2016 taxonomy update for Indian birds

By eBird India August 19, 2016

Emerald Dove is now Asian Emerald Dove © Dr Sumit Chakrabarti (checklist)

Each year, eBird updates the base eBird/Clements checklist to take into account any changes resulting from newly discovered species or better taxonomic understanding — including species splits, lumps, name changes and changes in sequence. In addition, various new helpful options for data entry for birds that cannot be identified to species are added, e.g. spuhs, slashes, hybrids, and domestic forms.

The 2016 update for the global eBird/Clements checklist is now available, and has been implemented in eBird. A number of these changes impact Indian birds, and these are described below.

It is worth a reminder that you should set your eBird preferences to display both Common and Scientific Names, with common names set to ‘English (India)’ so that eBird uses names most familiar to Indian birders. We previously produced a summary of the most common eBird name confusions for Indian birds.

The most complicated change, and one that you will notice has a direct impact on your lists on My eBird, is when a species is split into two or more new species. eBird will attempt to automatically move any observations you have of the ‘old’ species to the appropriate ‘new’ species based on known range. For species where the range is not clear however, it is not possible for eBird to automate this decision. Therefore your observations will get moved to a new ‘slash’, and you will find that your lifelist will reduce by one. If you know which of the new species is the correct one, then you can edit your checklists and add the new species instead of the slash. But if you don’t know which species is appropriate, please leave the record as the slash. Over time, you and other eBirders in India are helping build up our collective knowledge about distribution, and identification of these new species.

In the current updates the most confusing one for Indian birders is the split of Greater Short-toed Lark into two new species: as described further below, the name Greater Short-toed Lark now excludes the dukhunensis subspecies, which becomes a new species — Sykes’s Short-toed Lark. The range of these two species probably overlaps in parts of India, so not all old observations have been automatically assigned to one of the new species but are instead now assigned to the new slash Greater/Sykes’s/Hume’s Short-toed Lark.

Updates to Indian Species

1. Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica has been split into two species, Asian Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica and Pacific Emerald Dove Chalcophaps longirostris. Out of these, only the Asian Emerald Dove occurs in our region and all your Indian sightings of Emerald Dove should have been automatically changed to Asian Emerald Dove. Please report Asian Emerald Dove from now on.

2. Large Hawk-Cuckoo Hierococcyx sparverioides has been split into two species, Large Hawk-cuckoo Hierococcyx sparverioides and Dark Hawk-cuckoo Hierococcyx bocki. Out of these, the bird relevant to our region is the Large Hawk-Cuckoo (which is what all Indian records will continue to reflect) while the Dark Hawk-cuckoo is restricted to parts of SE Asia.

3. Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla has been split into Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla (previously ssp longipennis) and Sykes’s Short-toed Lark Calandrella dukhunensis. Both species occur in India and while in general, it is considered that all birds in the N and NW are probably Greater Short-toed Lark and those in the E and S are Sykes’s Short-toed Lark, the regions of overlap are unclear, as are the field identification features to look out for. When more information comes in about this, we will let you know; in the meantime, it is best to report the slash or simply Calandrella sp.

According to current literature:

Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide says, “In NW, wintering longipennis somewhat paler overall, and smaller billed than dukhunensis, which winters mostly in S and E, and has more heavily streaked, rufescent upperparts, and brighter rufous-buff breast-sides.”

Handbook of the Birds of the World, -Vol 9 says, “longipennis is greyish-sandy and finely streaked above, bill relatively small; dukhunensis is distinctive, larger, longer-winged and slightly smaller-billed than other races, dark brown and heavily streaked above, buff-washed below, legs dark.”

Currently, if your records have not been assigned to one or the other species, they’ll probably be placed under the Greater/Sykes’s/Hume’s Short-toed Lark slash.

4. Lesser Short-toed Lark Calandrella rufescens is split into two species, Lesser Short-toed Lark Alaudala rufescens and Asian Short-toed Lark Alaudala cheleensis. Note that the genus has changed from Calandrella to Alaudala. In our region, Lesser Short-toed Lark is the only relevant option, though it’s an extremely rare one!

5. Crested Lark Galerida cristata is split into two species – the Crested Lark Galerida cristata and the Maghreb Lark Galerida macrorhyncha. Only the former is relevant to the S Asia and thus all Indian records will remain as Crested Lark.

6. Plain-backed Thrush Zoothera mollissima no longer exists and is replaced by three species: Alpine Thrush Zoothera mollissima; the newly described Himalayan Thrush Zoothera salimalii; and Sichuan Thrush Zoothera griseiceps (Alström et al. 2016). The ranges of these three species are still being worked out, though according to current literature – only Alpine Thrush and Himalayan Thrush should be relevant within Indian borders. eBirders can help here by photographing and audio recording songs and calls for any birds encountered and uploading them.

According to the Clements checklist: Alpine Thrush breeds in the Himalayas from northern Pakistan to southeastern Tibet and south-central China (Sichuan); winters at lower elevations, south to Yunnan (China); Himalayan Thrush breeds in the eastern Himalayas from eastern Nepal to south-central China (Sichuan and Yunnan); winter range poorly known, but reported from northeastern India to northern Vietnam (Tonkin); and Sichuan Thrush breeds south-central China (central Sichuan); winter range poorly known, but reported from northern Vietnam (Tonkin).

We plan on a more comprehensive article on this, but for now we suggest that the Himalayan Forest Thrush can be told apart from the Alpine Thrush by the strongly marked lores (vs weakly marked lores), fewer spots on wing coverts (vs weak wing bars), pinkish legs (vs orange legs) and the ill-defined ear coverts (vs well marked ear coverts).

7. Barbary Falcon Falco pelegrinoides has been lumped with Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus, although this taxon continues to be recognised as a monotypic group, Peregrine Falcon (Barbary) Falco peregrinus pelegrinoides.

Updates to Spuhs

The following spuhs have been added:

1. Treepie sp. (Dendrocitta/Crypsirina/Temnurus sp.)

Updates to Slashes

The following India-relevant slashes have been added:

1. Little/House Swift (Apus affinis/nipalensis)

2. Alpine/Himalayan Thrush (Zoothera mollissima/salimalii)

3. Baikal/Spotted Bush-Warbler (Locustella davidi/thoracica)

4. Yellow-bellied/Ashy Prinia (Prinia flaviventris/socialis)

5. Dusky/Smoky Warbler (Phylloscopus fuscatus/fuligiventer)

6. Red-tailed/Isabelline/Brown Shrike (Lanius phoenicuroides/isabellinus/cristatus)

7. Golden-spectacled/Whistler’s Warbler (Seicercus burkii/whistleri)

8. Grey-crowned/Whistler’s Warbler (Seicercus tephrocephalus/whistleri)

9. Ashy/Brown-rumped Minivet (Pericrocotus divaricatus/cantonensis)

10. Purple/Green Cochoa (Cochoa purpurea/viridis)

11. Crimson-breasted/Darjeeling Woodpecker (Dendrocopos cathpharius/darjellensis)

12. Lesser/Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush (Garrulax monileger/Ianthocincla pectoralis)

13. Streaked/Great Rosefinch (Carpodacus rubicilloides/rubicilla)

14. Tibetan/Himalayan Snowcock (Tetraogallus tibetanus/himalayensis)

15. Common/Rain Quail (Coturnix coturnix/coromandelica)

16. Black-headed/Brown-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus/brunnicephalus)

17. Jerdon’s/Golden-fronted Leafbird (Chloropsis jerdoni/aurifrons)

18. Pale-rumped/Sichuan Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus chloronotus/forresti)

19. Greater/Syke’s/Hume’s Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla/acutirostris)

Updates to Subspecies

The following subspecies are now allowed to be added provided they have been identified in the field:

1. Citrine Wagtail (Grey-backed) (Motacilla citreola citreola/werae)

2. Citrine Wagtail (Black-backed) (Motacilla citreola calcarata)

3. Thick-billed Flowerpecker (Indian) (Dicaeum agile agile/zeylonicum)

4. Greater Flameback (Malabar) (Chrysocolaptes guttacristatus socialis)

5. Indian Roller (Black-billed) (Coracias benghalensis affinis)

6. Coral-billed Scimitar-Babbler (Phayre’s) (Pomatorhinus ferruginosus phayrei/stanfordi)

7. Blue Rock-Thrush (pandoo) (Monticola solitarius pandoo)

8. Oriental Scops-Owl (Walden’s) (Otus sunia modestus)

Indian Name Changes

The first thing to ensure is that you have set your account preferences to display bird names in “English (India)”. This shows names that are more familiar to us in India. Please also choose the setting that displays scientific name together with English name, so that you can verify that you are choosing the intended species.

Indian Names (given in brackets) have been added to the following species to avoid any confusion when entering them in to the database:

1. Grey-throated Martin (Plain Martin) (Riparia chinensis)

2. Indian Scops-Owl (Collared Scops-Owl) (Otus bakkamoena)

3. Taiga Flycatcher (Red-throated Flycatcher) (Ficedula albicilla)

4. Indian Tit (Indian Yellow Tit) (Machlolophus aplonotus)

The full list of Indian species with the relevant eBird map links and English (India) names as well as a translation between from eBird/Clements names to other major international naming systems is now available here.