The Eastern Towhee, a bird of scrub and thickets, is a common resident in the southeast United States. One subspecies migrates north in summer.
They are a prime example of a species that is considered “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but “High Risk” in National Audubon’s assessment of birds under climate change. In their 3.0 C scenario, they predict it would lose 83% of its current breeding range, while gaining only 23%.
These projections are consistent with recent literature showing poleward shifts of species ranges– of the northern edge of their range, of the southern edge, and of their range’s geographic center. The predictions for Eastern Towhee are among the most dramatic.
Recent research also suggests that non-migratory and short-distance migrants are more adaptable to climate change than are long-distance migrants, and more able to shift their ranges. Indeed, we are already seeing that with Eastern Towhee. The Audubon projections appear to be in progress.
Based on Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data, the Eastern Towhee breeding population in Florida has declined over 50% since the late 1990s. The timing of this is consistent with worldwide ecological shifts which began in the mid-1980s.
The white-eyed subspecies appears to be already in trouble. eBirders in Florida in May and June are encountering the species half as often as they were just six years earlier.
Not all range shifts are due to climate. As a scrub specialist, the Eastern Towhee prefers habitat that is in the act of regrowth, such as after a fire or being cleared. But they don’t want a forest either. To quote the Birds of the World species account for Eastern Towhee: “As farmland is abandoned, successional changes produce suitable midseral habitats that towhees favor, and their numbers increase. But, successional time is against towhees, and their numbers decrease as seres age.” That may be the explanation for the Georgia data (orange dots), which show a decline in the late 60s and early 70s, possibly due to forest growth or land clearance for development, and then a leveling off.
As the climate warms, many species are expanding north and/or declining in the southern part of their range. But these need not happen simultaneously. Opportunities for suitable habitat may open doors in the north, and doors may close in the south, at different times. There is evidence of Eastern Towhee expansion in Minnesota, but look at the vertical axis; it does not compare with the losses in Florida.
In Florida, the white-eyed subspecies faces extinction based on National Audubon’s 1.5C scenario. They appear to have declined dramatically in the past two decades.
To get the party started, here are my proposals for new bird names for 82 species. I also provide a lot of historic and current alternatives.
In a previous blogpost, I documented the history of honorific bird names in the United States. Some basic facts emerged. The practice became common in the early to mid-1800s, after most eastern species had already been given descriptive English names. Thus, 58% of honorific names are western species. They were often named by ornithologists after each other, or after colleagues or supporters, or their wives or daughters (first names for women). Remarkably a third do not have Latin names that match their English honorific name (e.g. Cassin’s Auklet is Ptychoramphus aleuticus, or Aleutian Auklet), almost always because the species was described twice, with the second time (usually Audubon) providing the honorific name. When it was realized the species had been previously described, they followed international protocol and reverted to the original Latin name.
Moving forward, the AOS is now considering new English names for potentially all species with honorific names. As controversial as that may be, coming up with new names is very much the fun part. Here is my personal exercise in that.
For each of these 82 species, I provide their current English name, the meaning of their Latin name, other historic names, the meaning of any subspecies names (leaving off the nominate subspecies), names in other languages, and, finally, my proposals for a new English name (or reverting to a previous name, as the case may be).
Caveats: 1) translating Latin is not clear-cut; there are options for each name. 2) My research on other historic names is undoubtedly incomplete; please add more in the comments. I relied largely on the Birds of the World species accounts and Grinnell and Miller (1944) for these. 3) Translating the names in other languages is definitely as much art as science. I used some online dictionaries, but it was clear they were struggling at times with the nuance. At times I felt like a bewildered traveler unfamiliar with the local slang. I encourage Native speakers to provide clarification.
I was struck that, more often than not, other languages eschewed American English honorifics. For example, Sprague’s Pipit is known as Prairie Pipit in Danish, Dutch, German, Norwegian, Polish, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish. Worldwide species such as Leach’s and Wilson’s Storm-Petrel are predominately known by other names around the world (e.g. Northern and Oceanic Storm-Petrel, respectively, among other names).
This opens the door to a rich tableau of alternative names. Hands down my favorite non-English name goes to Haitian Creole’s moniker for Blackburnian Warbler: Little Flamboyant Warbler. A special shout-out to Icelandic, Norwegian, Polish, and Slovak, which almost always avoid honorifics and use a descriptive moniker. I became a big fan of Norwegian, which often relies on habitat-based names (e.g. Chaparral Sparrow for Bell’s Sparrow, Yucca Oriole for Scott’s Oriole).
The Norwegian list also includes several indigenous-based names (e.g. Eskimo Goose, Navajo Thrasher, Shoshone Sparrow, and Apache Sparrow). Following guidance on tribal consultation (“nothing about us without us”), the selection of such a name should involve discussions with relevant tribes. I’ll dedicate a blog post to indigenous-based names in the future.
Regarding my proposed new names, I gave priority to previous historic names, whether they be in English or derived from Latin, as well as to ideas from other languages. I am confident that others can come up with gems that are better proposals than mine.
Meaning of Latin name: Ross’s Goose
Other historic names: Horned Wavey, Ross Snow Goose
Names in other languages: White (Croatian, Czech), Dwarf/Pygmy (Danish, Swedish), Eskimo (Finnish, Norwegian), Lesser/Little Snow (German, Portuguese, Slovenian, Turkish), Blizzard (Polish), Snowflake (Slovak)
My proposals: Little Snow Goose, Ivory Goose
Meaning of Latin name: Steller’s Eider
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: Bald (Czech), Siberian (Lithuanian), Lesser (Slovak, Spanish), Russian (Slovenian), Bird-that-sat-in-the-campfire (Inupiat)
My proposals: Fire Eider, Charred Eider, Flaming Eider, Flammulated Eider
Meaning of Latin name: Iceland Goldeneye
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: American (Finish), Iceland (most languages)
My proposals: Crescent Goldeneye, Northern Goldeneye
Meaning of Latin name: Gambel’s Quail
Other historic names: Desert Quail
Meaning of subspecies names: Forgiving/Gracious, Pemberton’s, Tawny-breasted, Stephens’s
Names in other languages: Desert (Finnish), Helmeted (German), Black-bellied (Norwegian), Pointed (Polish), Headbanded (Slovak), Oak (Swedish)
My proposals: Mesquite Quail, Arroyo Quail, Desert Quail
Meaning of Latin name: Clark’s Grebe
Other historic names:
Meaning of subspecies names: Transitional
Names in other languages: Mexican (Finnish), White-faced (French), Yellow-billed (Norwegian, Polish), White-fronted (Slovak), Orange-billed (Spanish-Mexico)
My proposals: Elegant Grebe, White-faced Grebe, Pallid Grebe
Meaning of Latin name: Vaux’s Swift
Other historic names: American Swift, Oregon Swift
Meaning of subspecies names: Gaumer’s, Tamaulipas, Richmond’s, Pale-rumped, Invisible
Names in other languages: Gray-bellied (German, Polish), Brown (Norwegian), Common (Spanish-Costa Rica)
My proposals: Forest Swift
Meaning of Latin name: Glittering Hummingbird
Other historic names: Magnificent (when lumped with Talamanca Hummingbird)
Names in other languages: Purple-crowned Brilliant Hummingbird (German), Glowing Brim (Icelandic), Purple (Norwegian), Thin-billed Amethyst (Polish), Honey (Slovak), Magnificent (Spanish)
My proposals: Glittering Hummingbird
Meaning of Latin name: Anna’s Hummingbird
Other historic names:
Meaning of subspecies names: Sedentary
Names in other languages: Red-faced (Norwegian), Ruby-bearded (Finnish), Red-headed (Spanish-Mexico)
My proposals: Winter Hummingbird
Meaning of Latin name: Costa’s Hummingbird
Other historic names: Ruffed Hummingbird, Coast Hummingbird
Names in other languages: Violet-headed (German, Spanish-Mexico), Desert (Norwegian), California (Polish)
My proposals: Desert Hummingbird, Xeric Hummingbird
Meaning of Latin name: Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) for “hummingbird” (so really meant for Rufous)
Other historic names: Nootka Hummingbird (original Latin name for Rufous, with which Allen’s was lumped)
Names in other languages: Green-backed Cinnamon/Rufous (German), Chaparral (Norwegian), California (Polish)
My proposals: Pacific Hummingbird, Coastal Hummingbird, California Hummingbird, Chumash Hummingbird
Meaning of Latin name: Plain Rail
Other historic names: Clapper Rail (when lumped), Red-breasted Rail
Meaning of subspecies names: Light-footed, Belding’s, Yuma
Names in other languages: California (Dutch, French, Polish, Slovak), Pacific Coast (Spanish-Mexico)
My proposals: Pacific Rail
Meaning of Latin name: Wilson’s Plover
Other historic names: Belding Plover
Meaning of subspecies names: Belding’s, Cinnamon, Thick-billed
My proposals: Arenaceous Sandpiper, Nunavut Sandpiper, Long-winged Sandpiper
Meaning of Latin name: Delicate/Elegant Snipe
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: American (Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Hungarian, Polish, Russian, Serbian), North American (Czech, Spanish-Mexico), Short-legged (Haitian), Indian (Norwegian), Shrill (Spanish-Venezuela)
My proposals: Elegant Snipe, Winnowing Snipe
Meaning of Latin name: Tricolored Phalarope
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: Tricolored (Croatian, Polish, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish), Long-billed (Czech, Spanish-Mexico, Venezuela), American (Danish, Finnish, Latvian, Romanian), Large/Great (Dutch, Lithuanian, Turkish), White-tailed (Norwegian), Common (Spanish-Argentina, Uruguay)
My proposals: Tricolored Phalarope
Meaning of Latin name: Short-billed Murrelet
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: Short-billed (Finnish, German, Norwegian, Polish, Spanish), Mountain (Icelandic), Gray (Slovak), Brown (Swedish)
My proposals: Glacier Murrelet, Short-billed Murrelet
Meaning of Latin name: Scripps’s Murrelet
Other historic names: Xantus’s (when lumped with Craveri’s and Guadalupe)
Names in other languages: Black-tailed (Croatian), California (German, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish), Mourning (Polish), White-winged California (Spanish-Mexico)
My proposals: California Murrelet
Meaning of Latin name: Murrelet
Other historic names: Xantus’s (when lumped with Scripps’s)
Names in other languages: Mexican (Croatian, Norwegian), Baja California (German, Swedish, Turkish), California (Polish), Dark-winged (Slovak), Dark-winged California (Spanish-Mexico)
My proposals: Mexican Murrelet, Baja Murrelet
Meaning of Latin name: Aleutian Auklet
Other historic names: Aleutian Auklet (first described before Cassin was born)
Meaning of subspecies names: Southern
Names in other languages: Aleutian (German), Black (Polish), Ashy/Smoky (Slovak, Turkish), Somber (Spanish), Dark (Spanish-Mexico),
My proposals: Pacific Auklet, Ashy Auklet
Meaning of Latin name: Sabine’s Gull
Other historic names: Fork-tailed Gull
Meaning of subspecies names: Palearctic, Chukhotski, Voznesensky
Names in other languages: Little Black-headed (Dutch, Turkish), Tree (Icelandic, Swedish), Canada Hooded (Norwegian), Canadian (Polish), American (Portuguese), American River (Slovenian), Little/Small (Spanish-Cuba)
Meaning of Latin name: Aztec Gull (Nahuatl for “gull”)
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: Prairie (Finish, German, Hungarian, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Swedish), Rosy (Spanish-Venezuela), Little (Spanish-Paraguay and Argentina)
My proposals: Prairie Gull
Meaning of Latin name: Heermann’s Gull
Other historic names: White-headed Gull, Belcher Gull
Names in other languages: Mexican (Finnish, Spanish), Ashy (Norwegian), Snowy (Polish), Coastal (Slovak), Leaden/Plumbeous (Spanish-Mexico), White-headed (Swedish)
My proposals: Isla Rasa Gull, Plumbeous Gull, Mexican Gull, Baja Gull
Meaning of Latin name: Forster’s Tern
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: North American (Czech), Prairie (Danish, Norwegian), Silver (Finnish), Fork-tailed (Haitian), Pond (Hungarian), Black-eared (Polish), Marsh (Slovak, Swedish), American River (Slovenian), Masked (Turkish)
My proposals: Marsh Tern
Meaning of Latin name: Oceanic Storm-Petrel
Other historic names: Yellow-webbed Storm-Petrel
Meaning of subspecies names: Exasperating, Chilean
Names in other languages: Ordinary/Common (Afrikaans), Yellow-footed (Czech, Polish), Southern (Finnish, Greek), Variegated (German), Oceanic (Icelandic, Spanish-Dom Rep), Brown (Indonesian), Antarctic (Slovenian), Brownish-Gray (Spanish-Uruguay)
My proposals: Oceanic Storm-Petrel
Meaning of Latin name: White-rumped Storm-Petrel
Other historic names: Mother Cary’s Chicken
Meaning of subspecies names: Chapman’s
Names in other languages: Forked/Swallow-tailed (Afrikaans, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, Turkish), Large (Basque), Northern (Asturian, Catalan, Czech, Latvian, Lithuanian, Spanish), Great (Danish), Storm Fairy (Finnish), White-rumped (French, Haitian), Wave Runner (German), Sea Swallow (Icelandic), Storm Swallow (Norwegian)
My proposals: Northern Storm-Petrel
Meaning of Latin name: Diomedes/White Shearwater
Other historic names:
Meaning of subspecies names: Northern
Names in other languages: Brown (Basque), Ashy (Catalan, French), Gray (Czech), Kuhl’s or Atlantic (Danish), Kuhl’s (Dutch), Macaronesian (Finnish), Sepia (German), Great/Northern (Italian), Yellow-billed (Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Slovenian, Swedish), Mediterranean (Portuguese-Brazil), Fairy (Slovak), Cinderella (Spanish), Large (Spanish-Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela)
My proposals: if split with Scopoli’s, Diomedes/White/Silver Shearwater and Northern Shearwater
Meaning of Latin name: Buller’s Shearwater
Other historic names: New Zealand Shearwater, Gray-backed Shearwater, Ashy-black Shearwater
Names in other languages: Gray-backed (Czech, German, Norwegian, Polish, Slovak, Spanish, Turkish), Gray (Swedish)
My proposals: Gray-backed Shearwater, New Zealand Shearwater, Elegant Shearwater
Meaning of Latin name: l’Herminier’s Shearwater
Other historic names: Dusky-backed Shearwater
Meaning of subspecies names: Miller’s
Names in other languages: Seaweed (Icelandic), Equatorial (Polish), Broad-winged (Portuguese), Ocean/Oceanic (Slovak)
My proposals: Gulf Stream Shearwater
Meaning of Latin name: Paintbrush/Painted/Plumed Cormorant
Other historic names: Plumed Cormorant, Green Cormorant
Names in other languages: Blue-throated (Croatian, Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish), Paintbrush (German), Plumed (Polish), Short-tailed (Slovak), Sergeant (Spanish)
My proposals: Plumed Cormorant
Meaning of Latin name: Cooper’s Hawk
Other historic names: Blue-backed Hawk, Mexican Hawk
Names in other languages: Smooth (Norwegian)
My proposals: Woodland Hawk, Blue-backed Hawk, Stealthy Hawk
Meaning of Latin name: Banded Hawk
Other historic names: Bay-winged Hawk
Meaning of subspecies names: Bay-winged
Names in other languages: Desert (Dutch, German), Knight (Finnish), Sand (Icelandic), Cactus (Norwegian, Swedish), Social (Polish), Bay-winged (Portuguese, Slovenian), Four-colored (Slovak), Mixed (Spanish), Red-and-black (Spanish-Mexico), Walking (Spanish-Venezuela)
My proposals: Bay-winged Hawk, Cactus Hawk, Social Hawk, Coyote Hawk
Meaning of Latin name: Swainson’s Hawk
Other historic names: Rocky Mountain Buzzard, Canada Buzzard, Brown Hawk, Sharp-winged Hawk
Names in other languages: White-throated (Czech), Prairie (Dutch, Finnish, German, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Swedish), Grasshopper (Spanish-Argentina, Chile, Paraguay)
My proposals: Prairie Hawk, Plains Hawk, Sharp-winged Hawk
Meaning of Latin name: Lewis’s Woodpecker (previously, Collared Woodpecker)
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: Blood-faced (German), Crow Woodpecker (Icelandic, Swedish), Flycatching Woodpecker (Norwegian), Pink-bellied (Polish)
My proposals: Crow Woodpecker, Wandering Woodpecker
Meaning of Latin name: Shielded Sapsucker
Other historic names: Black-breasted Sapsucker, Brown-headed Woodpecker, Round-headed Woodpecker, Brown Woodpecker
Meaning of subspecies names: Natalie
Names in other languages: Mountain (Dutch), Pine (German, Norwegian), Shielded (Icelandic), Black/Dark-headed (Polish, Swedish), Dark (Spanish), Elegant (Spanish-Mexico)
My proposals: Mountain Sapsucker, Montane Sapsucker, Conifer Sapsucker
Meaning of Latin name: Nuttall’s Woodpecker
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: California (Norwegian, Polish, Serbian, Spanish-Mexico), Chaparral
My proposals: Oak Woodpecker, California Woodpecker
Meaning of Latin name: Couch’s Kingbird
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: Texas (Dutch, German, Polish, Russian), Mayan (Norwegian), Whistling (Spanish), Mexican (Swedish, Turkish)
My proposals: Whistling Kingbird, Mexican Kingbird, Veracruz Kingbird, Mayan Kingbird
Meaning of Latin name: Vociferous/Noisy Kingbird
Other historic names: Noisy Kingbird
Meaning of subspecies names: Different-winged
Names in other languages: Squeaky/Noisy/Screaming (Icelandic, Polish, Spanish), Scrub (Norwegian)
My proposals: Vociferous Kingbird
Meaning of Latin name: Hammond’s Flycatcher
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: Spruce (Dutch, Norwegian, Slovak), Fir (German, Polish),
My proposals: Lodgepole Flycatcher, Mountain Flycatcher
Meaning of Latin name: Say’s Phoebe
Other historic names: Black-tailed Phoebe
Meaning of subspecies names: Peaceful/Tranquil/Quiet, Pale/Pallid
Names in other languages: Brown (Finnish, Norwegian), Rufous-bellied (French, Swedish), Cinnamon-bellied (German), Land/Terrestrial (Icelandic), Plain (Slovak), Plains (Spanish)
My proposals: Mesa Phoebe, Plains Phoebe, Cinnamon Phoebe
Meaning of Latin name: Bell’s Vireo
Other historic names: Greenlet
Meaning of subspecies names: Intermediate, Arizona, Least/Tiny
Names in other languages: Brown-eyed (German), Floodplain (Slovak), Chaparral (Swedish)
My proposals: Riparian Vireo
Meaning of Latin name: Hutton’s Vireo
Other historic names: Dusky Vireo
Meaning of subspecies names: Pacific (group), Island, Dusky, Parkes’s, Mountain/Sierra, Unitt’s, Oberholser’s, Connected; Interior (group), Stephens’s, Caroline’s, Peaceful, Mexican, Volcano
Names in other languages: Greenish (Icelandic, Polish), Oak (Norwegian), Kinglet Vireo (Spanish-Mexico)
My proposals: Oak Vireo, Live Oak Vireo
Meaning of Latin name: Cassin’s Vireo
Other historic names: Solitary Vireo (when lumped with Plumbeous and Blue-headed)
Meaning of subspecies names: San Lucas
Names in other languages: Ash-green (Icelandic), California (Norwegian), Olive (Polish), Spectacled (Slovak)
My proposals: Gray-headed Vireo, Spectacled Vireo
Meaning of Latin name: Steller’s Jay
Other historic names: Sierra Jay, Blue-fronted Jay, California Mountain Jay, Crested Jay
Meaning of subspecies names: Charlotte, Fronted, Coal, Connecting, Long-crested, Diademed, Phillips, Crowned, Purple, Aztec, Teotepec, Ridgway, Azure, Pleasant
Names in other languages: Pine (Norwegian), Diademed (German), Crested (Spanish-Mexico)
My proposals: Mountain Jay, Cobalt Jay
Meaning of Latin name: Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay
Other historic names:
Meaning of subspecies names: Nevada, Texas, Gray, Dark-blue, Sumichrast’s, Remote
Names in other languages: Juniper (Norwegian), Woodland (Polish), Hooded (Slovak), Necklaced (Spanish-Mexico), Inland (Swedish)
My proposals: Juniper Scrub-jay
Meaning of Latin name: Columbian Nutcracker
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: Gray (Dutch, Polish, Swedish), American (Finish, French, Russian, Serbian, Spanish), Pine (German, Norwegian)
My proposals: Alpine Nutcracker, Pine Nutcracker
Meaning of Latin name: Bewick’s Wren
Other historic names:
Meaning of subspecies names: Desert-loving, Obscure/Hidden, Pulich’s, Sada’s, Mexican, Fine-voiced/Melodious, Thicket/Wood-dwelling, Marin, Spot-tailed, White-browed, Beautiful-tailed, Cerros Island, Magdalena, Short-tailed
Names in other languages: Gray (Icelandic), Long-tailed (Norwegian, Spanish-Mexico), Mousey (Polish), Garden (Slovak), Black-tailed (Spanish), Thicket (Swedish)
My proposals: Thicket Wren, Long-tailed Wren
Meaning of Latin name: Bendire’s Thrasher
Other historic names:
Meaning of subspecies names: White/Glittering, Ruddy
Names in other languages: Cactus (Dutch, German, Polish, Slovak), Navajo (Norwegian), Short-billed (Spanish)
My proposals: Yucca Thrasher
Meaning of Latin name: LeConte’s Thrasher
Other historic names: Yuma Thrasher
Meaning of subspecies names: McMillan’s, Desert (Vizcaino)
Names in other languages: Desert (Dutch, German), Mohave (Norwegian, Swedish), Sand (Polish), Steppe (Slovak), Pale/Pallid (Spanish),
My proposals: Yuma Thrasher, Sand Thrasher, Xeric Thrasher
Meaning of Latin name: Townsend’s Solitaire
Other historic names:
Meaning of subspecies names: Fine-voiced/Melodious
Names in other languages: Mountain (Dutch), Squeaky (Icelandic), Gray (Norwegian), Clarinet (Polish), Northern (Spanish, Swedish)
My proposals: Juniper Solitaire, Northern Solitaire, Clarinet Solitaire
Meaning of Latin name: Bicknell’s Thrush
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: Newfoundland (Czech), Mountain (Danish), Forest (Norwegian), Wandering (Polish), Brown (Slovak)
My proposals: Algonquian Thrush, Fir Thrush
Meaning of Latin name: Burnt/Burnished Thrush
Other historic names:
Meaning of subspecies names: Russet-backed: Phillip’s, Musical; Olive-backed: Hoary, Appalachian, Swainson’s
Names in other languages: Dwarf (Croatian, Dutch), Western (Czech), Olive (Danish, French, German, Slovak), Brown Forest (Norwegian), Spectacled (Polish, Portuguese, Spanish-Mexico), Spruce (Slovenian), Boreal/Northern (Spanish-Argentina), Beige (Swedish)
My proposals: Boreal Thrush
Meaning of Latin name: Sprague’s Pipit
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: Prairie (Danish, Dutch, German, Norwegian, Polish, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish)
My proposals: Prairie Pipit
Meaning of Latin name: Cassin’s Finch
Other historic names: Cassin Purple Finch, Cassin Pine Finch
Names in other languages: Rock (Icelandic), Red-crowned (Norwegian), Red-headed (Polish, Slovak), Mountain (Spanish-Mexico)
My proposals: Pine Finch, Crimson-crowned Finch
Meaning of Latin name: Lawrence’s Goldfinch
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: Masked (Dutch, German), Gray (French, Norwegian), Gorgeous (Polish), Oak (Slovak), Black-faced (Spanish-Mexico), California (Swedish)
My proposals: Fiddleneck Goldfinch, Golden-winged Goldfinch, Desert Goldfinch, Oasis Goldfinch
Meaning of Latin name: Painted Longspur
Other historic names: Painted Bunting
Names in other languages: Pied (Dutch), Golden-bellied (German), Frenzied (Icelandic), Tundra (Norwegian, Swedish), Fawn (Polish), Painted (Slovak)
My proposals: Painted Longspur
Meaning of Latin name: Botteri’s Sparrow
Other historic names:
Meaning of subspecies names: Arizona, Texas, Mexican, Goldman’s, Petén, Van Tyne’s, Black-and-chestnut, Volcano
Names in other languages: Stripe-backed (German), Straw (Icelandic), Prairie (Polish), Stubble/Grass (Slovak),
My proposals: Monsoon Sparrow, Sacaton Sparrow
Meaning of Latin name: Cassin’s Sparrow
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: Apache (Norwegian), Gray (Polish), Meadow (Slovak)
My proposals: Skylarking Sparrow, Nomadic Sparrow, Plains Sparrow
Meaning of Latin name: Summer Sparrow
Other historic names: Pinewoods Sparrow
Meaning of subspecies names: Bachman’s, Illinois
Names in other languages: Pine (Dutch, French, German), Palmetto (Norwegian), Sharp-tailed (Polish)
My proposals: Pinewoods Sparrow, Summer Sparrow
Meaning of Latin name: Brewer’s Sparrow
Other historic names: Pale Sparrow
Meaning of subspecies names: Taverner’s (aka Timberline)
Names in other languages: Pale (German), Shoshone (Norwegian), Bright-bellied (Polish), Sage (Shoshone)
My proposals: Dawn Sparrow, Trilling Sparrow, Shoshone Sparrow
Meaning of Latin name: Mourning/Plaintive Sparrow
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: Black-crowned (Dutch), Eskimo (Finnish), Black-faced (French, Polish, Slovak), Spruce (Norwegian), Canada (Swedish)
My proposals: Mourning Sparrow, Treeline Sparrow
Meaning of Latin name: Bell’s Sparrow
Other historic names: Sage Sparrow when lumped with Sagebrush Sparrow
Meaning of subspecies names: Gray/Hoary, San Clemente Island, Ashy
Names in other languages: Sage (German), Chaparral (Norwegian), California (Spanish-Mexico)
My proposals: Chaparral Sparrow
Meaning of Latin name: LeConte’s Sparrow
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: Gray-eared (Norwegian), Striped Marsh (Polish), Meadow (Slovak)
My proposals: Meadow Sparrow
Meaning of Latin name: Nelson’s Sparrow
Other historic names: Sharp-tailed Sparrow (when lumped with Saltmarsh Sparrow)
Meaning of subspecies names: Other, Streak-bellied
Names in other languages: Needle-tailed (Norwegian), Marsh (Polish), Wetland (Slovak)
My proposals: Marsh Sparrow
Meaning of Latin name: Baird’s Sparrow
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: Dakota (Norwegian), Meadow (Polish), Solitary/Reclusive (Slovak), Prairie (Swedish)
My proposals: Prairie Sparrow, Buffalo Sparrow, Dakota Sparrow
Meaning of Latin name: Henslow’s Sparrow
Other historic names:
Meaning of subspecies names: Whispering
Names in other languages: Red-winged Swamp (Polish), Weed (Slovak)
My proposals: Tallgrass Sparrow
Meaning of Latin name: Lincoln’s Sparrow
Other historic names: Forbush Sparrow
Meaning of subspecies names: Slender/Elegant, High-dweller/Mountain
Names in other languages: Streaked/Striped (Czech, Danish), Cane-browed (Haitian), Breast (Icelandic), Gray-browed (Norwegian), Gray-breasted Fawn (Polish), Migratory (Spanish-Venezuela)
My proposals: Fawn Sparrow, Bog Sparrow
Meaning of Latin name: Abert’s Towhee
Other historic names:
Meaning of subspecies names: Thicket, Vorhies’s
Names in other languages: Black-chinned (Dutch, German), Masked (Norwegian, Spanish-Mexico), Black-faced (Polish, Slovak), Arizona (Swedish)
My proposals: Mesquite Towhee, Bosque Towhee, Masked Towhee, Arizona Towhee
Meaning of Latin name: Bullock’s Oriole
Other historic names: Northern (when lumped with Baltimore), Western Oriole
Meaning of subspecies names: Short
Names in other languages: Turnip (Icelandic), Golden-browed (Norwegian), Orange-browed (Spanish-Mexico), White-winged (Slovak)
My proposals: Western Oriole, Cottonwood Oriole
Meaning of Latin name: Step-tailed Oriole
Other historic names: Black-headed Oriole
Meaning of subspecies names: Audubon’s, Nayarit, Dickey’s
Names in other languages: Black-headed (Dutch, German, Polish, Slovak), Citrine/Lemon (Norwegian), Black-hooded (Spanish-Mexico),
My proposals: Citrine Oriole
Meaning of Latin name: Paris’s Oriole
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: Gold-green (French), California (German), Yucca (Norwegian), Prickly Pear (Spanish-Mexico), Black-headed (Slovak)
My proposals: Yucca Oriole
Meaning of Latin name: Blue/Purple-headed Blackbird
Other historic names: Satin Bird, Glossy Blackbird, Western Blackbird
Names in other languages: Field (Finnish), Purple (German, Polish, Slovak), Smooth/Satin (Icelandic), Purple-headed (Norwegian), Yellow-eyed (Spanish-Mexico), Prairie (Swedish)
My proposals: Purplish Blackbird, Purple-headed Blackbird, Satin Blackbird
Meaning of Latin name: Swainson’s Warbler
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: Sharp-beaked (Haitian), Cane (Icelandic, Polish), Brown (Norwegian), Long-billed (Slovak), Brown-capped (Spanish-Mexico), Plain (Spanish-Venezuela)
My proposals: Cane Warbler, Palmetto Warbler, Bayou Warbler
Meaning of Latin name: Lucy’s Warbler
Other historic names: Mesquite Warbler, Desert Warbler
Names in other languages: Red/Rufous-rumped (German, Spanish-Mexico, Swedish), Plain (Icelandic), Mesquite (Norwegian), Rusty (Polish), Little (Slovak)
My proposals: Mesquite Warbler
Meaning of Latin name: Virginia’s Warbler
Other historic names:
Names in other languages: Yellow-vented (German), Pine (Norwegian), Ravine (Slovak)
My proposals: Juniper Warbler, Great Basin Warbler
Backyard bird feeders bring nature close to people, increase appreciation for the natural world, and, in winter, help birds survive. But research also documents some adverse effects, such as the potential to spread avian diseases and to inflate the population of nest predators. There’s a lot of attention on the former, but the latter issue probably does a lot more harm.
Close to half of all bird nests fail due to predation. Corvids (ravens, crows, jays, and magpies) play a big part in that; they are among the most voracious nest predators, taking other birds’ eggs and chicks. Squirrels and rats are also major nest predators. Open cup nesters are especially vulnerable.
Corvids are part of the natural ecosystem, but the problem goes beyond “natural” because many corvid populations are artificially higher due to anthropogenic food subsidies – human garbage, bird feeders, scraps, etc. In short, corvids are often what biologists call human-subsidized predators. Millions of restoration dollars have been spent trying to protect declining species from corvids (e.g., Marbled Murrelet, Least Tern, Snowy Plover, Piping Plover, and Desert Tortoise). Additionally, local populations of otherwise common species are known to be at risk from corvids (e.g. Common Murre, Red-capped Plover). And research shows they can depress bird populations in residential neighborhoods.
By providing food, humans have a remarkable ability to inflate corvid populations. Brunk et al (2021) examined efforts to reduce Steller’s Jay densities at campgrounds in Big Basin State Park in California in order to protect endangered Marbled Murrelets. Jay densities within the campgrounds were nine times higher than in the surrounding forest. Previous research documented that the Steller’s Jay juvenile survival rate in the campgrounds was over 90%, possibly the highest figure ever recorded for a bird; 50% is more typical. After the installation of new garbage cans, food lockers, as well as extensive camper education, the jays disbursed and densities fell to natural levels. I’m proud to have been a part of that project.
There is a long list of papers that show the depressing impact that high numbers of jays and crows can have on the productivity and populations of other birds. Here are a few examples focusing on songbirds:
Jokimäki et al (2020) looked at nest predation rates in nine European cities, finding that cats and corvids had a significant impact on other birds’ nest success in urban and suburban areas.
Hanmer et al (2017) experimented with artificial thrush nests with quail eggs placed in a natural context but in the vicinity of bird feeders that were offering peanuts. Nests near active feeders were far more likely to be depredated than nests that were far away from peanut feeders. The predators were jays, magpies and squirrels.
Malpass et al (2017) conducted an experiment in seven neighborhoods in Ohio, adding bird feeders during the breeding season to some areas. The neighborhoods with the most feeders had triple the numbers of American Crows and Brown-headed Cowbirds compared to the neighborhoods with the least feeders. American Robin nest success fell to just 1% in the high-feeder neighborhoods, compared to 34% in the areas with the fewest feeders. Northern Cardinals, perhaps because their nests are generally more hidden, managed to avoid these impacts.
Jokimäki and Huhta (2000) looked at bird assemblages across urban, suburban, and natural areas in Finland. They found a dramatically higher nest predation rate in the managed urban parks (53 to 92%) compared to more wild suburban parks (22 to 67%). Additionally, most ground nesting species simply avoided the urban areas. Crows and jays were listed among the primary nest predators.
Stoate and Szczur (1994) reported that corvid removal led to dramatic improvement in the hatching success of thrushes and Chaffinch. Some ground-nesting and thicket-nesting species (Dunnock, Yellowhammer, etc) were unaffected by corvids.
Slagsvold (1980) found that Fieldfare populations (the Scandinavian counterpart to the American Robin) doubled after the removal of Carrion Crows (the counterpart to the American Crow). Smaller songbirds also sought protection and nested near Fieldfares. Many songbirds based nest site decisions on the presence or absence of crows.
There are several meta-analyses, studies of studies, that try to summarize the big picture. Most of these include a wide array of avian and mammalian predators—and most focus on ground-nesting shorebirds and gamebirds, where conservation and hunting interests fuel research funding.
Cote and Sutherland (1997) is typical. It reviews 29 studies, focusing on avian (crows, gulls, grackles) and mammalian (foxes, skunk, marten) nest predation on gamebirds (pheasants, quail, etc) and some songbirds. Removing predators had a large positive effect on the prey species’ productivity and post-breeding population.
It is important to add that not all studies have found a link between corvids and reduced densities of other birds. This seems to be truer in rural contexts. Furthermore, impacts seem to be species-specific. I can imagine, for example, that chickadees and nuthatches, which nest in small cavities, are relatively protected from jay and crow nest predation.
Finally, there is Madden et al (2015), a meta-analysis focusing exclusively on corvids, which caused some confusion. It focused mostly on impacts to gamebirds and did not include jays. It is curious because its summaries and conclusions do not match the data they present. Based on their data, Madden could have concluded with this:
“The presence of crows had a negative impact on other bird species’ productivity in 66% of cases. In 10% of cases, a decline in abundance was also detected. These results suggest that, in certain contexts and for many species, large crow populations may create population sinks or actual declines in the populations of other birds.”
That would have been consistent with other studies, but the paper didn’t end that way. Instead, it summarized the data in ways to bury important results, failed to include some well-known cases involving endangered species, and concluded with this head-scratching statement:
“Our review shows that although there is no consistent pattern with regard to corvid impacts on other bird species, the most commonly reported effect is that corvids have no negative impact on prey species abundance or productivity. When combining experimental and correlative studies (326 cases), most cases (81%, n=264) showed no negative influence of corvids on either abundance or productivity of birds…”
“Most commonly” meant more than 50%. Because they lumped magpies with crows, and lumped abundance with productivity, they were able to say this (barely). I am astonished this paper passed thru peer review with this sweeping, and deceptive, summary intact. Some backyard birders, in defense of laying out a smorgasbord of peanuts on their back patio, have cited this paper on social media.
There’s a lot more I can say about this paper, but suffice it to say their own numbers (see Table 4) imply that two-thirds of studies involving crows found significant impacts to other species’ productivity.
Conclusion: No peanuts, and use caution in the breeding season
Make no mistake—bird-feeders in winter are associated with increased bird survival. There are lots of papers about that. I feed birds in winter (but no peanuts!). In the spring and summer, however, when my juncos and sparrows have departed, those same feeders disproportionately attract jays, crows, and squirrels, as well as House Sparrows, Eurasian Starlings, and Brown-headed Cowbirds. It’s no wonder that open cup nesters have a tough time. In the summer, I maintain hummingbird feeders and have a little pond and fountain that attracts bathing warblers.
Bird feeding in spring and summer, and especially offering peanuts which disproportionately attract crows and jays, likely depresses the populations of other songbirds in the vicinity. This is probably a big reason why many suburban neighborhoods can be largely devoid of cup nesters (e.g. warblers, vireos, flycatchers) while still having cavity and thicket nesters (e.g. chickadees, nuthatches, wrens, towhees).
Benmazouz et al. 2021. Corvids in urban environments: A systematic global literature review. Animals.
Brunk et al. 2021. Reducing anthropogenic subsidies can curb density of overabundant predators in protected areas. Biological Conservation.
Cote and Sutherland. 1997. The effectiveness of removing predators to protect bird populations. Conservation Biology.
Hanmer et al. 2017. Provision of supplementary food for wild birds may increase the risk of local nest predation. Ibis.
Jokimäki et al. 2020. Land-sharing vs. land-sparing urban development modulate predator–prey interactions in Europe. Ecological Applications.
Jokimäki and Huhta. 2000. Artificial nest predation and abundance of birds along an urban gradient. The Condor.
Madden et al. 2015. A review of the impact of corvids on bird productivity and abundance. Ibis.
Malpass et al. 2017. Species-dependent effects of bird feeders on nest predators and nest survival of urban American Robins and Northern Cardinals. The Condor.
Shutt and Lees. 2021. Killing with kindness: Does widespread generalised provisioning of wildlife help or hinder biodiversity conservation efforts? Biological Conservation.
Slagsvold. 1980. Habitat selection in birds: on the presence of other birds species with special regard to Turdus pilaris. Journal of Animal Ecology.
Stoate and Szczur. 1994. Game management and songbirds. The Game Conservancy Review of 1993.
A number of recent academic papers have described northward shifts of bird species in both North America and Europe, driven by climate change. These papers usually present aggregated results from dozens of species; they rarely provide details for any specific species. These maps are intended to offer that.
While there are tremendous species-specific differences, non-migratory resident birds (such as Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren, Tufted Titmouse, and Red-bellied Woodpecker) appear to be the most adaptable and have expanded their ranges the most. This seems to be primarily driven by warmer winters and, for some species, is further augmented by bird feeders.
I created these maps using eBird, so the usual caveats apply– they don’t necessarily include all records (though many historical out-of-range records are indeed included), and eBird reporting, which became widespread only after 2010, continues to increase dramatically each year. To draw the lines, my intent was to capture the primary range area — and more — but I deliberately excluded the furthest ten to fifteen outliers for each line.
Two of the academic papers that report climate-driven range expansions in eastern North America are listed below, along with their abstracts.
Prince, K. and B. Zuckerberg. 2016. Climate change in our backyards: the reshuffling of North America’s winter bird communities. Global Change Biology 21(2): 572-585.
Much of the recent changes in North American climate have occurred during the winter months, and as result, overwintering birds represent important sentinels of anthropogenic climate change. While there is mounting evidence that bird populations are responding to a warming climate (e.g., poleward shifts) questions remain as to whether these species-specific responses are resulting in community-wide changes. Here, we test the hypothesis that a changing winter climate should favor the formation of winter bird communities dominated by warm-adapted species. To do this, we quantified changes in community composition using a functional index–the Community Temperature Index (CTI)–which measures the balance between low- and high-temperature dwelling species in a community. Using data from Project FeederWatch, an international citizen science program, we quantified spatiotemporal changes in winter bird communities (n = 38 bird species) across eastern North America and tested the influence of changes in winter minimum temperature over a 22-year period. We implemented a jackknife analysis to identify those species most influential in driving changes at the community level and the population dynamics (e.g., extinction or colonization) responsible for these community changes. Since 1990, we found that the winter bird community structure has changed with communities increasingly composed of warm-adapted species. This reshuffling of winter bird communities was strongest in southerly latitudes and driven primarily by local increases in abundance and regional patterns of colonization by southerly birds. CTI tracked patterns of changing winter temperature at different temporal scales ranging from 1 to 35 years. We conclude that a shifting winter climate has provided an opportunity for smaller, southerly distributed species to colonize new regions and promote the formation of unique winter bird assemblages throughout eastern North America.
Saunders et al. 2022. Unraveling a century of global change impacts on winter bird distributions in the eastern United States. Global Change Biology
One of the most pressing questions in ecology and conservation centers on disentangling the relative impacts of concurrent global change drivers, climate and land-use/land-cover (LULC), on biodiversity. Yet studies that evaluate the effects of both drivers on species’ winter distributions remain scarce, hampering our ability to develop full-annual-cycle conservation strategies. Additionally, understanding how groups of species differentially respond to climate versus LULC change is vital for efforts to enhance bird community resilience to future environmental change. We analyzed long-term changes in winter occurrence of 89 species across nine bird groups over a 90-year period within the eastern United States using Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) data. We estimated variation in occurrence probability of each group as a function of spatial and temporal variation in winter climate (minimum temperature, cumulative precipitation) and LULC (proportion of group-specific and anthropogenic habitats within CBC circle). We reveal that spatial variation in bird occurrence probability was consistently explained by climate across all nine species groups. Conversely, LULC change explained more than twice the temporal variation (i.e., decadal changes) in bird occurrence probability than climate change on average across groups. This pattern was largely driven by habitat-constrained species (e.g., grassland birds, waterbirds), whereas decadal changes in occurrence probabilities of habitat-unconstrained species (e.g., forest passerines, mixed habitat birds) were equally explained by both climate and LULC changes over the last century. We conclude that climate has generally governed the winter occurrence of avifauna in space and time, while LULC change has played a pivotal role in driving distributional dynamics of species with limited and declining habitat availability. Effective land management will be critical for improving species’ resilience to climate change, especially during a season of relative resource scarcity and critical energetic trade-offs.
Like so many species, the Carolina Wren is expanding northward. And, like many of those species, this expansion started decades ago, before any measurable climate change, but has exploded in the past decades with climate change.
The Carolina Wren has been expanding north since the 1800s due to habitat recovery after deforestation (Haggerty and Morton, 2020 – the Birds of North America (BNA) species account). What makes the recent Carolina Wren data so interesting is that we can clearly see, in its expansion into Canada, its battle with winter weather conditions.
The species is known for “decimation… by severe winter conditions” (BNA) at the northern limits of its range. The same account notes that “severe winters have apparently been infrequent enough during the 20th century to allow populations to expand and move northward.” Indeed, one of the key conclusions of an analysis of climate change in southern Ontario was that there has been “a decrease in the frequency of cold temperature extremes”. While the wren is aided against cold snaps by bird feeders, the climate trend, at least in Canada, is in its favor. The report noted an overall average increase of 1.5C.
As the wren expanded, certain record-breaking and persistent cold waves knocked the population back, where it restarted. It’s also clear that it is restarting from a higher position each time, thus building its numbers and continuing its expansion.
The cold snaps denoted on the graph were particularly severe in southern Ontario. A more detailed look at weather data may reveal a more complicated pattern and even greater correlation to warmer winters.
In contrast to continents, their ecosystems have much fewer moving parts. It’s not unusual for an island to have only a few plant species and often no land bird or mammal species. All of New Zealand has no native land mammals except for bats. The Channel Islands off southern California have only a native deer mouse and the island fox, and that’s only on some of the islands. Southeast Farallon Island has no native land mammals.
Yet islands are critical refuges for marine mammals and seabirds. It’s not unusual for over 90% of a single species to come from a single island, or just a few islands. For example, over 99% of the world’s Heermann’s Gulls breed only on Isla Raza, a 1.5 acre postage stamp in the Sea of Cortez. 95% of the world’s Black-vented Shearwaters breed only on San Benito Island off Baja California. 99% of the world’s Scripps’s Murrelets come from four islands off southern California and Baja California. And probably 50% of the world’s Ashy Storm-Petrels nest in burrows on a single hillside on Southeast Farallon Island. There are similar examples from all over the world.
Islands are vulnerable
This gets us to the final characteristic about islands; they are vulnerable to perturbations. Add one more moving part, and things can fall apart quickly. 75% of all bird, mammal, amphibian, and reptile extinctions have occurred on islands. More bird species have gone extinct on the Hawaiian Islands than on North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australasia combined.
The introduction of a single non-native species, such as rats or mice or cats or even rabbits, can result in massive changes to an island’s ecology, leading to the extinction of native or breeding species. Rats, arriving as stowaways on ships, are the number one cause of bird extinctions worldwide.
When I worked for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, I was involved in over 300 restoration projects. The best one, the one with the most obvious and dramatic benefits, was when we eradicated non-native black rats from Anacapa Island. In addition to benefitting Scripps’s Murrelets, other seabirds such as Cassin’s Auklets began nesting on the island. The native lizard and even the sea stars and mussels and vegetation rebounded; the rats had been eating them all out of house and home.
The mouse problem on Southeast Farallon Island
Today, the non-native house mouse is impacting the Farallon Islands, one of the most important seabird nesting colonies south of Alaska.
Southeast Farallon Island, the main island, is infested with the mouse. In fact, there are higher densities of house mice there (more than one per square foot) than anywhere in the world. They eat seabird eggs and spread the seeds of non-native weeds around the island. More significantly, they attract a few migrating Burrowing Owls each fall. The owls, lost over the ocean, would normally stop on the island and then leave. But with the mice there, the owls stay and feast. When the winter rains come, the mouse population crashes and the owls begin to starve. Right about then, the declining Ashy Storm-Petrels begin returning to the island to nest. The owls catch them and stack them like cordwood. (In the most recent review, they were not listed an “endangered” based on the assumption that this project would be implemented.)
One thing to know about Ashy Storm-Petrels is that they are long-lived and slow-reproducing, like most seabirds. With the owls killing the adults, the storm-petrel population cannot recover.
Eventually, the owls starve to death. Then the mouse population rebounds in the spring and the cycle starts over, while the storm-petrel population spirals down. This happens every year on the Farallones.
Restoring the island thru mouse eradication
The plan is to eradicate the house mouse from Southeast Farallon Island, as we eradicated rats on Anacapa, and as has been done on over 600 islands worldwide.
The key is to get every last mouse—thousands of them. The only way to do this is to use rodenticide bait pellets. It will be done in the late fall, when the mouse population is at its low point, and when there are very few birds or mammals on the island. The few gulls present can be hazed with a laser (we’ve tested this). Any pellets that fall in the water will quickly decompose. On Anacapa, there were few secondary impacts; the benefits were far greater than we ever dreamed.
This project has been researched by dedicated biologists who know and love the island. We have explored all alternatives. (Contraceptives are not feasible. Introducing more raptors is NOT the answer.) We have researched possible harms and benefits. We’ve seen the amazing restoration of the ecosystem on Anacapa and on 600 islands worldwide, and we’ve worked with experts from New Zealand.
Here is a list of organizations and experts in support of the project:
National Audubon Society
American Bird Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy
California Native Plant Society
California Invasive Plant Council
David Ainley; author of Seabirds of the Farallon Islands; Ashy Storm-Petrel species account in Birds of North America
Peter Pyle; Institute for Bird Populations; author of Identification Guide to North American Birds and over 100 journal articles
Peter Harrison; author of Seabirds: An Identification Guide.
Mark Rauzon, Marine Endeavors; author of Isles of Amnesia: The History, Geography, and Restoration of America’s Forgotten Pacific Islands.
Hadoram Shirihai, Tubenoses Project; author of A complete guide to Antarctic wildlife: the birds and marine mammals of the Antarctic continent and the Southern Ocean; Whales, dolphins and seals: A field guide to the marine mammals of the world; The Macmillan birder’s guide to European and Middle Eastern birds.
Debi Shearwater, Shearwater Journeys, 44 years of offshore experience; co-author of Distribution patterns and population size of the Ashy Storm-Petrel
Dianne Feinstein, US Senator
Point Blue Conservation Science (formerly Point Reyes Bird Observatory)
Institute for Bird Populations
Pacific Seabird Group
Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels
California Academy of Sciences
California Institute of Environmental Studies
Oiled Wildlife Care Network
International Bird Rescue
Golden Gate Audubon Society
Marin Audubon Society
Monterey Audubon Society
San Diego Audubon Society
Sequoia Audubon Society
Marin County Supervisor
Santa Cruz County Supervisor
National Refuge Association
Save the Bay
Farallon Islands Foundation
Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge
Coastal Conservation Action Lab
Marin Conservation League
Natural Heritage Institute
South Georgia Heritage Trust
More details about the project and the public process
More details about the project, the process, and all relevant documents can be found here. The project will come before the California Coastal Commission on Dec 16, 2021. Letters to the Commission should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for letters is 5pm on Friday, December 10.
Related reports and videos
Here are some videos and reports about past similar projects:
This blog post is merely to provide a visual illustration, by way of a map, of the expansion of the California Scrub-Jay across Washington, British Columbia, eastern Oregon, Idaho, and even Montana (one record so far). It is intended to complement my more detailed article, “Tracking Expansion of the California Scrub-Jay Into the Pacific Northwest”, in the Washington Ornithological Society (WOS) News, August-September 2021 edition.
As becomes clear in the article, these are not hard lines. The jays are advancing gradually, not in a solid wave. Typically, a single jay will appear well outside the known range (e.g. Spokane). Within a year or two, there will be several. Then they’ll be breeding. Then they will begin expanding further. Meanwhile, a wave of jays will be backfilling the new territory, with densities increasing annually. The lines in this map are as much art as science, but are intended to show the primary region were jays were “regular and expected”. There were always outliers, pioneer dispersers expanding the range. Records beyond the 2020 line are shown as pale blue dots.
The jay’s expansion, when considered in the context of timing and trends in other species, is likely a function of a warming climate combined with suitable food sources. For more discussion of this, see the WOS article linked above.
It will be interesting to see where the 2030 scrub-jay “contour line” will be. I predict they’ll be on Vancouver Island from Victoria to Campbell River, as well as up the Sunshine Coast, up the Okanagan Valley to Kelowna and possibly Kamloops, and east to Idaho, from Coeur d’Alene in the north throughout the Snake River Valley in the south.
After that, they face some formidable hurdles. The biggest obstacles to their expansion further north and east will be habitat with limited food sources (e.g. high mountains). That said, they’ve already shown some ability to travel up mountain valleys and potentially cross the Cascades north of Mount Rainier.
In a very frank and data-rich webinar, fire ecologist Hugh Safford (USDA Forest Service and research faculty at Department of Environmental Science and Policy at UC Davis) offers “Some ruminations on fire and vegetation trends in California”. He explains the causes of the dramatic increase in megafires and what can be done about it.
The webinar was co-sponsored by the Yolo Interfaith Alliance for Climate Justice and Cool Davis and presented on May 5, 2021.
Safford’s presentation starts at 13:23 of the video. The equally enlightening Q&A session begins at 48:20.
Here is a summary of some of the key points:
The annual burned area has been rising rapidly since the 1980s, almost entirely in northern California.
This is largely due to fire exclusion caused by the removal of Native Americans as land managers and increased drought and record vegetation dryness caused by climate change.
Since 1999, burning over a million acres/yr now occurs regularly; this had not happened before 1999.
Pre-EAS (Euro-American Settlement) burning by Native Americans totaled up to FOUR million acres/year (but these were low severity fires that primarily burned the understory and smaller trees).
“Euro-Americans, when they showed up in the 1850s, and for that matter today, had no idea how important fire was to the functioning of these ecosystems and they feared it and felt like it was something they needed to stop. After a hundred years of that, it’s really biting us in the butt now because now we have jungles of fuels, we’ve cut most of the big fire-resilient trees out of the system, and when we get the ignitions start we can’t stop the fires anymore. Until about the 1990s, it was easy to put fires out in the forests.”
Pre-EAS forests were at least 40% old growth; current forests are only 6% old growth and highly vulnerable to high severity fires, as they are 4-5x denser than pre-EAS.
“Every single fire projection we found in the literature predicts bigger fires, more fires, and more severe fires, basically until we’ve burned so much of California that there actually isn’t much woody vegetation left to burn.”
Expect the loss of conifers and an increase in non-native grassland.
Changes already underway: loss of blue oak woodland, ponderosa, yellow pine, and subalpine pine; increase in hardwoods. Loss of sage scrub and chaparral in southern California. Many burned areas are quickly invaded by non-native grasses and will not recover. Incense cedar and white fir may become more dominant trees in California forests.
Fires in the Coast Range are now destroying chamise and blue oaks with limited evidence of re-sprouting.
In the short run, there’s not a lot we can do to manage climate, but there’s a lot we can do to manage fuels.
There’s been a huge renaissance, especially among Native tribes, to use controlled burns to manage forests. California’s new fire resilience plan supports the use of controlled burns. Northern Australia has had great success allowing Aboriginies to manage forests. Opportunities are limited, however, because of development.
The combination of drought cause megafires in the Sierra to produce “Hiroshima-type landscapes”, burning old growth.
How to stop fires: Forest thinning is critical, but it’s not economical to harvest small trees, so the government will have to subsidize it. For example, we can use the cut trees for biomass energy, as it done in Scandinavia. This is the only way to save large old growth trees and healthy forests. “We have to cut a lot of trees. We don’t have a choice…. We can create forests that can handle large fires, or we can sit around and watch it all vaporize.”
Looking at Version 8.0.8 (March 12, 2021) of the ABA Checklist, 116 of the 1,123 species, or a little over 10%, are named after people. Of the 116 in the ABA area, two (Bishop’s Oo and Bachman’s Warbler) are considered extinct, one is an introduced species in Hawaii (Erckel’s Francolin), and 32 others are Codes 3, 4 or 5, meaning they occur rarely in the ABA area. The remaining 80 are all Code 1 or 2 and can be expected to be seen in the ABA area regularly. The following analyses focuses on these 80 familiar species.
The first thing to note is that these 80 species come from a wide array of families and species groupings. As with all birds, Passerines are dominant, making up 49% of the list. Digging deeper, seabirds and Passerines with limited ranges (mostly warblers and sparrows) are over-represented—because they were described relatively late in the European discovery process, when honorific naming became more in vogue.
The AOU (American Ornithological Union, the precursor to the AOS) began proposing English names in its first checklist in 1886, but didn’t complete the effort – and the names were not universally accepted – until the 5th edition in 1957. Meanwhile, the Latin scientific names have always followed a clear rule: the Latin name is set by the first published description of a species. The “bird names for birds” movement is focused on English names only.
Eponymous naming was rare in the 18th century, limited to just four of the 80 species, all emanating from Russian/German and British field work, primarily focused on the far north. The four early birds are Steller’s Eider (1769), Blackburnian Warbler (1776), Steller’s Jay (1788), and Barrow’s Goldeneye (1789).
Then, in 1811, Alexander Wilson named a woodpecker and a nutcracker after Lewis and Clark, and honorific naming was off and running, peaking in the mid-1800s.
Eponyms for the 80 Code 1 and Code 2 species are overwhelmingly honorific. Only six are named after the describer himself (Wilson’s Warbler, Sabine’s Gull, Brandt’s Cormorant, Townsend’s Warbler, Gambel’s Quail, and Cory’s Shearwater), and it’s not clear that even all of them intended for the species to have an eponym; the Latin names for the warbler, cormorant, and shearwater suggest otherwise. Wilson himself called his warbler the Green Black-capped Flycatcher and the western subspecies went by Pileolated Warbler (coined by Pallas) as late as the 1950s.
The namers were widespread – 36 different people provided the 80 names, though four stand out. John James Audubon provided fifteen of the eponymous names, Spencer Baird and John Cassin each provided seven, and Rene Lesson four. Together, these four ornithologists were responsible for 41% (33/80) of the honorific names in this analysis. In addition, many eponymous subspecies were coined by Baird.
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The majority of the namers were connected to each other, with many naming birds after colleagues, who in turn named species after other colleagues. Lesson described Audubon’s Shearwater and Oriole; Audubon described Baird’s Sparrow; Baird described Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay; Woodhouse described Cassin’s Sparrow; Cassin described Lawrence’s Goldfinch; Lawrence described LeConte’s Thrasher.
There are no examples of a quid pro quo, where two people named birds after each other, unless you count Audubon’s Warbler, described by Townsend in 1837; Audubon returned the favor with Townsend’s Solitaire the following year. Or Coues, who christened a sandpiper after Baird in 1861; four years later, Baird named a warbler after Coues’ sister, Grace.
Despite Audubon’s dominant role in honorific naming, no Americans honored him (excepting Townsend with Audubon’s Warbler); only Lesson, a Frenchman, did.
A third of the species (27 of 80) have Latin names that do not match the honorific English name. In most instances this is because the bird was accidentally described twice. Most often, they were not originally intended to have an honorific name. A person described the species and gave a descriptive Latin name, then later another person described the same species and gave an honorific name. For example, Lichtenstein described A. aestivalis in 1823, then Audubon described it again in 1839, naming it Bachman’s Sparrow. When it was realized the two were the same species, the Latin name provided by the first publication held, but, at least in these instances, the honorific English name was also given—a kind of consolation prize to the second describer. Thus, what was called Pinewoods or Oakwoods Sparrow became Bachman’s Sparrow. It’s apparent that oversight and review of “naming and claiming” was limited.
Among the 80 species in this analysis, this double-describing happened at least 18 times. Curiously, six of these were by Audubon and account for 40% of his honorific bestowments. These are Harris’s Hawk, Bachman’s Sparrow, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Harris’s Sparrow, Brewer’s Blackbird, and Smith’s Longspur. MacGillivray’s Warbler was intended to be Tolmie’s Warbler as described by Townsend; the other five have descriptive Latin names. There is one other double-described species that has a Latin honorific—Scott’s Oriole, Icterus parisorum, originally named after the Paris brothers. Most of the others have descriptive Latin names.
Cassin’s Auklet (P. aleutica) and Cassin’s Kingbird (T. vociferans) were first described, respectively, before Cassin was born and when Cassin was just thirteen. Clearly the original describers did not intend to honor Cassin. However, by the 1886 AOU checklist both carried the Cassin moniker, though there is no record that I could find how or why that came to be (and even a co-author of the auklet’s Birds of North American species account didn’t know the answer).
Interestingly, two species have Latin names derived from indigenous words: pipixcan of Franklin’s Gull is Nahuatl for the gull or possibly the Aztec region in Mexico; sasin of Allen’s Hummingbird is Noo-chah-nulth (Nootka) for hummingbird, a reference to when the species was lumped with Rufous Hummingbird. The gull was described twice, which is how it ended up honoring Franklin. The hummingbird was split, providing an opportunity for another name. Ironically, Allen’s, not Rufous, Hummingbird always bore the Noo-chah-nulth name which emanates from Vancouver Island.
Correlated with the timing, a clear regional pattern emerges. Because the common eastern species had already been described a century earlier, western species with honorific names outnumber eastern ones nearly ten to one. A map plotting the year of description with the core of the species’ range mimics European expansion – and ethnic cleansing of Native Americans – across the continent in the nineteenth century.
As for the honorees, most were naturalists, either doing field work or promoting it (70 of 80), most were Americans (55 of 80) or at least had spent some time in North America (add ten more). French collectors dominated the hummingbirds.
Only six species honor women—or girls. Blackburne is the early outlier, a British naturalist honored by one of the German ornithologists in the late 1700s. Neither spent time in North America; the type specimen comes from South America. Curiously, the eponymic title is not in the possessive form (e.g. Blackburne’s Warbler). For reasons unknown to me, the Latin name was changed from blackburniae to fusca before 1910.
During the surge of honorifics in the mid-1800s, the only females honored were friends or family, and they only got first names. Anna, age 27 when the hummingbird was named in her honor, was the wife of an ornithologist and a lady-in-waiting in the court of Emperor Napoleon III’s wife. She was described by Audubon as a “beautiful young woman, not more than twenty, extremely graceful and polite.” Virginia was the wife of William Anderson, the original collector; she was honored by Baird at Anderson’s request. Grace, also honored by Baird, was Elliot Coues’s sister. Lucy, age 13, honored by James G. Cooper, was Baird’s daughter.
We don’t return to female scientists – and last names – until the 1900s, with Scripps, who was honored in 1939, and her bird didn’t reach species status until 2012.
Most of the honorees have no obvious indications of a checkered past (66 of 80), though most of these were quite comfortable associating with, or honoring with bird names, those who were slaveholders, white supremacists, or actively involved in killing or removing Native Americans, even while these actions were hotly debated and contested at the time among whites—and universally opposed by Blacks and Native Americans. As early as 1920, the entire concept of eponymous bird names was challenged.
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The dominance of western species among honorific names with morally objectionable pasts is no accident. Many of the ornithologists working in the West were attached to US military expeditions or other surveys of colonization, such as railroad surveys or the border survey after the Mexican-American War. They often served as doctors while doing naturalist work on the side. Many were likely looking for a vehicle to get into the field.
Others were active combatants, with the naturalist work coming on the side. William Clark, after the famous 1803 expedition, played a leadership role in the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans for three decades. Abert served as a soldier under John Fremont’s Third Expedition and likely participated in the Sacramento River massacre of Wintu families, deemed horrific by their contemporaries. General Winfield Scott, not a naturalist in any way, was honored by Couch with an oriole precisely for his role as the Commanding General of the US Army, which included overseeing the arrest, detainment, and expulsion of the Cherokee during the Trail of Tears.
But why did they turn to honorific naming when their predecessors did not? Was it the spirit of conquest, of erasing the former occupants of the land, that gave them the presumption and bravado to name even the birds after each other? After all, mountains, rivers, valleys, and large regions of land were all being re-named and claimed as European.
White supremacy permeated the sciences. Crania Americana was published between 1839 and 1849 by Samuel Morton, a colleague of several of the naturalists. Townsend collected skulls for him. During the same era, to support the Indian Removal Act and other similar policies, the Mound Builder Myth, asserting that Native Americans were not actually native, but that North America was originally populated by Europeans, was widely taught in grade schools across the land. The land was originally European, so the story went. This theory was eventually laid to rest thanks to the efforts of John Wesley Powell, but only after most Natives were detained in concentration camps.
In short, the scientific fields were permeated with white supremacy and a sense of white ownership. Ornithological research found itself interlocked with US military endeavors and, on the Western frontier, far from Eastern progressive voices advocating abolition and respect for slaves and Natives. In this climate, honorific naming eventually ran amok, often foundering on the rocky shores of slavery and ethnic cleansing, aka manifest destiny.
Caveat: Researching the origins of species’ names is challenging, especially for those described more than once or subject to taxonomic revisions. Corrections from knowledgeable readers are much appreciated. Regardless of errors, the larger picture, the trends regarding time and place, still hold.
Note: Updated June 2, 2021 to include Blackburnian Warbler.