The scientific process of how birds are named is a fascinating subject. As technology has improved, so have efforts to determine whether a species with more than one race is truly one species, or perhaps several different species.
Over the years there has been a trend to split species apart and rename either one—or both—of the ‘new’ species. An older example of this is the former species known as a rufous-sided towhee. Once considered one species, with an eastern and a western race, this species was eventually split into two. The eastern race became the eastern towhee, and the western race became the spotted towhee.
There are several examples of western bird species that were originally considered one species with two races—an interior and a coastal race. For example, in older books you may recall the plain titmouse and the brown towhee. Years ago, each of these species became two different species.
The interior race of the plain titmouse became the juniper titmouse (which is what we have here in the Arizona Central Highlands), and the coastal race became the oak titmouse. In the case of the brown towhee, our interior race was renamed the canyon towhee, whereas the coastal race is called a California towhee.
There are also examples of species getting lumped together, where originally they were treated as two genetically distinct species. Sometimes, as a result of scientific research, it is determined that two different species should be considered one species. For example, years ago there was a warbler called an Audubon’s warbler, and another called a Myrtle warbler. At some point a decision was made to lump these two together as one species and to rename it a yellow-rumped warbler.
I do not have sufficient space in my column to go into the whys and wherefores of how the decision is made to either split or lump species, but I do have some interesting news affecting a very common bird species found here in the Arizona Central Highlands.
Recently, a decision was made to split the western scrub-jay into two different species. The interior race has been renamed and is now officially called a Woodhouse’s scrub-jay, while the coastal race is now considered a separate species and is being called a California scrub-jay.
Are you sufficiently confused? I hope not! However, the point I am making is that all of the scrub-jays that we see in this part of the country are no longer considered western scrub-jays. For me, personally, it is going to be very hard to call our scrub-jay a Woodhouse’s scrub-jay and not a western scrub-jay!
Last week, I wrote about the new Sibley’s Birds of the Arizona Central Highlands folding guide. Fortunately, before we went to print, we were able to change the name to Woodhouses’s scrub-jay. After writing about the new folding guide in my column last week, I realized I probably needed to explain why the picture of what appears to be a western scrub-jay has a completely different name! Now you know—same bird, new name.
A quick reminder: tonight, Thursday, September 22nd at 7:00 p.m., is the first fall meeting of the Prescott Audubon Society at Trinity Presbyterian Church. It is free and open to the public. This month’s speaker is U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Refuge Manager, Bill Radke, of the Leslie Canyon and San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuges in southern Arizona.
Also, don’t forget that the last day to submit pictures for the 8th Annual Jay’s Bird Barn Wild Bird Photography contest is Friday, September 30th.
Until next week, Happy Birding!