Things I am Thinking About Right Now...

  • 1. Finally Updated; A busy ( and not-so-birdy fall ) fall
  • 2. A smew in Ontario ??? And I got to see it !
  • 3. Thinking about summer vacation...
  • 4. And Sping trips too !
  • 5. Quite a few Winter rarities around. May try to add a few more to the list
  • 6. Still no snow on the ground...
  • 7. Project FeederWatch is going strong. Two eports submitted...
  • 8. I think I have convinced my wife to visit Cape May next summer !
  • 9. The Elephant Pepper Development Trust ( Check out their site ! )
  • 10. Tying to decide how to spend my remaining gift certificates !

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

A Victim of Taxonomy: RIP Yellow-Rumped Warbler

So the Yellow-Rumped Warbler is gone. The poor little "Butter-Butts", as THE DAUGHTER calls them, have a new name. To serious birders this news is not news at all. However, this is the first spring where the changes have been in effect and it has been a learning process to replace the old with the new. The species was the victim of the sometimes loved and equally dreaded taxonomic split. Taxonomy changes with time and science, as we learn more about individual species. Sometimes we learn that species we thought were a species were not actually a species but several species. Confused yet ? Welcome to birding...

Taxonomic splits are the part of the birding game that provides thrills beyond the chase. It is the nerdy, the pen-protector-with-thick-glasses, branch of the birding world. It can be terriffic, expanding your life list at sudden notice. Witness the day I learned that the Winter Wren was split from the Eurasian Wren. That was a happy day. I think I took my family out to Chuck E. Cheese that evening. However, the wheels of science can be slow, as are the workings of shadowy birding organizations that analyze and interpret the science before deciding whether a species is indeed a species. I am still waiting for the House Wren to be split into two species...the Northern and Southern version. These splits are relatively clean. Sometimes the results can be downright ugly.

Witness, the Herring Gull, which is different than the Herring Gull that your forefathers knew. With the ever-changing combination of species, sub-species and hybrids that exist with roots from the simple Herring Gull, well, it's a wonder that gull-watchers aren't huddled in the fetal position, muttering various field markings under their breath ( more often... ). Other species have suffered similar fates. Take the Blue-Crowned Motmot which was split into 5 almost identical species. Thankfully, they left one of those species with the Blue-Crowned Motmot name. Bigger changes sit on the horizon. Recently, it was proposed that the Canada Goose may actually be a combination of 17 different species. The anxiety of birders over that split is palpable.

Sadly, we sometimes lose great names along the way. Yellow-rumped warbler was a perfect match to the little bird it was attached to. The name said everything you needed to know; How perfect is that ? Now we have four new names with two affecting our ID in North America. Out west, there is the Audubon's Warbler, a passable name, mainly because it carries the name of an ornithological god. And here in the east, we have the Myrtle Warbler. Now, I will admit that I don't like the name. It seems...uncool but at first I thought Myrtle referred to some long-gone scientist who made great contributions to our knowledge. However, through research I found that it actually refers to the fact that these birds eat "wax-myrtle berries" in the winter. My first thought: "Seriously ?". So we lose the great name of "Yellow-Rumped" to name a species after it's preferred winter diet. That does not sound right; however, that is the nature of taxonomy. It is a cold, calculated science cloaked in secrecy with no heed paid to the wishes of lowly birders or publishing companies who must update their bird guides.

FYI, each re-arrangement of species via the International Ornithological Union is referred to as a Species Update. Although I prefer the term "Supplements" used by the American Ornithological Union. Actually, I prefer the term "Taxonomic Hootenany" however scientists have been slow to embrace this phrase.

If you wish to follow the chaos more closely, you can check out the International ornithological Union's updates here

The AOU has its own taxonomic list that applies to the Americas. Check it out here:

Thus we mourn the loss of the Yellow-Rumped Warbler. Hello Myrtle ( ugh ). Thankfully, this species will always be called "Butter-butt" in my household.

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