Monday, November 19, 2007

World Bird Names - A New Taxonomy Website

About a year ago, Frank Gill and Minturn Wright published Birds of the World: Recommended English Names. The book, the result of a fifteen-year project, proposes a standardized set of names in English for all of the world's bird species.

While standard scientific names have long existed in Neo-Latin, the loss of Latin as a commonly-taught language have made such names difficult to remember. Meanwhile, English common names have remained a confusing mess. Gavia immer, for example, is a "Common Loon" in New Jersey but a "Great Northern Diver" in Jersey. "Robin" can signify a type of thrush in one Plymouth, or an Old World flycatcher in another Plymouth. Gill and Wright attempted to address this in Birds of the World.

Some time ago, John Trapp carefully picked through the differences between the Birds of the World recommendations and the AOU checklist.

To help speed the discussion and adoption of their recommendations, they have now placed the results of their work online. The book's website is It contains the list of recommended English and scientific names in several different formats, including a helpful comparison of their names against those presented in the Clements checklist. Future revisions are promised to account for recent splits and discoveries of new species.

As I have noted before, the usefulness of this project will depend on how much it is adopted by local ornithological and birding associations for their checklists. As the reactions page shows, the response from such organizations so far has been mixed. Even where there is institutional support for a name change, adoption of new names can be slow. Many older birders I have met continue to refer to local Yellow-rumped Warblers as Myrtle Warblers, even though that subspecies was merged with the western "Audubon" subspecies about thirty years ago. Without such institutional support, and a thorough revision of both checklists and field guides, adoption of the new names is unlikely to penetrate deeply, except perhaps among a small cadre of elite world birders.

Note: If you are trying to match an archaic or foreign language name against a current or scientific name, one of the best sources is Avibase.