2023 bird taxonomy changes - an Australian perspective

Anecdotally, I think there is a public perception that bird taxonomy is quite stable, and that names and taxon concepts rarely change, at least relative to other groups such as plants. However, bird taxonomy is still very much a dynamic field, especially with the advent of molecular studies/technologies, and each year will often usher in 100+ changes, including splits, lumps and newly described species.

This year saw 3 newly described species, 124 new species gained through splits to existing species (mostly the elevation of subspecies to full species), and 16 species lost through being lumped into others, for a net total gain of 111 new bird species. For a comprehensive overview of all of these changes, there is a fantastic summary here: https://science.ebird.org/en/use-ebird-data/the-ebird-taxonomy/2023-ebird-taxonomy-update

I will note that a number of these changes, especially those considering some albatrosses and other seabirds, have already been recognised by Australian sources, some of them for a number of years. For example, the 2012 edition of Pizzey and Knight's The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia already treated the Southern Royal Albatross and Northern Royal Albatross as full species, as too the subspecies of Wandering Albatross and the subspecies of Yellow-nosed Albatross.

All of these changes have either already been implemented in iNat in the last two weeks, or will be implemented in the coming weeks. To help keep track of them all, I summarise all of the changes relevant for Australian birders below (note that I haven't addressed changes to very rare vagrants to locations such as Christmas Island).

SPLITS

1 . Lesser Sand-Plover (Charadrius mongolus) has been split into Tibetan Sand-Plover (Anarhynchus atrifrons) and Siberian Sand-Plover (Anarhynchus mongolus). Note that the genus name has also changed. The Siberian Sand-Plover is the species present in Australia.

All iNat records for Australia were automatically swapped to Siberian Sand-Plover, so no further action is required.

Here is the taxon swap: https://www.inaturalist.org/taxon_changes/133048

Here are all Australian observations: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=1505781

2 . Australian Tern (Gelochelidon macrotarsa) has been split from Gull-billed Tern (Gelochelidon nilotica), after previously being considered a subspecies (Gelochelidon nilotica ssp. macrotarsa). Both species are present in Australia.

This split does require some reassessments of previous IDs, depending on where your records are from. All records that were previously identified as Gelochelidon nilotica ssp. macrotarsa were automatically swapped to Gelochelidon macrotarsa, regardless of location. However, records identified only as Gelochelidon nilotica were treated differently depending on location:

a) Gelochelidon nilotica records from Western Australia, the northern half of the NT, and northern QLD stretching down to around Townsville were bumped back to genus. These records could be either Gelochelidon nilotica or Gelochelidon macrotarsa, so they need to each be manually reassessed.
b) Gelochelidon nilotica records from everywhere else in Australia were automatically swapped to Gelochelidon macrotarsa. Although the vast majority of these will now be correctly identified, with eBird noting that Gelochelidon nilotica is a "rare to very rare visitor to Australia", it is worth it to double check them, especially along the Queensland and northern NSW coast, in case they are actually Gelochelidon nilotica.

Here are the taxon swaps:
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxon_changes/132982
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxon_changes/132983

Here are all Australian observations currently identified as Gelochelidon macrotarsa: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=1505721
Here are all Australian observations currently identified as Gelochelidon macrotarsa: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=144536
Here are all Australian observations currently identified only to the genus Gelochelidon: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?lrank=genus&place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=144325

Of particular note to me here are the (as of writing) 21 observations currently identified as Gelochelidon nilotica ssp. affinis from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and surrounds, and Adelaide. My knowledge of seabirds is poor, so I will not add IDs to them, but I suspect most of these should actually be changed to Gelochelidon macrotarsa, as they seem unlikely to be Gelochelidon nilotica at face value (based purely on location). [having said that, there do seem to be at least a few genuine ones, so they shouldn’t just be blindly reIDed]

3 . Royal Albatross (Diomedea epomophora) will be split into Northern Royal Albatross (Diomedea sanfordi) and Southern Royal Albatross (Diomedea epomophora). Diomedea sanfordi was previously treated as a subspecies of Diomedea epomophora, Diomedea epomophora ssp. sanfordi. As of writing, this split is yet to be committed on iNat.

Australian records currently identified as Diomedea epomophora ssp. epomorpha will be swapped to Diomedea epomophora.
Australian records currently identified as Diomedea epomophora ssp. sanfordi will be swapped to Diomedea sanfordi.
I am unsure what will happen to records currently only identified to species, and whether they will be rolled back to genus or not. Whether or not they are, I would recommend reassessing any records not currently identified to subspecies as the two are very similar.

Here are all Australian observations currently identified as Diomedea epomophora ssp. epomorpha: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=508986
Here are all Australian observations currently identified as Diomedea epomophora ssp. sanfordi: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=508988
Here are all Australian observations currently identified only as Diomedea epomophora: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?lrank=species&place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=508987

4 . Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) will be split into four species: Amsterdam Albatross (Diomedea amsterdamensis), Antipodean Albatross (Diomedea antipodensis), Tristan Albatross (Diomedea dabbenena), and Snowy Albatross (Diomedea exulans), with these being currently equivalent to subspecies. As of writing, this split is yet to be committed on iNat.

To my understanding this seems like quite a complex situation as these taxa overlap extensively, so I have no idea how the split will be executed on iNat for observations that are not currently identified to one of the subspecies. For observations that are identified to subspecies:

Diomedea exulans ssp. exulans will become Diomedea exulans. Here are all Australian observations currently identified as this subspecies: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=508989
Diomedea exulans ssp. dabbenena will become Diomedea dabbenena. There are currently no Australian observations identified as this subspecies, but it is known to be an occasional visitor.
Diomedea exulans ssp. antipodensis will become Diomedea antipodensis ssp. antipodensis. Here are all Australian observations currently identified as this subspecies: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=508989
Diomedea exulans ssp. gibsoni will become Diomedea antipodensis ssp. gibsoni. Here are all Australian observations currently identified as this subspecies: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=508992
Diomedea exulans ssp. amsterdamensis will become Diomedea amsterdamensis. There are currently no Australian observations identified as this subspecies, but it is known to be a rare visitor off the WA coast.
Here are all Australian observations currently identified only as Diomedea exulans: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?lrank=species&place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=508990. These will need to be reassessed to determine which new species they fall into.

5 . Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche chlororhynchos) will be split into Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche carteri) and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche chlororhynchos). Thalassarche carteri was previously treated as a subspecies of Thalassarche chlororhynchos, Thalassarche chlororhynchos ssp. carteri As of writing, this split is yet to be committed on iNat.

Australian records currently identified as Thalassarche chlororhynchos ssp. chlororhynchos will be swapped to Thalassarche chlororhynchos.
Australian records currently identified as Thalassarche chlororhynchos ssp. carteri will be swapped to Thalassarche carteri.
I am unsure what will happen to records currently only identified to species, and whether they will be rolled back to genus or not. Whether or not they are, I would recommend reassessing any records not currently identified to subspecies as the two are very similar.

Here are all Australian observations currently identified as Thalassarche chlororhynchos ssp. chlororhynchos: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=501159
Here are all Australian observations currently identified as Thalassarche chlororhynchos ssp. carteri: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=501158
Here are all Australian observations currently identified only as Thalassarche chlororhynchos: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?lrank=species&place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=4091

6 . Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) will be split into Eastern Cattle Egret (Bubulcus coromandus) and Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis), with these being currently equivalent to subspecies. The Eastern Cattle Egret is the species present in Australia. As of writing, this split is yet to be committed on iNat, but it will be a straightforward one for Australia.

All iNat records for Australia, including those only identified as Cattle Egret and those identified to the subspecies Bubulcus ibis ssp. coromandus, will be automatically swapped to Eastern Cattle Egret, so no further action is required.

Here are all Australian observations: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=5017

7 . Intermediate Egret (Ardea intermedia) was split into Plumed Egret (Ardea plumifera), Yellow-billed Egret (Ardea brachyrhyncha), and Medium Egret (Ardea intermedia), with these previously being currently equivalent to subspecies.

Whilst all Australian observations were automatically swapped to Plumed Egret, including those only identified as Plumed Egret and those identified to the subspecies Ardea intermedia ssp. plumifera, and Plumed Egret is the expected species at any location in Australia (see exceptions below), Ardea intermedia sensu strictu has been documented from Australia (see this paper: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/364226893_Taxonomic_revision_occurrence_and_identification_of_Intermediate_Egret_Ardea_intermedia_in_North_Queensland_Australia), so it's worth keeping an eye out!

Here are the taxon swaps:
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxon_changes/133047
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxon_changes/133045

Here are all Australian observations: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=1505779

There are two exceptions here, with two observations of Medium Egret currently in Australian territories, one at Cocos (Keeling) Islands and one at Christmas Island: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=558445

8 . Eclectus Parrot (Eclectus roratus) was split into four species: Moluccan Eclectus (Eclectus roratus), Sumba Eclectus (Eclectus cornelia), Tanimbar Eclectus (Eclectus riedeli), and Papuan Eclectus (Eclectus polychloros). The Papuan Eclectus is the species present in Australia.

All iNat records for Australia were automatically swapped to Papuan Eclectus, so no further action is required.

Here is the taxon swap: https://www.inaturalist.org/taxon_changes/133353

Here are all Australian observations: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=19224

9 . Macquarie Parakeet (Cyanoramphus erythrotis) will be split from Red-crowned Parakeet (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae), after previously being considered a subspecies (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae ssp. erythrotis). As of writing, this split is yet to be committed on iNat. However, this split is of no consequence in iNat as the Macquarie Parakeet went extinct in the late 1800s (and indeed eBird notes that it may be re-lumped into Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae in 2024).

10 . North Papuan Pitta (Erythropitta habenichti) and South Papuan Pitta (Erythropitta macklotii) will be split from Papuan Pitta (Erythropitta macklotii), after Erythropitta habenichti previously being considered a subspecies (Erythropitta macklotii ssp. habenichti). As of writing, this split is yet to be committed on iNat.

South Papuan Pitta is the species present in Australia, but note that, other than the common name, there is no actual change here for Australia, as Erythropitta habenichti is New Guinea only.

11 . Supertramp Fantail (Rhipidura semicollaris) will be split from Arafura Fantail (Rhipidura dryas), after Rhipidura semicollaris previously being considered a subspecies (Rhipidura dryas ssp. semicollaris). As of writing, this split is yet to be committed on iNat.

Arafura Fantail is the species present in Australia, but this change has no impact on Australian observations as Supertramp Fantail is not in Australia.

12 . Rufous Fantail (Rhipidura rufifrons) will be split into six species: Gilolo Fantail (Rhipidura torrida), Louisiade Fantail (Rhipidura louisiadensis), Australian Rufous Fantail (Rhipidura rufifrons), Santa Cruz Fantail (Rhipidura melaenolaema), Micronesian Rufous Fantail (Rhipidura versicolor), and Solomons Rufous Fantail (Rhipidura rufofronta), with these being currently equivalent to subspecies. As of writing, this split is yet to be committed on iNat.

Australian Rufous Fantail is the species present in Australia, but note that, other than the common name, there is no actual change here for Australia, as the other species are not found in Australia.

13 . Pink-breasted Flowerpecker (Dicaeum keiense) will be split from Mistletoebird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum), after Dicaeum keiense previously being considered a subspecies (Dicaeum hirundinaceum spp. keiense). As of writing, this split is yet to be committed on iNat.

Mistletoebird is the species present in Australia, but this change has no impact on Australian observations as Pink-breasted Flowerpecker is not in Australia.

14 . Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) was split into eight (!!) species, as follows: Ornate Sunbird (Cinnyris ornatus), Tukangbesi Sunbird (Cinnyris infrenatus), Sahul Sunbird (Cinnyris frenatus), Palawan Sunbird (Cinnyris aurora), South Moluccan Sunbird (Cinnyris clementiae), Flores Sea Sunbird (Cinnyris teysmanni), Mamberamo Sunbird (Cinnyris idenburgi), and Garden Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis). The Sahul Sunbird is the species present in Australia.

All iNat records for Australia were automatically swapped to Sahul Sunbird, so no further action is required.

Here is the taxon swap: https://www.inaturalist.org/taxon_changes/132792

Here are all Australian observations: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6744,7333,7616,10287,10293,118147&taxon_id=144404

LUMPS
No lumps affected Australian species

NEW SPECIES
No newly described Australian species

SUBSPECIES RESHUFFLES
None affecting Australian species

OTHER ASSORTED SHUFFLES
None affecting Australian species

SCIENTIFIC NAME CHANGES
It is important to check observations of these as, where genus names have changed, there may now be unintended disagreements between IDs. For example, the White-Bellied Sea-eagle has changed from Haliaeetus leucogaster –> Icthyophaga leucogaster. If an observation's IDs looked like this:

IDer 1: Haliaeetus

IDer 2: Haliaeetus leucogaster
IDer3: Haliaeetus leucogaster
Overall ID = Haliaeetus leucogaster

That observation will now look like this after the change:

IDer 1: Haliaeetus

IDer 2: Icthyophaga leucogaster
IDer3: Icthyophaga leucogaster
Overall ID = Accipitridae

1 . Norfolk Ground Dove: Alopecoenas norfolkensis –> Pampusana norfolkensis
2 . Hooded Plover: Thinornis cucullatus –> Charadrius cucullatus
3 . Black-fronted Dotterel: Elseyornis melanops –> Charadrius melanops
4 . Oriental Plover: Charadrius veredus –> Anarhynchus veredus
5 . Siberian Sand-Plover: Charadrius mongolus ssp. mongolus/stegmanni –> Anarhynchus mongolus
6 . Greater Sand-Plover: Charadrius leschenaultii –> Anarhynchus leschenaultii
7 . Double-banded Plover: Charadrius bicinctus –> Anarhynchus bicinctus
8 . Red-capped Plover: Charadrius ruficapillus –> Anarhynchus ruficapillus
9 . Kentish Plover: Charadrius alexandrinus –> Anarhynchus alexandrinus
10 . White-bellied Sea-Eagle: Haliaeetus leucogaster –> Icthyophaga leucogaster
11 . Pink Cockatoo: Lophochroa leadbeateri –> Cacatua leadbeateri
12 . Mulga Parrot: Psephotus varius –> Psephotellus varius
13 . Hooded Parrot: Psephotus dissimilis –> Psephotellus dissimilis
14 . Golden-shouldered Parrot: Psephotus chrysopterygius –> Psephotellus chrysopterygius
15 . Paradise Parrot [extinct]: Psephotus pulcherrimus –> Psephotellus pulcherrimus
16 . Golden Bowerbird: Amblyornis newtoniana –> Prionodura newtoniana
17 . Black Butcherbird: Cracticus quoyi –> Melloria quoyi
18 . Mangrove Robin: Eopsaltria pulverulenta –> Melanodryas pulverulenta
19 . Pale-yellow Robin: Tregellasia capito –> Eopsaltria capito
20 . White-faced Robin: Tregellasia leucops –> Eopsaltria leucops

Posted on November 07, 2023 07:58 AM by thebeachcomber thebeachcomber

Comments

Awesome information. Thanks for taking the time to write this. A lot of exploring to do.

Posted by lynsh 9 months ago

Thank you, Thomas for giving such a detailed write-up with all the details, really appreciate the time and effort you have taken to do this. No doubt there will be others later on as things always seem to change.

Posted by deborod 9 months ago

Thanks muchly Thomas ;)

Posted by bwjone432155 9 months ago

Looks great to me Thomas - a few other things:

1) here is the eBird Australia news article on the split: https://ebird.org/australia/news/2023-ebird-annual-taxonomy-update-australia which says pretty much all you've already said, but just in case anyone wants a second reference.

2) I would suggest that all great albatross (Wandering/Royal) observations not IDd to ssp (now sp) level should be thrown back to genus - the Royals pretty much 100% overlap at-sea, and the Wanderers variously overlap too (Wandering/NZ(Antip) especially so). Yellow-nosed somewhat more straightforward, at least in Australia. When in doubt, I would defer to what eBird has done, if possible.

Posted by louisb 9 months ago

thanks Louis

if only I knew that summary existed...

Posted by thebeachcomber 9 months ago

Haha! You can take some satisfaction in the fact that you came to the same (correct) summary on your own, at least!

Posted by louisb 9 months ago

Thanks for writing this up Thomas! This taxonomy update has been quite fun, looking forward to brushing up on my Australian vs Gull-billed tern ID! Also agree with Louis for bumping the albatross back up to genus that aren't at subspecies level due to some overlaps.

Posted by ratite 9 months ago

Thanks for the tag Thomas, and for putting this post together. I was aware of the changes but very handy to have all the information together with links.
I've gone through the Gelochelidon observations - fortunately @ianmelbourne already IDed a lot of G. macrotarsa to subspecies level so it made it a lot easier just clicking agree for the vast majority of observations needing ID, cheers for taking care of that Ian!
Hopefully some of the more enthusiastic identifiers start to ID to subspecies rather than just species level for some of these taxa with very divergent subspecies, it makes these kinds of changes a lot easier and is usually pretty straightforward, typically only requiring fairly basic knowledge (i.e. checking the ABG).
Side note, the 20something (now actually slightly more after reviewing) observations of G. n. affinis in SE Aus check out - some of these are semi-regular visitors to certain known sites, but otherwise this is probably the kind of ratio you'd expect for this less abundant taxon compared to G. macrotarsa.

Posted by samgordon 9 months ago

ah great, thanks Sam, lucky I wasn't in charge of those affinis ;)

Posted by thebeachcomber 9 months ago

Re: Diomedea albies, if it's easy enough to create complexes on here (like with https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/1501778-Ctenophorus-maculatus for the recently-revised sand/mallee dragons), it could be handy to have a Royal complex and Wandering complex on here so as to not just roll all obs without current subspecies-level IDs to genus. Probably not as much of an issue as with the dragons, considering there are no Diomedea spp. outside these groups, but something to consider maybe?

Posted by samgordon 9 months ago

Yes, I think a complex would be great if feasible.

Posted by louisb 9 months ago

Thanks for the write up Thomas.

Posted by geoffreywalker69 9 months ago

I'll raise the complex idea with the guys implementing the changes

Posted by thebeachcomber 9 months ago

Hi Thomas, just wondering if birds such as Little Pied Cormorant and Australian Little Pied Cormorant, Dusky Moorhen and Australian Dusky Moorhen and similarly named birds are going to be put together? Thanks.

Posted by deborod 9 months ago

could you clarify what you mean by put together

Posted by thebeachcomber 9 months ago

Sorry, can the names be merged as I first put all of them under Little Pied Cormorant and now putting the new ones under Australian Little Pied Cormorant, same as for Dusky Moorhen and other similar ones. So looking them up does not give a true record of how many have been sighted as they are under the separate names. Does that help in any way, I know it's being a bit nit picky but would like them all put together as they really belong there but there are too many to go in to change and get redone. It's not that important but just thought I would ask. Apologies if it sounds like a silly question. Thanks for your time.

Posted by deborod 9 months ago

Hi Thomas, actually I realized later that it will be impossible to do what I was saying as some of them are located out of Australia so it won't work anyhow. Wow don't I feel silly. Please disregard anything I was asking. My apologies.

Posted by deborod 9 months ago

Great write up!

Posted by jonodashper 9 months ago

hey Deb, not a silly question. I think it's still useful to continue to ID your future observations as the subspecies, as you never know which of them might be elevated to full species in the coming years, just like some of the cases described above.

If you want to see how many records you have of eg Little Pied Cormorant, searching for that species in your observations will show you all of them, regardless of whether you IDed them to subspecies or not. So any that you IDed as Australian Little Pied Cormorant, they will still be counted within the total for Little Pied Cormorant

Posted by thebeachcomber 9 months ago

Thanks Thomas much appreciated. Will keep doing that.

Posted by deborod 9 months ago
Posted by bushbandit 9 months ago

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