of relationships of various taxa of organisms, whether that is all life ever or just within a genus of beetles. We are constantly obtaining new data, new information and reanalyzing previous determinations in the light of these new data (note the plural form of the adjective: “these” data or “those” data, not “that” data, because “data” is plural; “datum” is singular). That means that taxonomy is not precisely a hard science, it requires interpretation and interpretation introduces bias. Thus, taxonomy is fluid, changeable. The order in which taxa are aligned can differ from individual taxonomy to individual taxonomy.

The main point of the above is that neither New World vultures nor falcons are now considered to be in the same order as are the hawks, kites, and eagles. Thus, if entering a bird into eBird that one is not sure whether it is a Turkey Vulture or an eagle, one needs to enter it in the “bird sp.” category, as New World vultures are in the order Cathartiformes while all eagles are in the order Acciptriformes. The next highest taxonomic level is class, thus the subject eBird entry is known to be in the class Aves, but not any more specifically than that. Since the class Aves is equivalent to “bird,” one must enter that mystery raptorial thing as “bird sp.” The same would be true if an eBirder were not sure whether a bird were a Sharp-shinned Hawk (in the Accipitriformes) or a Merlin (in the Falconiformes); “bird sp.” is the entry for such.

Yes, things were simpler 30 years ago when all of the raptorial birds were considered hawks of one sort or another. However, simpler does not necessarily mean correct.

What species is represented here?