Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dendroica is no more: 2011 revised taxonomy

It appears after all these years of confusing taxonomy in the warbler group, the Dendroica genus has been removed entirely!

The news first appeared when Sibley announced it on his site: http://www.sibleyguides.com/wp-content/uploads/WarblerTaxonomyNew_web.jpg and here http://www.sibleyguides.com/2011/06/the-new-wood-warbler-taxonomy/

Now the Dendroicas have been moved all over the place, many of them stuck in the genus Setophaga (which from what I gather means something eater; not sure what Seto means.). The pretty warblers have been cursed with a name that is no longer as pretty.

Plus Setophaga is annoyingly cumbersome, not only to say in front of people.

Dendroica has that ring that Setophaga doesn't. There is no chance that you will be changing my vocabularly here. If you walked amongst other birders and pointed out a "Setophaga" you'd get some funny looks. Point out a Dendroica and they would know what you were talking about.

It is all thanks to one of my favourite birds: the American Redstart. The Redstart was once in its own genus, Setophaga (!), and was the first to be named, well not the "first" first. To start things off here, a scientific name has 3 parts: a genus, a species and subspecies (the latter is not usually seen). The genus is the first word, the second is the species. The genus is shared by its close relatives, the species is specific to itself.  In the Magnolia Warbler, Dendroica magnolia, the genus is Dendroica and the species is magnolia. The reason with species being put together is that some new form of DNA testing or study has proven that these "seperate" birds are actually very closely related. When birds reach a certain point of relation (according to modern science), they end up being put in the same genus. Now that is cleared up:

When birds from different genera are put into one genus, the bird that was named first passes on its genus name to the entire genus, so for example:

Bird A, Birdus alpha (1920)
Bird B, Avius beta (1910)
Bird C, Twitter omega (1915)

The above birds were once considered seperate. But when merged the genus formed takes on the name of the first named bird. Bird B was named in 1910, which is before the other two, thus the genus formed becomes "Avius", so:

Bird A, Avius alpha
Bird B, Avius beta
Bird C, Avius omega


Because the Redstart is now considered to be closely related (enough) to the Dendroica genus, it was taken out of its seperate genus and put into Dendroica, and because the Redstart was named before the Dendroicas were named, the name Setophaga takes priority (First come, first serve in a way) over Dendroica.

Though not even this will take the charm away from this particular species, it is still annoying.

The redstart was not the only bird put into Dendroica. The "Parulas" (the namesake of the warbler family: Parulidae) were also put into the ex-Dendroica genus. Now if they were renamed Parula then thats a little better, but Setophaga....

I just now read Sibley's article after trying to think of what else to right on this page, and I am totally confused when they moved all the extremely similar grey-hooded eye-ring warblers (ex-genus Oporornis) into a seperate genus, but not the Connecticut. I can understand the Nashville Warbler being put in a different genus to the other grey-hoods as it is completely different in some aspects, but I can't see much difference with the Connecticut vs the other grey-hoods. Though I'm sure if I ever saw the Connecticut and another grey hood then I might be able to find a visible difference such as foraging style or something, but that proposal is probably far off. Yes they are common birds but "common" birds are my weakness. But, my lack of luck in finding such birds is not the topic of this post.

I'm just glad because the Parulas (as specified before: the namesake of the warbler family) original genus is gone, that the family name doesn't change. I don't think I could live with a "Setophagidae". That name sounds like a non-passerine family whose songs are like rusty gates, which is good if we are talking about the taxonomy of Yellow-headed Blackbirds or Cockatoos. Our songbirds (passerines) never deserve that.
And yes, if you are really smart then you would know Yellow-headed Blackbirds are indeed considered Songbirds; I just could not think of a better example to use.


Taxonomy.

Not anyones' cup of tea.

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