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2019 North American checklist proposals

White-winged Scoter will be split from its relatives in the Old World. Photo by Joan Tisdale

The American Ornithological Society’s North American Classification Committee is considering more than 60 changes to the continent’s official checklist of bird species.

One change that has been confirmed is that White-winged Scoter is being split into three species. The North American birds most likely will retain the name White-winged Scoter, and they’ll be separated from populations in Europe and Asia. The European taxon will probably be named Velvet Scoter. Names being considered for the Asian species are Stejneger’s Scoter or Siberian Scoter.

Other potential changes the committee is considering include:

  • Splitting Northern Fulmar into two species. If accepted, the proposal would recognize the two populations of the seabird as Atlantic Fulmar and Pacific Fulmar.
  • Recognizing Harlan’s Hawk as distinct from Red-tailed Hawk. The proposal came from William S. Clark, an author of raptor field guides. The committee also received a lengthy counter-argument from a group of nine raptor experts who disputed the notion that Harlan’s can be considered a definitive species.
  • Changing the name of Saltmarsh Sparrow to Peterson’s Sparrow. The change would honor field-guide pioneer and artist Roger Tory Peterson.
  • Changing the name of McCown’s Longspur. The bird is named after John P. McCown, a Confederate officer during the Civil War. Drexel University ornithologist Robert Driver suggested the species be renamed to stop honoring a man “who fought for years to maintain the right to keep slaves and also fought against multiple Native tribes.”
  • Doing away with the possessive form of species names for birds named after people (Cooper’s Hawk, Wilson’s Plover, etc.). The author of the proposal, Birding editor Ted Floyd, argues that possessives are a “bizarre outlier” in American English and a “historical error.”

The committee will announce its decisions this summer.

A version of this article will appear in the July/August 2019 issue of BirdWatching. Subscribe


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