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How the North American bird checklist is changing in 2019

This species remains known as McCown’s Longspur. Photo by Frode Jacobsen/Shutterstock

Rejected proposals

The classification committee did not accept several proposals, including the following five that we reported on in our July/August issue: 

— A split of Northern Fulmar. This would have recognized the two populations of the seabird as Atlantic Fulmar and Pacific Fulmar. Chesser says committee members weren’t convinced that the birds are valid biological species and reproductively isolated.

— A split of Harlan’s Hawk from Red-tailed Hawk. The harlani subspecies of the widespread Red-tail breeds in Alaska and northwestern Canada and is most typically seen in dark plumage, although light-morph hawks may also be found.

— Changing the name of Saltmarsh Sparrow to Peterson’s Sparrow. The proposal would have honored field-guide pioneer and artist Roger Tory Peterson.

— Changing the name of McCown’s Longspur. This would have removed the name of a Confederate officer from the Civil War from this western songbird’s identification.

“We felt that the cases for changing the longspur and sparrow names did not meet the required standard,” Chesser explains. “In particular, the committee did not consider that changing the name of McCown’s Longspur in isolation (i.e., without placing McCown into the context of the many other people for whom birds are named, and without a general policy on such issues) was warranted, and in the case of Saltmarsh Sparrow we didn’t see any convincing reasons for naming this species after Peterson. We felt that we can celebrate Peterson’s accomplishments without changing an established English name for him or other similarly deserving individuals.”

— Discontinuing the possessive form of English names for birds named after people (Townsend’s Solitaire, Nelson’s Sparrow, etc.). Birding editor Ted Floyd pitched the idea, arguing (on page 62 of this PDF) that possessives are a “bizarre outlier” in American English and a “historical error.”

Chesser says “the arguments in the proposal are mainly that use of the ‘apostrophe s’ is an outlier and that it incorrectly indicates possession. However, as an external comment on this proposal pointed out, the ‘apostrophe s’ is used in many contexts (not just for bird names), and it indicates many things other than possession. The committee also believed that any such change should be made in conjunction with global lists, because this is a global issue affecting birds worldwide.”

For more information about the changes, download the full supplement. And to learn the reasons behind the committee’s decisions, watch this page on the official checklist site for PDFs of the committee members’ comments and vote totals. They should be posted soon.

6/24/19: Post updated on page 2 with info about Orange-bellied Trogon and Blue-vented Hummingbird.

6/25/19: Post updated on page 3 with comments from committee chair Terry Chesser.

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and You can reach him at

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