Short summary: There are some name changes in eBird that will be different from the Singapore Bird Checklist for a short period of time (Ornate Sunbird, Medium Egret and Western Hooded Pitta). This article briefly explains taxonomy in the bird world, introduces the rationale behind the species splits, and clarifies some misconceptions. The Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher is not being split into Black-backed and Rufous-backed in this taxonomic update.
Advancements in science lead to taxonomic updates. Jen Wei’s recent Facebook post about this topic has garnered quite a lot of attention and queries so here’s a quick blog post to quickly explain the upcoming eBird update that will lead to the name changes in several species close to home
Before delving into the name changes, here’s a very brief summary of taxonomy in the avian world: there are several key taxonomic authorities in the world including IOC World Bird List, Clements Checklist, Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World and HBW and BirdLife Taxonomic Checklist. The varying checklists, in short, each consist of a panel of experts that weigh in on whether certain species should be split or lumped. Their taxonomies for the most part have limited discrepancies, but there are some groups of birds like raptors that differ more, generally due to the differences in scientific philosophies and history. The Singapore Bird Checklist follows the IOC checklist’s taxonomy as they are generally the most up-to-date one. eBird on the other hand follows the Clements checklist. Just to be clear – there’s no better or worse between these checklists. Just (generally) minor differences.
These authorities as an entity do not necessarily conduct the research behind splits and lumps; the panel instead integrates the results published by researchers around the world into their respective checklists. For those who are interested to look at the differences, you can refer to resources like Avibase and IOC (go to “Comparison of IOC [version number] with other world lists”).
The following are the changes that will follow that are relevant to Singapore. Along with this we’ve added links to some of the primary research works that suggested the splits (to the best of our knowledge) for those who might be interested.
Splits incorporated by eBird/Clements checklist (already incorporated by IOC in previous versions)
These splits might be familiar to you, as they already match what you’ll see on our website and checklist. The only change is that now they’re the same on eBird as well.
- Lesser Sand Plover split to Tibetan Sand Plover (based on genome-wide DNA; Wei et al., 2022)
- Cattle Egret to Eastern Cattle Egret (based on morphological differences in breeding plumage)
- Common House Martin to Siberian House Martin (based on plumage, morphometrics and vocalisations; Leader et al., 2021, but note that only first page is available online in the link)
Splits incorporated by eBird/Clements checklist (to be incorporated by IOC in upcoming version)
These splits might be less familiar, but you’ll see them on our website next year when IOC updates its taxonomy. So the ones on eBird will be the ones you’ll see on our website from early next year. Until then, the “old” names will remain, while eBird will use the new names below.
- Olive-backed Sunbird split to Ornate Sunbird (based on some sections of the DNA; Lohman et al., 2010; Marcaigh et al., 2022)
- Intermediate Egret split to Medium Egret (based on morphological differences in breeding plumage; Cake et al., 2016)
- Hooded Pitta split to Western Hooded Pitta (based on genome-wide DNA; Ericson et al., 2019)
Japanese Paradise Flycatcher to Black Paradise Flycatcher (just a name change, no taxonomic change at all, with the new name apparently being “more geographically inclusive and descriptive” according to IOC’s website. Hmm, then we’d have to change the names of so many other birds?? Also it’s literally only the Lanyu population of this species that’s actually black???)
Anyway, moving on…
Of particular interest to Singapore is the Lesser Sand Plover split to the Tibetan and Siberian Sand Plover. There are no records of the very similar looking Siberian Sand Plover in Singapore (which is interestingly more closely related to the Greater Sand Plover than to the Tibetan Sand Plover!) but it could potentially be found in local shores as a very rare vagrant. More information on identification features can be found here.
Just as an additional pointer, as we have been receiving many questions regarding this – the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher Ceyx erithaca is not being split by eBird in this version. If you use eBird you may have noticed that this species has been listed as Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher for a while now, while we list it as Oriental Dwarf on our website. The reason is that eBird has considered the Black-backed (uncommon migrant in Singapore) and Rufous-backed (former resident in Singapore, with some recent records of presumed visitors) groups as separate species, while IOC has regarded them as colour morphs of a single species. In fact, this recent update to eBird’s taxonomy doesn’t affect this kingfisher at all, since it’s always been regarded as two species in eBird.
We hope this blog post clarifies some misconceptions that were recently introduced, happy birding!