Updated: Dec 1, 2019
Recently, the AOS (American Ornithological Society) released the 60th supplement to American Ornithological Society’s Checklist of North American Birds. This annual event is a celebration for some in the bird world, and it is a giant middle-finger to many of the rest. So, let's jump in and see if the results make you feel like popping a cork, or burning down a building.
Hello Blue-throated Mountain-gem!
The common name of Lampornis clemenciae has changed from Blue-throated Hummingbird to Blue-throated Mountain-gem. Why the change? Marshall Iliff, the person responsible for the recommendation, gives eight strong reasons:
1) It would make all Lampornis use the English name mountain-gem.
2) It would make all mountain-gems referable to all Lampornis.
3) It would aid public recognition and understanding of the genus Lampornis.
4) It would strengthen the association between amethystinus and clemenciae and other members of the genus [and, no less importantly, emphasize the distinctions between clemenciae and the superficially similar (in the female plumage) Rivoli's Hummingbird Eugenes fulgens.]
5) It would reduce by two the number of taxa with the fairly unhelpful name "hummingbird."
6) It would increase by two the number of species with the evocative and mysterious name "mountain-gem."
7) It would reduce by one the number of genera that include the name "hummingbird" with some other English name epithet, leaving only Hylocharis and Amazilia.
8) The new names would create nice symmetry with Green-throated Mountain-gem, Purple-throated Mountain-gem, and White-throated Mountain-gem.
This fantastic idea is finally a reality. And while Rivoli's Hummingbird toils away with its awful epithet, the Blue-throated Mountain-Gem can fly proudly with its new name.
The second part of this proposal was to eliminate the hyphen in mountain-gem, making the name mountaingem. That, did not pass the proposal stage, so remember the hyphen as you celebrate this blue-throated giant.
Okay, my title was obviously just a little harmless trolling and/or clickbait. The White-winged Scoter is not going anywhere. However, it is being split! And while the mountain-gem name change does not affect most of the country, the split of the White-winged Scoter into three distinct species, absolutely could. How? I introduce you to Stejneger's Scoter (Melanitta stejnegeri). This newly recognized species breeds from Siberia and the Russian Far East (also Mongolia) east to Anadyrland, Koryakland, and Kamchatka.
While that seems like a bird that breeds in Mongolia should not impact YOUR birding, double-digit records have been found in Alaska. There has even been a confirmed record in California (with more records likely coming from the interior west). The White-winged Scoter of North America is only impacted with a new scientific name, Melanitta delgandi. The Velvet Scoter, of western and central Eurasia, is now the holder of Melanitta fusca, the former scientific name the White-winged Scoter.
If you would like to learn a few ID tricks to tease apart the White-winged and Stejneger's Scoter, visit this helpful site: https://bit.ly/2Yglfjm. After reading this brief article, I submit the bird below for review. This individual, shown below, was photographed in 2017 at Gray Reef Reservoir near Casper, Wyoming. While my photo does not have the detail necessary for a positive identification of a Stejneger's, there are two photos in existence that do. Birder and photographer extraordinaire, Tina Toth, uploaded two photos into eBird, showing this individual's lack of feathering on its culmen. (You can see those photos here!) This distinctive trait, paired with the flat head and oversized bill, might be enough to confirm Wyoming's first Stejneger's Scoter. Even though it occurred before the split it would still be exciting!
What may be even more difficult than telling these three species apart, is pronouncing the name Stejneger correctly. I am personally terrified of saying the name incorrectly and being slapped in public. I may just call it the Siberian or Mongolian scoter. Or maybe you will see a new proposal for 2020....
Other Changes to North American Birds
The rest of the accepted adjustments to the Checklist of North American Birds are fairly minute. The changes mostly involve scientific name edits, reorganization of taxonomy, blowing smoke up everyone's hiney, etc. If you are truly interested in seeing all the changes, you can view them here: https://bit.ly/2JVkkB3.
As I said in the title, HELLOOOOOOO MOUNTAIN-GEM! Oh, and a possible welcome to Wyoming, Stejneger's Scoter!