AOU Committee on Classification and Nomenclature (North & Middle America)

Comments on Proposals 2015-C

2015-C-1: Split Coiba Spinetail Cranioleuca dissita from Rusty-backed Spinetail C. vulpina
2015-C-2: Change the specific epithet of the Kauai Amakihi from kauaiensis to stejnegeri
2015-C-3: Add Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) to main list
2015-C-4: Add Zino’s Petrel (Pterodroma madeira) to the main list
2015-C-5: Add Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca) to the main list as an established exotic species
2015-C-6: Add Demoiselle Crane (Anthropoides virgo) to the Appendix
2015-C-7: Add Hooded Crane (Grus monacha) to the Appendix
2015-C-8: Change the English name of Anthus rubescens from American Pipit to Buff-bellied Pipit
2015-C-9: Split Northern Harrier Circus hudsonius from Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus
2015-C-10: Revise generic boundaries in the Buteo group (SACC # 460)

Split Coiba Spinetail Cranioleuca dissita from Rusty-backed Spinetail C. vulpina

YES - 5 without comment.

YES. Strong support for this split from multiple lines of evidence.

YES. This is a slam dunk. Absolutely no question that it does not belong with vulpina, and deserves species status.

YES. Very convincing proposal with multiple lines of evidence in favor. I actually thought that this split had already occurred. 

YES. Clear and exciting evidence.

YES. I wish they were all this easy.

YES. All data support treatment of dissita as a separate species. Although the published genetic data alone require treatment of dissita as a species, I would encourage Angehr to publish those sonograms in a short paper.

YES. The genetic data of relationships and the phenotypic differences clearly indicate species status.


Change the specific epithet of the Kauai Amakihi from kauaiensis to stejnegeri

YES - 9 without comment.

YES. With removal from Hemignathus, it should revert back to stejnegeri.

YES. Straightforward and required application of rules of nomenclature.

YES. Nomenclatural priority makes this change necessary.


Add Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) to main list

YES - 10 without comment.

YES. Photos look good for Common Redstart, which is the appropriate English name we should use.

YES. Diagnostic, published photos. As for English name, "Common Redstart" is the international name endorsed by BOU and also used in HBW.


Add Zino’s Petrel (Pterodroma madeira) to the main list

YES (reluctantly). Any other rare Atlantic petrels to get sight record of?

YES - 6 without comment.

YES. Zino's Petrel is an appropriate name.

YES. I agree that the amount of white on the underwing exceeds the range found in feae, and even is more than most maderiae. The thin bill is good for madeira.

YES. I appreciate the extensive proposal.

YES. Published photos with identification endorsed by experts on the group. "Zino's" is the name currently in widespread use for the species.

YES. What a history.


Add Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca) to the main list as an established exotic species

YES - 8 without comment.

YES. Meets the similar criteria of both the FOSRC and the ABA-CLC. The AOU should follow their leads on criteria to be considered "established."

YES. Perhaps somebody in Florida needs to take action to un-establish them.

YES. ABA CLC has endorsed this as an established species, and it meets our standards for inclusion.

YES. Unfortunate to see invasive species become established.


Add Demoiselle Crane (Anthropoides virgo) to the Appendix

YES - 9 without comment.

YES. Probably better in the Appendix than on the main list, given questions of its provenance.

YES. Inclusion in Appendix is required (and I suspect Jon and others are correct that this was a wild bird, but we should follow CA and ABA committees’ decisions on this). As for genus, a separate proposal is needed on generic limits in Gruidae based on Krajewski’s 2010 paper in The Auk.

YES. Fine in the Appendix.


Add Hooded Crane (Grus monacha) to the Appendix

YES - 9 without comment.

YES. Probably better in the Appendix than on the main list, given questions of its provenance. Given the split votes and comments in the ABA-CLC, a question of provenance will always be associated with this bird, and it seems most prudent to put it in the Appendix.

YES. Inclusion in Appendix is required.

YES. As previous.


Change the English name of Anthus rubescens from American Pipit to Buff-bellied Pipit

For the record, this is the history of AOU classification and nomenclature for the species in question:
AOU 1886 (1st edition): Anthus pensilvanicus, American Pipit
AOU 1895 (2nd edition): Anthus pensilvanicus, American Pipit
AOU 1910 (3rd edition): Anthus rubescens, Pipit
AOU 1931 (4th edition): Anthus spinoletta rubescens, American Pipit and Anthus spinoletta japonicus, Japanese Pipit
(no names provided for species as a whole or for other subspecies)
AOU 1957 (5th edition): Anthus spinoletta, Water Pipit (no names provided for subspecies)
AOU 1983 (6th edition): Anthus spinoletta, Water Pipit
AOU 1989 (37th supplement): change to Anthus rubescens, American Pipit with Notes: "Formerly regarded as a group of races of A. spinoletta (Water Pipit), but the two forms breed sympatrically in ... southern Siberia ..."
AOU 1998 (7t edition): Anthus rubescens, American Pipit

YES - 1 without comment.

NO - 1 without comment.

NO. Call me a traditionalist.

NO. The Japanese birds will eventually be split off and we will have to go through this all again.

NO. I agree with the proposal and with others that "American" may not be the best name, but I'm not convinced that changing it now to "Buff-bellied" is the best course of action.

YES. Barely. American Pipit is indeed a terrible name for a bird that is found regularly as far away as the middle east. Buff-bellied Pipit is not the ideal name, but it is in use for this bird everywhere else.


YES. "Buff-bellied" Pipit describes both forms well at least in some plumages, while "American" is unsuitable given the large Asian range. Since the name Buff-bellied Pipit is now so entrenched in Eurasia, and "American" has a checkered history even on our side, it makes most sense to me to make this change.

NO. I admit that the current English names in rubescens have confused me, especially because most New World/Old World splits that have resulted in something named "American", that this taxon was more or less restricted to the Americas. Not so in this case, as the taxon japonicus, mainly found in the Old World, is part of what we know as American Pipit. It is unfortunate that when rubescens was split, that the AOU did not choose Buff-bellied. "American" should have been reserved for when/if rubescens was ever split from japonicus. Nonetheless, this would be simple if we could change it to Buff-bellied and never have to worry. But a split between japonicus and rubescens seems like a real possibility in the near future and we should deal with that. I think it would be more confusing if rubescens (s.l.) was called American, then Buff-bellied, and, then after a split, rubescens (s.s.) became American. It would seem less confusing if we keep American for rubescens (s.s., and after a split, s.s.), although this would violate our (often violated) dictum that none of the daughter species from a split should keep the parent’s English name.

NO. American is perhaps better if the spit that he anticipates occurs, and it is bad to change things (esp. English vernacular names) any more than necessary.

NO. For better or worse, this bird has been known as American Pipit in North American literature in the 1800s and much of the early 1900s until 1957, and then again from 1989 through today. That’s a lot of historical precedent. Of course nearly half of the breeding range is not in the Americas, so the name is not particularly appropriate. However, neither is Buff-bellied, given that basic-plumage japonicus is white-bellied and given that several other Old World pipits have buff bellies (e.g., A. gutturalis, A. leucophrys, A. crenatus, A. vaalemsis, A. similis, A. cinnamomeus, A. latistriatus, and perhaps others depending on definition of buff and belly) as well as some New World species (A. bogotensis, A. nattereri, A. correndera).  "American Pipit" is not a good name, but not bad enough, in my view, to disrupt stability in North American literature. As noted in the proposal, the potential split of japonicus would render the name change unnecessary, and I would disagree (see above) that Buff-bellied is a better name even for the rubescens group. I might feel differently if the competing name were something more accurate or classy, such as Tundra Pipit …. but not Buff-bellied.

YES. I can see that this will NOT pass, but it was indeed American Pipit from 1886 to 1910, then it was changed to simply Pipit. I have no idea why that change was made, but the name of just "Pipit" is right there in my treasured Ralph Hoffmann’s Birds of the Pacific States in 1927. And Hoffmann still called it Anthus rubescens. In 1931 (AOU 3rd was named American Pipit and various state books that came out called it American Pipit. Is it clear from AOU 3rd what they intended for the English name of the species to be? Note that by that date, the North American birds had gone from being their own species (AOU 2nd lumped with Old World birds (AOU 3rd long tradition for American Pipit, I’ll grant the years of 1886 to 1910 and from late 1980’s to present. It was definitely NOT American Pipit from 1910-1931 and it could be argued that 1931-1957 period is squishy.

As for the merits, Tundra Pipit would be a good name for three months of the year for our A. r. rubescens or Alpine Pipit for A. r. alticola. Buff-bellied Pipit is a good name for nine or ten months of the year (except worn birds). Since most of the breeding range of the subspecies rubescens is on the tundra of Canada, one could argue for Canada Pipit. But maybe the term American refers to the Americas’ rather than just the good old U.S.A. Personally, I’m not troubled that there are other "buff-bellied" pipits in the Old World. I argued for the change because American Pipit is misleading given the vast range of the species in the Old World and there is a widely established and better (my opinion) English name in the Old World. I don’t think calcification has set in for birders (often that’s what this comes down to) being at all wedded to American Pipit. Half of them still call the birds Water Pipits. And these pipits do in fact like mesic places, so Water Pipit was an excellent English name. Too bad about those birds with that name in the Old World.

Perhaps it’s time to raise the white flag on this one.


Split Northern Harrier Circus hudsonius from Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus

YES - 4 without comment.

NO. I would like to be convinced but cannot quite make it.

NO. It could be that these are separate species, but the sampling includes only 1 cinerus, 2 cyaneus, and 4 hudsonius. The limited sampliing, combined with the minor plumage differences and lack of known vocal differences, suggests to me that we should wait for more data (more samples and more genes) before splitting these taxa.

NO. Molecular data that are the basis for this proposal are highly equivocal.

YES. In my view, it is acceptable that species-level taxonomy can include non-monophyletic taxa (e.g., Common /Green-winged Teal or New World ravens). So, the result that hudsonius is closer to cinereus than cyaneus does not weigh heavily. The question of import is whether hudsonius and cyaneus are differentiated enough to be reproductively isolated. The clade with these taxa in question also includes assimilis, maurus, and macrourus ("steppe harriers"). All are allopatric except macrourus and cyaneus (s.s.). All, except the all dark maurus, seem to be similar morphologically and in plumage, with gray males, some with various amounts of rufous markings. Though in different parts of the clade macrourus and cyaneus (s.s.) look fairly similar, yet are broadly sympatric in eastern Europe and west Asia. I therefore feel that the level of differentiation between cyaneus and hudsonius is sufficient for reproductive isolation.

NO. This is a rather small number of loci for an accurate species tree at this level of divergence, so I put more stock in the phenotypic evidence; it looks like phenotypically the taxa fit the subspecies concept better. Even if the tree is accurate, within-species paraphyly should not be in and of itself a determiner of species limits.

YES. Not the strongest case, but the plumage differences in adult males and juveniles between the two taxa are generally pronounced, to the degree where they really do look like what we normally call different species, unless we have good reasons not to. Without larger samples and further study, the vocal resemblances noted between taxa in one call type may not mean much, because harriers have fairly extensive vocal repertoires and I doubt if the other call types have been carefully compared. Although atypical individuals of these taxa do resemble each other in some aspects of plumage, that is a pretty common situation between different species—within-species variation is the norm. And, why recognize paraphyletic species when we have a ready alternative? What is the justification for recognizing cinereus as a species but not hudsonius? I don’t think there is any, other than stability, which is a dubious reason since many sources already recognize hudsonius as a species.

Note that Hartert wrote almost nothing to justify his lumping; it was Oberholser who provided the later justification cited in the proposal.

NO. Although the authors presented a species tree vs. gene tree analyses, it’s not clear to me whether or not the hudsonius+cinereus (aka "cinereous" on p. 155) is driven entirely by ND1 (Fig. 1). The "species tree" in Fig. 2 shows the same branching pattern, but the branch lengths between cyaneus and cinereus are microscopic (literally), and no support value is presented for the node "L" that joins them (it may be in text but I can’t find it). What I need to know from the experts is whether enough variable loci have been sample to have confidence in their species tree.

The authors also attempt to argue that genetic distance also favors species rank for hudsonius: "The subspecies relationship between C. c. cyaneus and C. c. hudsonius has been previously questioned (Simmons et al., 1987; Johnsen et al., 2010; Dobson and Clark, 2011), while 1.7% mtDNA sequence divergence has also provided evidence of these taxa being distinct species (Wink and Sauer-Gürth, 2004). The level of mtDNA divergence between these two taxa presented here is slightly lower (1.1%) than in previous work, likely due to the fact that we sequenced a different mitochondrial locus."

However, those who lost souls who try to use genetic distance as a metric for species rank typically use 2% as the cutoff. It is clear that these three Circus are weakly differentiated in terms of mtDNA, much less so than many bird taxa treated as subspecies. What stands out in this case is that the breeding range of hudsonius comes no closer than roughly 1000 km to that of cyaneus or roughly 3000 km to that of cinereus despite this low level of genetic differentiation. In fact, I wonder if a plausible case could be made for conspecific treatment of all three? On the other hand, the "marsh harrier" branch of Circus shows even lower genetic distances among taxa traditionally ranked as species (ranivorus and aeruginosus, and approximans, spilonotus, maillardi), so perhaps that is the rationale that the authors were using, although unstated?

Regardless of the branching pattern, I’m fine with "paraphyletic" species in such weakly differentiated taxa in part because the term "monophyly" is problematic with recently diverged populations (as noted by Hennig, for example). Pending responses to queries above, I would prefer to wait for a larger array of genes before declaring broad C. cyaneus to be paraphyletic and before making a decision on taxon rank. What Hartert wrote makes sense to me. The minor differences in plumages between cyaneus and hudsonius are expected in such disjunct populations of a single species – I am not impressed. For example, Red-tailed Hawk populations as much plumage variation, with no hint at interruption of gene flow, than do these harriers. In general, plumage variation in accipitrids would seem to be a risky criterion for species limits given well-known individual, geographic, age, and sex variation in plumage characters. The lack of any vocal differences is also worrisome (unless sympatric harrier spp. also all sound the same). Our hudsonius has courtship vocalizations, and so a comparison among Circus species would be enlightening.

YES. I think the proposal is well-crafted and the question might be better raised is why were these two lumped in the first place? I haven’t looked at Hartert’s works carefully, but my initial biased thoughts (his lumping of Asian White-winged Scoter in 1914, a separate work from the one cited here on the harrier lumping, seemed to be the death knell for treating that taxon as a separate species) is that he was a lumper.

To my eye, and my field experience is limited to only a few sightings of nominate cyaneus (though as recent as February 2015 in Japan), cyaneus and hudsonius look pretty different, especially adult males and juveniles. They look as different as various other Old World Circus do to other sympatric species (think C. cyaneus cyaneus from C. macrourus). The females and juveniles between these and other species are a quagmire of identification difficulties and long identification articles have been written on this in various European journals. I think we tend to get biased over here in North America where we have just one species of harrier and we look at the Old World relative and say...."looks pretty similar." Well try birding over there at a raptor migration place (e.g. Eilat, Israel) and then figuring out the juveniles and adult female harriers passing by. Adult male Old World Hen Harriers to my eye look pretty ghostly pale gray with more limited black in the wing.

The split of New and Old World birds seems straight-forward to me, EXCEPT for the matter of vocalizations. As noted by others, the calls seem to be pretty similar, and from my brief overview of other Old World species their calls do differ (from one another). This gives one pause.

What tips me back to splitting them is the matter that others have raised about the Cinereous Harrier (Circus cinereus). I have no field experience with that species, but can an argument be raised that it is more different from our hudsonius Northern Harrier than the Old World C. c. cyaneus is to C. c. hudsonius? Did Hartert (1914) consider that issue?? Has anyone lumped Cinereous Harrier with our (and Old World) Northern Harrier?

I think Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001) summarize the situation well (see p. 486 under geographical variation) in their account for the split Northern Harrier (C. hudsonius): "Monotypic. Often treated as race of Palearctic Hen Harrier, but adult is intermediate in various respects between that and Neotropical Cinereous Harrier and juvenile significantly different from juvenile Hen: all three could be considered allopatric and distinct races of one species or, the course followed here, three species forming a superspecies."

I could vote for treating all as one species until vocalizations between the three are clarified, or vote for three. Maintaining just two seems like a less desirable choice other than maintaining stability, however unacceptable that might be.

Literature cited: Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the World. 2001. Houghton Mifflin Company.


Revise generic boundaries in the Buteo group (SACC # 460)

YES - 4 without comment.

YES. I worked most of this out a few years ago but it got lost in the shuffle.

NO. I'm not sure we are making progress here and I’m speaking of the last five years or so. It is NOT intuitively obvious to me that what we presently call Buteo albicaudatus isn’t a Buteo after all. Really? They sure look like one when they are circling around, indeed one has to look carefully at an immature to separate it from a dark morph Swainson’s Hawk. Yet Gray Hawk stays in Buteo? I guess my vote really isn’t no, but freeze. I sort of think we have wandered into the briar patch (or Iraq!) and we need to keep passing motions to get us out of the trouble we’ve already gotten in. I’m willing to be persuaded but at the moment I’m not.

YES. I think that lumping this all into Buteo would make that genus too large and heterogeneous to be useful. The seven named genera are well-supported. The prior lumping of several disparate species into Leucopternis, especially, made for a hugely variable genus. Buteo still remains quite variable, but the odder species, like magnirostris, can now be recognized as a different genus.

YES, of course. An excelent proposal based on neat data!

YES. These changes best reflect Raposo et al.'s well-corroborated phylogeny.

YES. See SACC discussion on this. (However, personally, I favor Mindell’s view that a broadly defined Buteo is the better way to go.) Given that this is an arbitrary decision as to how far into the buteonine tree one draws the line between Buteo and taxa outside Buteo, I think that there is as much heterogeneity within narrow Buteo --- think Ferruginous vs. Broad-winged or Gray ---  as there is when the line is moved all the way out to include Roadside Hawk. Nonetheless, I am in the minority, and a NO vote would require additional proposals to reverse prior NACC and SACC votes on recognizing Pseudastur etc.

YES. My vote on the Buteo group is not a well-informed one on a difficult issue, but I think that this is perhaps the best data set that we're likely to see in my lifetime, and I agree that one HUGE genus Buteo would not be helpful.

YES. Appreciated the SACC discussions on this and the fact that the genera are morphologically diagnosable.