posted July 24th, 2012; last edited July 25th, 2012 –– David Sibley

Name changes of birds in the 2012 AOU supplement

With the annual publication of the supplement to the AOU checklist, here is a listing of the changes to names in the Sibley Guide to Birds. There were a lot of other changes announced to names of neotropical birds, which are not discussed here. There were also some big changes in the sequence of species and families, which will be the subject of an upcoming post or two.

A pdf of the supplement can be seen here: http://www.aou.org/auk/content/129/3/0573-0588.pdf

One split affects the species count

Scripps’s Murrelet Synthliboramphus scrippsi – called “Northern” in the Sibley Guide

Guadalupe Murrelet Synthliboramphus hypoleucus – called “Southern” in the Sibley Guide

Formerly lumped as Xantus’s Murrelet Synthliboramphus scrippsi, now split into two species, both of which get new common names. This split has been anticipated for a long time. Both are found in the US and are fully covered in the Sibley Guide to Birds.

Splits of extralimital species

Audubon’s Shearwater is split (Galapagos Shearwater is now a full species) but only Audubon’s occurs in North America, and it retains the same name as before.

Gray Hawk is split into two species, but only one occurs in North America, and that species retains the common name Gray Hawk, but with a new scientific name Buteo plagiatus. The more southern Gray-lined Hawk does not occur in our area.

Changes in genera leading to name changes

The genus Stellula no longer exists, being merged into the genus Selasphorus, so Calliope Hummingbird, formerly Stellula calliope, is now:

Calliope Hummingbird Selasphorus calliope

Four species of North American nightjars were formerly in the genus Caprimulgus, but all of the native North American species are now placed in the new genus Antrostomus. The genus Caprimulgus remains on the North American list by virtue of a single record of an Old World species, Grey Nightjar, in the Aleutians.

Chuck-will’s-widow Antrostomus carolinensis

Buff-collared Nightjar Antrostomus ridgwayi

Eastern Whip-poor-will Antrostomus vociferus

Mexican Whip-poor-will Antrostomus arizonae

The genus Thryothorus is now reserved solely for Carolina Wren, and the other (mostly tropical) species in that genus are moved into new genera. The only one on the North American list is:

Sinaloa Wren Thryophilus sinaloa

New DNA evidence shows that Sage Sparrow (formerly Amphispiza belli) is not closely related to other species in that genus, such as Black-throated Sparrow. It becomes the sole member of a new genus:

Sage Sparrow Artemisiospiza belli

Three species of finches formerly in the genus Carpodacus are moved into a new genus, based on DNA evidence. The genus Carpodacus is now reserved for Old World species, including Common Rosefinch, while the New World species are placed in the genus Haemorhous.

Purple Finch Haemorhous purpureus

Cassin’s Finch Haemorhous cassinii

House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus

A few other minor changes in names

Indian Peafowl Pavo cristatus, formerly Common Peafowl

Purple Gallinule Porphyrio martinicus, formerly P. martinica

Island Canary Serinus canaria, formerly Common Canary

There are also quite a few changes of sequence, with hummingbirds and some other families having genera and species shuffled around. The biggest changes are in the sequence of the orders Falcons and parrots, which are moved to come just before the Passerines (just after woodpeckers). That’s a relatively small move for parrots, but a huge move for Falcons. Not only does it put them in a whole new section of the list, but it moves them away from the hawks, and I suspect that will be the hardest thing for people to accept.

Interesting glimpses into the process

The proposal to split Savannah Sparrow failed by the narrowest of margins, with seven votes in favor and 3 against. Usually this would be enough to pass, but the comments reveal that, while there were seven votes in favor of a split, there was no agreement on how to split the species, and those seven members voted for four different options. Clearly there is a general feeling that there is more than one species of Savannah Sparrow, but until there is a little more clarity on where the divisions should be made, and how many, we will continue to have one species.

The Savannah sparrow proposal is in this pdf file: http://www.aou.org/committees/nacc/proposals/2011-C.pdf

Comments on the Savannah Sparrow proposal are here: http://www.aou.org/committees/nacc/proposals/2011_C_votes_web.php#2011-C–9

9 comments to Name changes of birds in the 2012 AOU supplement

  • Thanks for this, David. Haemorhous is actually an old, old genus, celebrating its 175th anniversary this year; I’ve been practicing saying it over and over as the House Finches empty the feeders out my workroom window!

  • Joe Morlan

    I’ve also been practicing “Haemorhous” but every time I say it, it comes out different. Two options depend on Latin dialects:

    HAY-more-HOUSE
    HIGH-more-HOUSE

    Which do you prefer?

    • I’m not up on Latin pronunciation rules, but I thought the stress could be on the second syllable, and would lead to something like this: hi-MOR-oos. But I defer to others. Regardless of what the “correct” pronunciation is, I have a feeling birders will end up using “HEMrus”. ;-)

  • “Haemorhous” isn’t Latin–it’s Greek in derivation, but it’s really “scientese” and so should be pronounced as if it were a word in the speaker’s native language. I prefer HEE-mo-RO-us, giving it four syllables to honor the original diphthong and to keep it from sounding like an adjective.

    Kirk is a bit off in some of the things he says here; there is no “Greek ‘hemo’”; the Greek word was ‘aimo- .

    And as James Jobling kindly pointed out to me after I’d made the same mistake, the second element in the name isn’t rhous (sumac) but orrhos (rump), so these are blood-rumped birds. Compare leucorhoa, white-rumped, the epithet of whatever we think Leach’s Storm-Petrel is this week.

  • Nice summary, David. I have just a small comment. Galápagos Sheearwater occurs as far north as Mexico, and Gray-lined Hawk as far north as Costa Rica, so both are regularly found in North America, as Mexico and Costa Rica are both part of North America.

    • Hi Michael, this has come up before, and I understand that the most common definition of North America includes all of the countries south through Panama. But ever since I started birding in the late 1960s the bird guides have been titled “Birds of North America” even though they only cover the US and Canada. That’s Peterson, Golden, National Geographic, Stokes, etc, as well as the AOU checklist (until very recently) and the AOU/Cornell “Birds of North America” that we now call simply BNA. That is why it rolls off my tongue and keyboard so easily, and why I think it will be hard to change the birder’s definition of North America.

      Another reason is that there isn’t any good replacement term, which is probably why it stays in the title of so many books. We could say “the US and Canada” or “north of Mexico” or “the ABA area”, but none of those are as intuitive and pleasing as “North America”. I’ll try to be more aware of it when talking about species from Mexico or Central America, but I do think the birder’s definition of North America (north of Mexico) is pretty well established and understood.

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