Bird names

Michael Gochfeld gochfeld at
Tue Jun 8 06:24:51 EDT 1999

Bird names are in the same or worse disarray. 
Every systematic whim (or even systematic sense) gets reflected in the 
latest bird book.  I would guess that probably half of the bird books 
published in the last 10-15 years adopted the Sibley classification 
which shuffled orders and families of birds with abandon. 
Half of the remaining adhere to the "Wetmore" sequence of families 
(Sparrows last) and half have adopted the "Crows" last sequence---on the 
notion that since crows are so smart they represent the highest form of 
bird life.  I'll match our parrot against any crow, but no one thinks of 
a Parrot-last sequence. 

Common names remain fairly stable until some group comes along and tries 
to standardize them.  Then an old generation of birders struggles to 
learn Yellow-rumped Warbler and Green-backed Heron, while their younger 
field companions have to guess what is meant by an occasional lapse into 
Myrtle Warbler or Green Heron.  During the 1970's there was a profound 
move to lump at the species level based on evidence of interbreeding (or 
introgression), while the biodiversity movement of the 1990's has 
emphasized splitting again. 

Now the latest nonsense is the generic renaming of familiar birds such 
as Chickadees which are now no longer Parus. 

It's a good thing there aren't as many butterfly systematists. 

I think that the lesson (which I learned from the book SWISS FAMILY 
ROBINSON) is that names are supposed to be convenient contrivances for 
communication.  There is NO reason that names have to reflect every 
taxonomic change----there are numbers and diagrams which can do that 
much better than names.  

Mike Gochfeld

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