Taxonomy update for 2015 - Australia

By Nancy Auerbach August 9, 2015
Australasian Swamphen
purple swamphen

Australasian Swamphen (photo by Mat Gilfedder)

For Australian birders, there are a few changes in the latest taxonomic update to be aware of. We have a few splits, as well as a few new subspecies groups that can be recorded.

In addition, there were some changes to scientific names and sequence of doves, and several other groups of birds. Elsewhere in the world, a large number of taxa were split in the Pacific Islands, New Guinea, Indonesia, and Malaysia along with several important splits in Africa.

Torresian Kingfisher

Torresian Kingfisher (photo by Mat Gilfedder)


The below species were all split in eBird for this update:

The former Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio), has been split into six species. Only one occurs in Australia, and it is now called Australasian Swamphen.

  • Australasian Swamphen Porphyrio melanotus

Collared Kingfisher has been split into many subspecies. Fortunately for us in Australia, there is a single recognised subspecies in Australia, whose name has been changed from T. chloris sordidus to become T. sordidus. Those of you fortunate enough to visit in Ashmore Reef may have seen the previous nominate race, and can add an armchair tick to your Australian lists as Collared Kingfisher!

  • Torresian Kingfisher Todiramphus sordidus (most of Australia)
  • Collared Kingfisher Todiramphus chloris (Ashmore Reef records)

The Naretha Bluebonnet from the Nullarbor Plain has been recognised as a separate species. The name Greater Bluebonnet is used to distinguish the remaining subspecies of Bluebonnet which are found in northern South Australia and the eastern mainland states.

  • Greater Bluebonnet Northiella haematogaster
  • Naretha Bluebonnet Northiella narathae

The western and eastern subspecies of the former White-naped Honeyeater have been split into two species: the White-naped Honeyeater of eastern Australia and Gilbert’s Honeyeater of south-west Western Australia.

  • Gilbert’s Honeyeater Melithreptus chloropsis
  • White-naped Honeyeater Melithreptus lunatus

Chestnut Quail-thrush (Cinclosoma castanotum) is treated as two species: the Chestnut Quail-thrush (east of Port Augusta), and the Copperback Quail-thrush (west of Port Augusta).

  • Chestnut Quail-thrush Cinclosoma castanotum
  • Copperback Quail-thrush Cinclosoma clarum



Pacific Koel has been split from Asian Koel, and the Australian Koel has then been lumped into Pacific Koel.

  • Pacific Koel Eudynamys orientalis



The eBird/Clements taxonomy makes extensive use of subspecies groups to allow observers to explicitly record subspecies, or groups of subspecies, that are identifiable in the field. Subspecies groups have been recognized for several more Australian species. When recording a subspecies group, be sure to include field notes regarding the characters you used to identify the group. New subspecies groups are as follows:

Little Bronze-Cuckoo can be reported as either Little Bronze-Cuckoo (Gould’s) or Little Bronze-cuckoo (Little).

  • Little Bronze-Cuckoo (Little) Chrysococcyx minutillus [minutillus Group]
  • Little Bronze-Cuckoo (Gould’s) Chrysococcyx minutillus [poecilurus Group]

Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles), with the southern subspecies (Black-shouldered), and northern subspecies (Masked):

  • Masked Lapwing (Masked) Vanellus miles miles
  • Masked Lapwing (Black-shouldered) Vanellus miles novaehollandiae

Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica), with the Australian subspecies (G. n. macrotarsa) able to be reported separately from the others (including the Asian affinis ssp.).

  • Gull-billed Tern (Gull-billed) Gelochelidon nilotica [nilotica Group]
  • Gull-billed Tern (Australian) Gelochelidon nilotica macrotarsa

Spotted Pardalote (Pardalotus punctatus) can be reported as subspecies groups, with Spotted Pardalote (Yellow-rumped) of the mallee, Spotted Pardalote (Wet Tropics) of northern Queensland and Spotted Pardalote (Spotted) in between.

  • Spotted Pardalote (Wet Tropics) Pardalotus punctatus millitaris
  • Spotted Pardalote (Spotted) Pardalotus punctatus punctatus
  • Spotted Pardalote (Yellow-rumped) Pardalotus punctatus xanthopyge

The various distinctive Australian subspecies of Grey Fantail (Rhipidura albiscapa) can now be reported as subspecies groups.

  • Grey Fantail (keasti) Rhipidura albiscapa keasti
  • Grey Fantail (alisteri) Rhipidura albiscapa alisteri
  • Grey Fantail (albiscapa) Rhipidura albiscapa albiscapa
  • Grey Fantail (preissi) Rhipidura albiscapa preissi
  • Grey Fantail (albicauda) Rhipidura albiscapa albicauda

Scarlet Robin (Petroica boodang) can be reported as Scarlet Robin (Campbell’s) of south-west Western Australia and Scarlet Robin (Scarlet) of eastern Australia.

  • Scarlet Robin (Campbell’s) Petroica boodang campbelli
  • Scarlet Robin (Scarlet) Petroica boodang boodang/leggii


Slash Taxa

Some species pairs may be difficult to separate in the field, and in these cases eBird allows you to record the fact that you saw one or other of the pair but could not decide which. New slash taxa for Australia include:

  • Hutton’s/Fluttering Shearwater
  • Brown Goshawk/Collared Sparrowhawk
  • Shining/Little Bronze-Cuckoo
  • Little/Fairy Tern
  • Restless/Paperbark Flycatcher
  • Fairy/Tree Martin


A new taxon?

A new form of storm-petrel has been observed off New Caledonia, apparently closely related to the recently re-discovered New Zealand Storm-Petrel. It has not yet been formally named, but if you should be so lucky as to see this bird you may record it as the New Caledonian Storm-Petrel.

  • New Caledonian Storm-Petrel (undescribed form) Fregetta [undescribed form]



Inter-specific hybrids can also be recorded in eBird. New hybrid taxa available for data entry in Australia include:

  • Little x Fairy Tern
  • Long-billed x Little Corella
  • Green x Eastern Rosella
  • Crimson x Eastern Rosella
  • Musk x Rainbow Lorikeet
  • Rainbow x Scaly-breasted Lorikeet


Domestic Types

Domestic varieties found free-flying in the wild can also be recorded in eBird. With the additions in this update, your blue budgies and white cockatiels have a better home in the database:

  • Cockatiel (Domestic type)
  • Budgerigar (Domestic type)