Birding: Then and now

   While I was up in Northern Ohio birding Lake Erie two weeks ago, one evening I was flipping through my  field guide  for no particular purpose, and I noticed many of the birds listed in the book have new names today. Now you need to know that my field guide is one of the old ones. No, one of the really old ones. We're talking 1966 (with an original price of $2.95). It is the one that I wrote about previously, for which a new copy costs roughly $550 on (since then, a few $25 and $50 copies have turned up), while a used copy is just $4.95 (still more than a new copy when it was published). But then again, this has nothing to do with what I intended to write about. But you get the point- or you should- this book is older than the dinosaurs (which is not where birds came from).

My field guide

   The main point of my introductory paragraph is that people have been birding for a long time, and birding has experienced some significant changes over the past, say- 50 years? Here is what I noticed:

Some birds no longer exist

   Okay, my field guide isn't quite old enough to have passenger pigeons (in case you aren't aware, this September was the 100th year anniversary of the death of Martha, the last passenger pigeon, at the Cincinnati Zoo) and Carolina parakeets in it, but it does list some species that no longer exist, either due to name changes (I will get into that later), or an increase in scientific knowledge, which I will discuss now.

   The species that jumped out most was the 'great white heron'. Now some people still insist that the great white heron simply isn't just a white morph of the great blue heron. But scientifically (and thus ornithologically), great white herons do not exist. I did a quick internet search for 'great white heron', and the search results brought up pictures of great egrets, the All About Birds ID for the great egret, and the wikipedia article about great egrets. So this is one instance of a bird that no longer exists because of scientific knowledge. Some others include:

File:281 Great White Heron.jpg

John James Audubon's painting of a Great White Heron, which is now recognized as just a white morph of the Great Blue Heron.

   The Louisiana heron. Louisiana herons were once thought to be a different species than the tricolored heron, but are now considered the same thing.

   All forms of dark-eyed juncos. However, unlike in the previous two instances, I do not agree with this decision. In the last two situations, 'great white herons' do look like a white great blue heron. And Louisiana herons? In my field guide, it looks exactly like the tricolored heron. But in the case of juncos, this simply isn't the case. I believe that if each 'species' (now all considered the same species, 'dark-eyed junco') has it's own plumage and range particular to that type, how can they all be the same species? But that is another article in itself, which I will adress some time in the future.


Some have experienced name changes

   Another major difference that I discovered between birding back in the 60's when the book was published is that many birds have different names now then they did then. I noticed this mainly with hawks, but other types of birds have also experienced name changes over the years. Just as what we now call an osprey used to be in Benjamin Franklin's day a 'fishing hawk' (and in Germany it is still known today as a 'fish eagle'), many species have experiences drastic name changes over the years.

   Here is a quick list of some birds, with their old and current names:

  • What used to be just a 'Goshawk' in now the Northern Goshawk
  • The Northern Harrier used to be simply a 'Marsh Hawk'
  • The 'Pigeon Hawk' is now the Merlin
  • The 'Sparrow Hawk' is now recognized as American Kestrel
  • The Wild Turkey used to simply be a 'Turkey'
  • The Northern Parula used to be called the 'Parula Warbler'
  • The 'Yellowthroat' obviously was common, and thus became the Common Yellowthroat
  • The Eastern Towhee was at one time the 'Rufous-Sided Towhee'
  • The 'Lichtenstein's Oriole' simply became the Atamira Oriole (and was once known as the 'Black-Throated Oriole' as well)

   I could go on, but I think you get the idea...

File:Northern Harrier (5927976071).jpg

The Northern Harrier, formerly known as a 'Marsh Hawk'*


*Photo via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons license 2.0 generic. No changes were made to this photo.


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