Taxonomic changes to the British List


The following recommendations relating to the taxonomy of birds on the British List will take immediate effect with the publication of the BOURC Taxonomic Subcommittee's (BOURC TSC) report in Ibis (Ibis 147: 821-826).

The items are summarised below, but the full paper can be viewed at: http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1474-919X.2005.00483.x

Canada Goose Branta canadensis

Now treated as two separate species:

  • Greater Canada Goose B. canadensis (polytypic, with subspecies canadensis, fulva, interior, maxima, moffitti, occidentalis and parvipes)
  • Lesser Canada Goose B. hutchinsii (polytypic, with subspecies hutchinsii, leucopareia, minima and taverneri)

Greater Canada Goose is on Category C of the British List. A paper on Canada Goose taxonomy is in preparation.

Greater Scaup Aythya marila

Treat as polytypic (previously monotypic), with subspecies A. m. marila and A. m. nearctica. The subspecies that occurs in Britain is A. m. marila.

Common Scoter Melanitta nigra

Treat as two separate species:

  • Common Scoter M. nigra (monotypic)
  • Black Scoter M. americana (monotypic).

Both species are on Category A of the British List.

Velvet Scoter Melanitta fusca

Treat as two separate species:

  • Velvet Scoter M. fusca (monotypic)
  • White-winged Scoter M. deglandi (polytypic, with subspecies deglandi and stejnegeri).

Velvet Scoter is on Category A of the British List.

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata

Treat as monotypic.

Little Shearwater Puffinus assimilis

The three forms breeding in the tropical and subtropical parts of the Atlantic Ocean (P. l. lherminieri, P. a. baroli, P. a. boydi) that were included in this study formed a monophyletic group which is not closely related to the other forms of the complex (including nominate P. a. assimilis).

The three tropical and subtropical Atlantic taxa are best treated as two species:

  • Macaronesian Shearwater P. baroli (polytypic, with subspecies baroli and boydi)
  • Audubon's Shearwater P. lherminieri (monotypic)

Macaronesian Shearwater P. b. baroli is on Category A of the British List (replacing Little Shearwater P. assimilis).

The taxonomic status of P. b. boydi remains under consideration pending study of recently collected sound recordings of that taxon.

Western Palearctic taxa of Aquila and Hieraaetus

Western Palearctic species to be treated as follows:

  • Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga
  • Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina
  • Booted Eagle Aquila pennata
  • Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos
  • Verreauxs' Eagle Aquila verreauxii
  • Bonelli's Eagle Aquila fasciata
  • Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis
  • Tawny Eagle Aquila rapax
  • Eastern Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca
  • Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalbertii

Two of these species are currently on the British List: Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga (Category B) and Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos (Category A). In addition, Booted Eagle Aquila pennata is included in Category D.

Herring Gull Larus argentatus

The combined evidence of morphology, vocalisations and molecular phylogenetics strongly indicates that L. a. michahellis (incl. atlantis), L. a. armenicus and L. a. argentatus (incl. argenteus) are best treated as separate species:

  • Yellow-legged Gull L. michahellis (polytypic)
  • Armenian Gull L. armenicus (monotypic)
  • Herring Gull L. argentatus (polytypic)

Herring Gull and Yellow-legged Gull are on Category A of the British List.

The taxonomic status of L. a. smithsonianus and L. a. cachinnans is still under review. Diagnosability and differentiation of taxa such as these are central to taxonomic decisions, and the BOU recognises the important contribution that field birders can make in developing identification criteria. However, decisions cannot be based solely on knowledge gained from extralimital records of birds of unknown origin, such as most of the British occurring Caspian Gulls. TSC has purposely taken its time over this issue, as it was known that research was still underway, and it was essential to be in full possession of the facts before attempting to resolve the 'large white-headed gull' situation. A paper is in preparation that will describe the reasoning behind the current splits, and the problems that still need to be resolved.

A useful summary of the taxonomic literature on the Larus argentatus - fuscus complex up to 2001 was published by Dubois (2002. Dutch Birding 24: 271-298).

Generic limits of terns

The species on the British List should be listed in the following sequence (note change in scientific names of some species):

  • Aleutian Tern Onychoprion aleutica
  • Sooty Tern Onychoprion fuscata
  • Bridled Tern Onychoprion anaethetus
  • Little Tern Sternula albifrons
  • Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica
  • Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia
  • Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida
  • Black Tern Chlidonias niger
  • White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus
  • Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis
  • Royal Tern Sterna maxima
  • Lesser Crested Tern Sterna bengalensis
  • Forster's Tern Sterna forsteri
  • Common Tern Sterna hirundo
  • Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii
  • Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea

Atlantic Puffin Fratercula arctica

Treat as monotypic.

Generic limits of swallows

The species on the British List should be listed in the following sequence (note changes to some scientific names):

  • Sand Martin Riparia riparia
  • Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor
  • Eurasian Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris
  • Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
  • House Martin Delichon urbicum
  • Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica
  • Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon pyrrhonota

Richard's Pipit Anthus novaeseelandiae

It is recommended that this taxon be treated as a monotypic species:

  • Richard's Pipit A. richardi (monotypic).

Richard's Pipit is in category A of the British List.

Pallas's Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus

To be treated as monotypic.

Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla

On the basis of diagnostic differences in both morphology and vocal signals, together with significant genetic divergence it is recommended that madeirensis be treated as a separate species.

  • Firecrest R. ignicapilla (polytypic, with subspecies ignicapilla, balearicus)
  • Madeira Firecrest R. madeirensis (monotypic).

Only Firecrest is on the British List. A paper on the taxonomy of Regulus will appear in due course.

Generic limits of tits

The species on the British List should be listed in the following sequence (note changes to some scientific names):

  • Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus
  • Great Tit Parus major
  • Crested Tit Lophophanes cristatus
  • Coal Tit Periparus ater
  • Willow Tit Poecile montanus
  • Marsh Tit Poecile palustris

Sangster, G., Collinson, J.M., Helbig, A.J, Knox, A.G. and Parkin, D.T. 2005. Taxonomic recommendations for British Birds: third report. Ibis 147: 821-826.


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Written by: BOURC