That’s a pretty big statement--given these 3 species breed in specific ranges, separate from one another. Given the obvious visual differences, this is a pretty wild statement as a birder to take in. I often am floundered at the splitting and lumping of species based off these studies. The tiniest similarities or differences at the molecular level leading to change, while the visual, geographic, aural, display rituals, and other various identification models used for centuries are put to the wayside.
For science, this makes sense. As science evolves, so does our understanding of the creatures impacted. For scientific purposes I get the point. But maybe there is something to be said about the non-scientific community. Those of us who enjoy watching and photographing birds. And for listers, who enjoy keeping those pesky checklists and minutiae details about their day to day birding. Maybe there needs to be two sides to birds--science and birding.
It’s not hard to argue that birding is not scientific. You could make arguments to the contrary but most birders are not scientists, and citizen science in relation to birds is run through eBird, CBC, GBBC, and various other highly unscientific counting methods. The data provided from these events, and even through eBird is highly riddled with bad data. I love eBird and what it is doing, so don’t get me wrong--but citizen bird science is limited to what we know, based off these old school models-- visual, geographic, aural, and display rituals. Those same things that science is now leaving behind in favor of genetics.
On a side note, the same study on falcons showed that grebes are not remotely related to loons, but are more closely aligned with--anyone have a guess? How about flamingos? That’s right, flamingos. These studies are truly interesting, but for FIELD IDENTIFICATION, or birding purposes, these studies present serious issues.
For starters let’s look at falcons. These birds more closely resemble hawks than parrots--so for ID purposes it makes sense to have them with hawks in a field guide--what good does it do for quick reference having them listed with parrots--which they share no plumage characteristics with? Same with grebes. It does little good to show grebes next to a long legged wader like a flamingo, when they look more like loons, and share the same habit of diving to feed.
These areas are more broad and not species split/lump specific, but they have the same identification ramifications. If we look specifically at Rosy-Finches, anyone who has all three North American species would see their life lists drop by 2 species. You would also see field guides now showing the species like it does with Dark-eyed Junco--and a plethora of subspecies (I also think they should split Dark-eyed Junco into at least species--argument for another day). Gulls could end up being a nightmare if they go through and eventually do some mass lumping there--which again, I won’t get into.
The point of this post was to talk about listing and birding as something different from the scientific aspect of things. It’s as if there needs to be a field guide for birding and listing--and a scientific guide for bird taxonomy. Visuals are the first thing we notice when we look at birds--the characteristics that are used to describe a bird are what easily categorizes and group them with one another, and makes them comparable to each other. For beginning birders this is the way they learn--compare and contrast.
From the listing side of things, who doesn’t hate to see their life list shrink when the AOU lumps one species. Of course we all love it when the split species (Canada and Cackling Goose anyone). As an experiment I might have to go through and create a list of the birds of North America separated down to the most obvious visual subspecies. Then go in and see what my life list would be done this way. I know, I know, this is a purely selfish listing mentality. But in a sense it is also the most dumbed down way to identify birds, and potentially a better system for birding.
This has gone all over the place, I guess it’s about time to wrap it up. These are just my personal musings, and ramblings--but an interesting way of viewing things. Anyone care to talk about the importance of field identification, versus listing, versus science?