Bye Bye Northwestern Crow (2020 AOS Supplement is out)

by Jul 4, 2020

The 2020 AOS Supplement is out with a couple of changes that may affect Bay Area listers.

The announcement is here

The supplement is here

For those that don’t know, the AOS is the American Ornithological Society, and they are in charge of defining the names and organization of the species list (in short, if you’ve ever wondered why birds are called what they are and why they’re listed in a specific way in the field guide: it’s these people).

Every year the AOS accepts proposals for naming and organization changes for different bird species. These are evaluated by the committee and voted on. If a proposal passes, it is implemented and those changes are announced in this annual supplement and rolled into the official listing.

Once the supplment is issued, Field guides and sites like eBird will take those changes and roll those into their listings.

The two changes in this year’s supplement we should be thinking about are:

Northwestern Crow — is merged into American Crow. The bad news: if you have Northwestern Crow on your life list, your life list just shrunk by one species. The good news: you no longer have to agonize over whether the big black bird you’re seeing is a Northwestern Crow or not when you visit the Pacific Northwest.

Mexican Duck — The Mexican Duck has been split out from the Mallard, undoing a lump that was implemented in 1973. It is now considered a separate species. The good news: you may have already seen this species, but it’s listed in your listings as a Mallard. The bad news: if that’s true, you’ll have to manually update your ebird listings once they implement this change, since how could they possibly figure that out for you? (grin)

If you are now curious if you’ve ever seen a Mexican duck, check out eBird’s note on it: https://ebird.org/species/mexduc. It is primarily seen in Mexico (of course), but findable in Arizona and New Mexico and rarer in Southern California. Both sexes look very much like our female mallard, making sorting through female ducks even more fun than before!

There are also some major changes to the organization of Central American Hummingbirds; if that affects your lists, you can go figure those out on your own.

One final note: there was a proposal to rename the McCown’s Longspur, which is named for John P. McCown, who was a Confederate General in the Civil War. There has been an argument ongoing in the AOS about renaming birds with names honoring people (Wilson’s Snipe, for instance) but this one has been a hot topic because of the indirect ties to white supremacy. While this proposal was defeated, it has caused the AOS to open up an examination of the rules to reconsider this issue in light of the Black Lives Matter and the U.S.’s current unrest.

They’ve issued a statement on this

It’s worth a read, because it shows both that things like this are complicated and nuanced, and (to me, at least) it seems they’re taking the issue seriously, and figuring out how to adapt the rules to include the problems tied to McCown’s Longspur’s name into the discussion on species naming in general. They have issued new guidelines tied to this problem:

the new guidelines explicitly acknowledge that “there may be English names that cause
sufficient offense to warrant change on that basis alone.” Moreover, regarding
eponyms, the new guidelines note that “the Committee strives to strike a balance
that recognizes the principle of nomenclatural stability while respecting
circumstances in which names should be reconsidered to reflect present-day ethical
principles or to avoid ongoing harm.”

and a new proposal on renaming McCown’s Longspur is being created to re-consider the change in light of the changed guidelines. This will hopefully be done for the 2021 Supplement.