Monday, February 2, 2009

changing bird names

Recent discussions on the Wisconsin birdnet mention Blue-headed Vireo, which many birders recall as Solitary Vireo. But Blue-headed Vireo as a name for this bird pre-dates the more recent name Soilitary Vireo. My 1934 Peterson Field Guide calls it Blue-headed Vireo. This is one of those instances where the AOU has gone back to an earlier usage. If you were following the divisions in the vireos about 10+ years ago, Cassin's and Plumbeous Vireos (in the west) were split from Solitary. Since Solitary was the name that formerly "covered" or included all three, it's pretty clear why the old name was chosen again; plus there is the "first-name-used" convention, which applies (at least sometimes) for both scientific and common names. These 3 are distinct in plumage and geography. Since a lot of birders are happy when they get 3 out of 1 (but not usually too happy when it goes the other way), to me this looks like a good deal.

You can see the remaining use of the old name for the eastern and western Yellow-rumped Warbler forms in the 4-letter codes used by banders for the eastern "Myrtle" (Yellow-rumped) Warbler - the old name, has given us the banders' code [MYWA = MYrtle WArbler], whereas in the west there is the Audubon's (Yellow-rumped) Warbler [AUWA = AUdubon's WArbler].
The changes reflect recent research into genetic, morphological, biogeographic, and other aspects of ornithology. Why is it such a big problem for so many folks when names change? Change is hard, I guess! I always look forward to more information, and more new papers and books about birds. More changes are coming; might as well accept it.

To remind you about additional changes in the most recent version of the list, several of these familiar gulls' scientific names are now different, as is the sequence in which they are listed. Notice the names for Bonaparte's, Little, Laughing, and Franklin's Gulls. The sequence reflects the current state of knowledge about evolutionary relationships between a species and those "closest" to it on the list - those "most closely related":

FAMILY: LARIDAE - Gulls and Terns
Black-legged Kittiwake - (Rissa tridactyla)
Ivory Gull - (Pagophila eburnea)
Sabine's Gull - (Xema sabini)
Bonaparte's Gull - (Croicocephalus philadelphia)
Black-headed Gull - (Croicocephalus ridibundus)
Little Gull - (Hydrocoloeus minutus)
Ross's Gull - (Rhodostethia rosea)
Laughing Gull - (Luecophaeus atricilla)
Franklin's Gull - (Leucophaeus pipixcan)
Black-tailed Gull - (Larus crassirostris)
Mew Gull - (Larus canus)
Ring-billed Gull - (Larus delawarensis)
California Gull - (Larus californicus)
Herring Gull - (Larus argentatus)
Thayer's Gull - (Larus thayeri)
Iceland Gull - (Larus glaucoides)
Lesser Black-backed Gull - (Larus fuscus)
Slaty-backed Gull - (Larus schistisagus)
Glaucous-winged Gull - (Larus glaucescens)
Glaucous Gull - (Larus hyperboreus)
Great Black-backed Gull - (Larus marinus)
Sooty Tern - (Onychoprion fuscata)
Least Tern - (Sternula antillarum)
Caspian Tern - (Hydroprogne caspia)
Black Tern - (Chlidonias niger)
White-winged Tern - (Chlidonias leucopterus)
Common Tern - (Sterna hirundo)
Arctic Tern - (Sterna paradisaea)
Forster's Tern - (Sterna forsteri)
Royal Tern - (Thalasseus maximus)

If you'd like to read more about nomenclature in birds, go to this link, and this one. The latter especially is of historic interest, since if you look at the links in the left hand column at that page, it will take you to a pdf of the original AOU document on nomenclature, published in 1885, by Coues, Allen, Ridgway, Brewster, and Henshaw, some of the ornithological sages of that time.

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