December 2008

Go directly to updates and corrections

This is the third installment of updates since the publication of the sixth edition of Clements in 2007 (see Updates & Corrections: October 2007 and July 2007). These updates were first posted on November 26, 2008. The revised version (December 15, 2008) was posted mostly to correct typographic errors in the original post, but we also take this opportunity to implement a few additional updates that we overlooked earlier. Most updates are referenced by page number to the sixth edition of Clements, for the convenience of those users who prefer to work with “hard copy.” The entire checklist, including updates, is also available in the form of a downloadable spreadsheet (Excel), and some users may find that to be an easier format for tracking changes to the list.

The 2008 updates are of several kinds. We made some corrections to minor errors in the sixth edition of the checklist. Several newly described species from around the world are added to the Clements Checklist. Extinct species are incorporated into the main checklist (rather than being relegated to an appendix). A number of English names are changed: Clements Checklist will drop accents and diacritical marks (e.g., Sao Tome Grosbeak instead of São Tomé Grosbeak), and names that are patronyms ending in “s” will be followed by an apostrophe and a terminal “s” (e.g., Ross’s Goose instead of Ross’ Goose). Both of the changes conform to the style of the two taxonomy and nomenclature committees of the American Ornithologist’s Union, and of the IOC (Gill, F., and M. Wright, 2006, Birds of the World. Recommended English Names, Princeton University Press).

And there are many taxonomic revisions to make.The bulk of these taxonomic revisions are the result of the decision announced earlier that the Clements Checklist would follow as “first authorities” the North American Checklist Committee (NACC) and the South American Classification Committee (SACC). Both of these committees are sponsored by the American Ornithologists’ Union.

The 2008 updates reflect a greater effort to bring Clements into alignment with NACC and SACC. For those instances in which NACC and SACC do not agree, we revised the Clements taxonomy in line with our best sense of prevailing usage, or based on our own assessment of the available evidence. Many of these additions and revisions are referenced to a decision by NACC or SACC, or to one or more citations in the original literature. Most of these taxonomic revisions are at the species level (splits and lumps), but there are some family rearrangements as well, which are discussed in more detail below. Finally, there are numerous slight shifts in the sequence of species within many families. These are not documented here; interested parties should consult the downloadable spreadsheet version of the Clements Checklist.

We, of course, will continue to update the Clements Checklist in accord with NACC and SACC, but in future updates there will be greater focus on updating Clements for other parts of the world. These updates will be posted once a year.

There is one major change to the Clements format that we are unveiling with this update. We are introducing a new feature, which is the addition of a new level, an “unofficial” hierarchical level, between the species and subspecies rank. The purpose of this new level is to “flag” distinctive subspecies or groups of subspecies. These are the “field identifiable” groups that many of you already are keeping track of in your notes, either because they are the residue of past lumps (e.g. “Myrtle” and “Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warblers), because they represent potential future splits (e.g. the various groups of Fox Sparrows), or just because you enjoy the extra challenge of identifying birds to the lowest resolution possible.

Our model for this approach is the eBird taxonomy which is used for eBird, the online checklist management program. We have a reasonably well-developed system in place for organizing the birds of North America (south to Panama) into these groups, and we are making progress in implementing this approach for South America as well. We have not yet implemented this approach for other parts of the world, at least not in a comprehensive way, but we will do so incrementally with each new revision of Clements. This is an area where we could use your help! Please feel free to send us suggestions on field identifiable subspecies or subspecies groups for other parts of the world.

How does this approach work in practice? Consider the case of the Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis. All field guides to North American birds illustrate and discuss several different kinds of Dark-eyed Junco. Almost all guides mention units such as “Slate-colored” Junco and “Oregon” Junco. And then some birders talk of something called “Cassiar” Junco, although that name doesn’t appear in field guides at all.

What do all these names mean? Most checklists–including the sixth edition of Clements–don’t offer many clues. Clements (pages 686-687) lists 14 subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco, but there is no attempt to organize these by “kind.” Here’s where the new approach for Clements kicks in. Instead of opening Clements to see a species heading for Dark-eyed Junco, followed by a simple a list of subspecies, now you will find the subspecies arranged into the groups that you see in your field guides or that you already keep track of in your own lists and notes:
species        Dark-eyed Junco                              Junco hyemalis
group           Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)     Junco hyemalis                                                                                                                hyemalis/carolinensis
subspecies                                                          Junco hyemalis hyemalis
subspecies                                                          Junco hyemalis carolinensis
group           Dark-eyed Junco (Cassiar)           Junco hyemalis cismontanus
group           Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon)             Junco hyemalis [oreganus grp]
subspecies                                                         Junco hyemalis oreganus
subspecies                                                         Junco hyemalis montanus
subspecies                                                         Junco hyemalis shufeldti
subspecies                                                         Junco hyemalis thurberi
subspecies                                                         Junco hyemalis pinosus
subspecies                                                         Junco hyemalis pontilus
subspecies                                                         Junco hyemalis townsendi
group          Dark-eyed Junco (Pink-sided)         Junco hyemalis mearnsi
group          Dark-eyed Junco (White-winged)    Junco hyemalis aikeni
group          Dark-eyed Junco (Gray-headed)    Junco hyemalis caniceps
group          Dark-eyed Junco (Red-backed)      Junco hyemalis dorsalis

In some cases, a “group” is a single subspecies (“Pink-sided” Junco). In other cases, a group is a collection of subspecies (“Oregon” Junco). In either case, with this approach it will be much easier to navigate between your field guide and the Clements Checklist. Perhaps you didn’t need this kind of help with respect to juncos. But you may well find this kind of arrangement useful in other contexts, either with species whose geographic variation receives less attention in field guides (Quick! what subspecies are included in the “Western” Warbling Vireo?) or in resolving discrepancies between the taxonomy of Clements and of field guides that you may use in other parts of the world. And of course, in all cases only the species is countable by American Birding Association rules. But remember, today’s group could be tomorrow’s species–so use this new feature of Clements to keep tabs on potential future changes.

These groups–more than 920 of which now are incorporated into the Clements Checklist–are not detailed in the updates below, although in most cases when one species is lumped with another groups are created automatically; these groups are mentioned below. You’ll have to download the full Clements Checklist spreadsheet, however, to see the full array of groups. The spreadsheet version of the Clements Checklist contains the following information: English names for every species; scientific name for every species and subspecies, along with the name of the associated order and family; the category to which each entry belongs: species, extinct species (those species previously organized in a separate list at the end of the Clements Checklist), subspecies, or group; a short distribution statement for each species or subspecies; and the page number in Clements 2007 for each entry. Also, the names of all extinct taxa–both species and subspecies–are followed by a dagger (†).

Finally, some of you have submitted errors that you spotted in Clements. We have acted on some of these corrections, but by no means all of them. We still have all those messages on file, and we’ll make a big push to act on them by the time of the next update in 2009. And, please, continue to submit new corrections as well. We know that the errors are in there, and we will need your help to root them all out.

We thank Tom Fredericks for his assistance with the Excel spreadsheet. We also thank the following for their help in pointing out errors in Clements or directing us to important literature for our consideration: Pascal Aleixandre, Geoff Barlow, Rick Brown, Ken Burton, Claes-Göran Cederlund, Paul Clapham, Peter Collaerts, Theo de Kok, Stijn De Win, Andrew Duff, Wendy Ealding, Art Edwards, J.C. Fernández-Ordóñez, Shawneen Finnegan, Steve & Angeline Hamberg, Erling Jirle, Paul Johnson, Peter Kaestner, Martin Kennewell, Kent Lannert, Niels Larsen, Denis Lepage, Jack Levene, Chris Maack, John McAllister, Abhijit Menon-Sen, Glenn G Mertz, Jonathan Meyer, Steve Olesen, Hal Opperman, Peter Overmire, Harvey L. Patten, John Penhallurick, Steve Preddy, Joe & Marcia Pugh, Colin Richardson, Peter Roberts, Brian Self, Tom Southerland, Hari Sridhar, Ed Stonick, and Peter Vercruijsse and Terry Witt.

Thanks to all for your support, and we look forward to your feedback.

Thomas S. Schulenberg (Avian Taxonomist), and Marshall J. Iliff, Brian L. Sullivan, and Christopher L. Wood (eBird Project Leaders)