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Thick-billed Longspur

Marcus et al.,

(Note: Thick-billed Longspur is not available as an option in eBird, so entering it as McCown’s Longspur is the correct option, both refer to Rynchophanes mccownii, the bird found by Alison Hiers at Robb Field recently.)

While “official” changes are typically not made until publication, this supplemental, single, proposal batch seemed to be such a priority that it was released online separately from the other proposal batches (not left for the first batch of 2021), was co-authored by a member of the North American Classification Committee, and publicized even after the newest AOS Check-List Supplement was just published. It seems that the name change is here to stay, but I understand caution. For what it’s worth, a note on Cornell’s All About Birds page (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/McCowns_Longspur/overview) says “In August 2020, the American Ornithological Society [AOS] voted to change the name of this species to Thick-billed Longspur. This name change will be reflected in the All About Birds page title, search results, and elsewhere on the site with the next eBird/Clements taxonomy update.” I take that to mean a global change to eBird, Birds of the World, Merlin, etc.

That general taxonomy update should have occurred this year if not for a delay due to a large database migration at eBird. The eBird/Clements and other global taxonomy often gets ahead out ahead of the AOS taxonomy (e.g., splitting Mallard and Mexican Duck a year before the AOS published that change this summer), and I strongly suspect that the eBird taxonomic update would have rolled out Thick-billed Longspur in late summer following acceptance of the proposal if not for database-related delays. In the case of Rynchophanes mccownii, this name change is not because of new genetic evidence leading to a lump or split, but due to a cultural shift that the American Ornithological Society has recognized. If we choose to use Thick-billed Longspur, we, as birders, also recognize that cultural shift, but can also simply use the new, correct, name without considering the politics. Thick-billed Longspur actually employs a useful field mark (the noticeably thick pink bill!), which is helpful to ID these dull-colored birds we see in fall.  Consider the etymology of the genus Rynchophanes: ryncho from the Greek word for nose and phanes from a Greek root meaning “to show” or “be apparent”. Of course, with eBird and field guides still bearing “McCown’s Longspur” it will take some practice to communicate without confusion, but I personally don’t see any reason to wait for it to be published in a journal. 

This is not intended to reignite public debate about the name itself, I just wanted to get the word out on the change to the common name (note the scientific name will retain the honorific mccownii). 

Nice find by Alison Hiers!

Justyn Stahl

Source: SanDiegoRegionBirding Latest Reports