AOU Updates, 2020 Edition

 

Northwestern Crow with dead fish_FedWayWA_20090920_LAH_0904

We’re approaching mid-summer, the time that nestlings fledge, birders wilt, and ornithologists announce updates to lists of North American birds. As is common in these days of DNA analysis, most of the changes involve taxonomic reordering and changes in genus. That’s fascinating for those interested in taxonomy, but for most birders, it’s the lumps and splits that claim our attention. When species are lumped, we stand to lose a lifer. When subspecies are split into two or more full species, we can celebrate a longer list. There are three changes this year that will affect our North American life list totals.

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Splitting Red-tailed Hawks?

Red-tailed Hawk_CanonCity-CO_LAH_8371.nef

If you’ve been birding for any length of time, you know that species come and species go. The birds don’t change, but our perception of which variations are actually different species is constantly undergoing review. We have lumpers, who combine disparate species into one, and splitters, who separate subspecies into two or more different species. Add in the (relatively) new ability to examine DNA, and you have a recipe for constant change.

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Good-bye Gray Jay

Gray Jay-1One aspect of nature I appreciate is its constancy. No matter who gets elected, a rose is still a rose. Whether I’m happy or sad, a moose remains a moose. The world can fall apart, but a jay is still a jay. Or not.

That’s right. This year, the American Ornithological Society (AOS, formerly the AOU) has voted to rename the Gray Jay. From now on (or should I say “once again”?), this personable gray-and-white bird will be known as a Canada Jay.

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