2017 taxonomy update for Indian birds

By eBird India August 24, 2017
Pal_Laugher_Gaurang Bagda

Palani Laughingthrush by Gaurang Bagda/Macaulay Library

Each year, eBird updates the base eBird/Clements checklist to take into account any changes resulting from newly discovered species or better taxonomic understanding. These changes include 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 2017 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.

Note: The Clements Checklist provides two update pages (overview and 2017 updates & corrections) and also provides all three files (eBird/Clements, Clements, and eBird) for download.The Clements Checklist 2017 updates & corrections provides details (including references) for all species splits and lumps, new species descriptions, revisions to subspecies groups (ISSFs) or subspecies, and other changes relevant to the Clements Checklist. Anyone wishing to learn more about these splits should refer to that page.


  • Major Updates to Indian Species
  • Updates to Slashes
  • Updates to Subspecies (ISSF)
  • Indian Name Changes
  • Common Name Changes
  • Scientific Name Changes


Major Updates to Indian Species

1. Glossy Swiftlet Collocalia esculenta is split into eight species, based largely on genetic analyses by Rheindt et al. (2017). The species now recognised in India is Plume-toed Swiftlet Collocalia affinis[map] [media] [my records]. In India, this species is only found in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. To ensure Indian birders are not confused, we have used Plume-toed Swift (Andaman Glossy Swiftlet) as the English (India) name.

2. Olive Bulbul Iole virescensis split into two species. In India, the species is now recognised as the Cachar Bulbul Iole cacharensis [map] [media] [my records]. This species’ range extends from east Bangladesh into NE India (Assam and Tripura) and e Bangladesh. In Southeast Asia, the species is still known Olive Bulbul Iole viridescens. To ensure Indian birders are not confused, we have used Cachar Bulbul (Indian Olive Bulbul) as the English (India) name.

3. Black-chinned Laughingthrush Trochalopteron cachinnansis now split into two different species: Black-chinned Laughingthrush (Banasura) Trochalopteron cachinnans jerdonibecomes Banasura Laughingthrush Montecincla jerdoni[map] [media] [my recordsand Black-chinned Laughingthrush (Nilgiri) Trochalopteron cachinnans cachinnans becomes Nilgiri Laughingthrush Montecincla cachinnans [map] [media] [my records].

4. Kerala Laughingthrush Trochalopteron fairbanki is now split into two as well. Kerala Laughingthrush (Palani) Trochalopteron fairbanki fairbankibecomes Palani Laughingthrush Montecincla fairbanki [map] [media] [my records]and Kerala Laughingthrush (Travancore) Trochalopteron fairbanki meridionale becomes Ashambu Laughingthrush Montecincla meridionale [map] [media] [my records].

5. White-tailed Rubythroat Calliope pectoralis has been split into two species as well. These are the Himalayan Rubythroat Calliope pectoralis[map] [media] [my recordsand the Chinese Rubythroat Calliope tschebaiewi[map] [media] [my records]. While their breeding ranges are fairly distinct, there is likely to be some overlap in parts of Eastern India during the winter and here, records will be retained under the Himalayan/Chinese Rubythroat (White-tailed Rubythroat) Calliope pectoralis/tschebaiewi[map] [mediaslash.

Note 1: The Trochalopteron genus has changed to Montecincla.

Note 2: The Himalayan Rubythroat can be separated from the Chinese Rubythroat by the absence of white sub-moustachial stripe (present in Chinese Rubythroat), small red throat patch (bigger in Chinese Rubythroat), more white on tail (less in Chinese Rubythroat), wider supercilum (thinner in Chinese Rubythroat).

Left: Himalayan Rubythroat by Prashant Kumar/Macaulay Library
Right: Chinese Rubythroat by Ian Davies/Macaulay Library


Updates to Slashes

The following India-relevant slashes have been added:

1. Grey/Purple Heron Ardea cinerea/purpurea

2. Tawny/Steppe Eagle Aquila rapax/nipalensis

3. Common/Long-legged Buzzard Buteo buteo/rufinus

4. Spotted/Little/Baillon’s Crake Porzana porzana/Zapornia parva/pusilla

5. Greater/Sykes’s Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla/dukhunensis

6. Desert/Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia minula/curruca

7. Desert/Hume’s/Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia minula/althaea/curruca

8. Alpine/Himalayan/Sichuan Thrush Zoothera mollissima/salimalii/griseiceps

9. Common Chaffinch/Brambling Fringilla coelebs/montifringilla


Updates to Subspecies (ISSF)

The following subspecies are now allowed to be added provided they have been identified in the field. A lot of them follow the taxonomic update for BirdLife International and Handbook of Birds of the World where these ISSF are recognised as full species.

1. Black-shouldered Kite (Asian) Elanus caeruleus [vociferus Group]

2. Grey-chinned Minivet (Grey-chinned) Pericrocotus solaris [solaris Group]

3. Large Cuckooshrike (Indian) Coracina macei macei/layardi

4. Large Cuckooshrike (Large) Coracina macei [nipalensis Group]

5. Hair-crested Drongo (Hair-crested) Dicrurus hottentottus [hottentottus Group]

6. Ashy Bulbul (Cinereous) Hemixos flavala cinereus

7. Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler (Brownish-flanked) Horornis fortipes [fortipes Group]

8. Aberrant Bush Warbler (Aberrant) Horornis flavolivaceus [flavolivaceus Group]

9. Black-throated Prinia (Black-throated) Prinia atrogularis atrogularis

10. Black-throated Prinia (Rufous-crowned) Prinia atrogularis khasiana

11. Yellow-bellied Prinia (Yellow-bellied) Prinia flaviventris [flaviventris Group]

12. Lesser Whitethroat (curruca/blythi) Sylvia curruca curruca/blythi

13. Jungle Babbler (Jungle) Turdoides striata [striata Group]

14. Jungle Babbler (Black-winged) Turdoides striata somervillei

15. Moustached Laughingthrush (Western) Ianthocincla cineracea cineracea/strenua

16. Silver-eared Mesia (Silver-eared) Leiothrix argentauris [argentauris Group]

17. Asian Fairy-bluebird (Asian) Irena puella [puella Group]

18. Oriental Magpie-Robin (Oriental) Copsychus saularis [saularis Group]

19. Pale Blue Flycatcher (Unicolored) Cyornis unicolor unicolor

20. Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher (Tickell’s) Cyornis tickelliae tickelliae/jerdoni

21. Vivid Niltava (Large) Niltava vivida oatesi

22. White-browed Shortwing (Himalayan) Brachypteryx montana cruralis

23. White-tailed Robin (White-tailed) Myiomela leucura leucura/montium

24. Orange-headed Thrush (Orange-headed) Geokichla citrina [citrina Group]

25. Orange-headed Thrush (White-throated) Geokichla citrina cyanota

26. Orange-headed Thrush (Plain-winged) Geokichla citrina albogularis/andamanensis

27. Asian Pied Starling (Asian) Gracupica contra [contra Group]

28. Blue-winged Leafbird (Blue-winged) Chloropsis cochinchinensis [moluccensis Group]

29. Orange-bellied Leafbird (Orange-bellied) Chloropsis hardwickii hardwickii/malayana

30. Fire-breasted Flowerpecker (Fire-breasted) Dicaeum ignipectus [ignipectus Group]

31. European Goldfinch (Eastern) Carduelis carduelis [caniceps Group]


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. Plume-toed Swift (Andaman Glossy Swiftlet) Collocalia affinis

2. Sykes’s Short-toed Lark (Eastern Short-toed Lark) Calandrella dukhunensis

3. Cachar Bulbul (Indian Olive Bulbul) Iole cacharensis

4. Clamorous Reed Warbler (Indian Great Reed Warbler) Acrocephalus stentoreus

5. Nilgiri Blue Robin (Rufous-bellied Shortwing) Sholicola major

6. White-bellied Blue Robin (White-bellied Shortwing) Sholicola albiventris

7. Black-lored Tit (Himalayan Black-lored Tit) Machlolophus xanthogenys

8. Grey-necked Bunting (Grey-hooded Bunting) Emberiza buchanani


Common Name Changes

Some of these changes directly reflect the splits mentioned above. Some changes are driven by the need to arrive at a common name that is used more widely.

Other changes, mostly relating to a revision that affect hyphenation rules (Eg. Grey-sided Bush-Warbler –> Grey-sided Bush Warbler OR Crab Plover –> Crab-Plover OR Clamorous Reed-Warbler –> Clamorous Reed Warbler, etc) are not shown below.

1. Black-chinned Laughingthrush (Banasura) –> Banasura Laughingthrush

2. Black-chinned Laughingthrush (Nilgiri) –> Nilgiri Laughingthrush

3. Kerala Laughingthrush (Palani) –> Palani Laughingthrush

4. Kerala Laughingthrush (Travancore) –> Ashambu Laughingthrush

5. White-tailed Rubythroat –> Himalayan/Chinese Rubythroat (White-tailed Rubythroat)

6. Western Yellow Wagtail (Grey-headed) –> Western Yellow Wagtail (thunbergi)

7. Western Yellow Wagtail (Blue-headed) –> Western Yellow Wagtail (flava/beema)

8. Western Yellow Wagtail (Black-headed) –> Western Yellow Wagtail (feldegg)

9. Western Yellow Wagtail (White-headed) –> Western Yellow Wagtail (leucocephala)


Scientific Name Changes

Please see the main eBird article for more information. The following species relevant to our region have had their scientific names revised:

1. Baikal Teal Anas formosa–> Sibirionetta formosa

2. Garganey Anas querquedula–> Spatula querquedula

3. Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata–> Spatula clypeata

4. Gadwall Anas strepera–> Mareca strepera

5. Falcated Duck Anas falcata–> Mareca falcata

6. Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope–> Mareca penelope

7. Intermediate Egret Mesophoyx intermedia–> Ardea intermedia

8. Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus cyaneus–> Circus cyaneus

9. Lesser Fish-Eagle Ichthyophaga humilis–> Haliaeetus humilis

10. Grey-headed Fish-Eagle Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus–> Haliaeetus ichthyaetus

11. Common Chiffchaff (Common) Phylloscopus collybita collybita–> Phylloscopus collybita [collybita Group]

12. Banasura Laughingthrush Trochalopteron cachinnans jerdoni–> Montecincla jerdoni

13. Nilgiri Laughingthrush Trochalopteron cachinnans cachinnans–> Montecincla cachinnans

14. Palani Laughingthrush Trochalopteron fairbanki fairbanki–> Montecincla fairbanki

15. Ashambu Laughingthrush Trochalopteron fairbanki meridionale–> Montecincla meridionale

16. Nilgiri Blue Robin (Rufous-bellied Shortwing) Brachypteryx major–> Sholicola major

17. White-bellied Blue Robin (White-bellied Shortwing) Brachypteryx albiventris–> Sholicola albiventris

18. Blue-throated Flycatcher Cyornis rubeculoides [rubeculoides Group]–> Cyornis rubeculoides

19. White-tailed Robin Cinclidium leucurum–> Myiomela leucura


Miscellaneous Notes

Sykes’s Short-toed Lark and Greater Short-toed Lark in India: With last year’s update, Greater Short-toed Lark was split into Sykes’s Short-toed Lark Calandrella dukhunensis and Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla. Although these two species are very distinct genetically, they present a tough field identification problem on the planet and we are still learning about their ranges and field marks. Please document your records as best you can with photos and audio recordings.

Last year’s records from India were converted to Sykes’s based on range assumptions, but this year these records are being reassessed. Sykes’s Short-toed Lark records are being assumed confirmed only in the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Goa, Puducherry, Telangana, Assam, and Andhra Pradesh. All other records reported as Greater Short-toed or Sykes’s Short-toed Lark have been changed to Greater/Sykes’s Short-toed Lark for all regions other than those above. If you believe you can establish the identification of one of your sightings with certainty, please do submit it under the correct species with documentation that confirms the identification. Otherwise, it is recommended that one report the slash option for sightings in India.

  • Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla [map] [media] [my records]
  • Sykes’s Short-toed Lark Calandrella dukhunensis [map] [media] [my records]
  • Greater/Sykes’s Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla/dukhunensis
    map] [media]



You can download full 2017 taxonomy (v2017) from the links at the bottom of the eBird Taxonomy Page, including XLSX and CSV formats for a clean version and one with the changes annotated (four files).