BirdLife Australia’s Working List of Australian Birds

Balwyn meeting  Member’s Topic, June 2014

Bill Ramsay brought to our attention the tricky topic of bird names and taxonomy, with reference to BirdLife Australia’s release in 2013 of the Working List of Australian Birds. The list can be viewed at and downloaded. Glenn Ehmke wrote an article for the September 2013 issue of Australian Birdlife explaining the need for such a list, and how issues around taxonomy relate to conservation. Bill’s interest in nomenclature stems from his nearly ten years reporting Interesting Sightings for Bird Observation and Conservation Australia (BOCA), and in his talk he gave his interpretation of the current status of nomenclature of Australian birds. He began by listing the more significant taxonomies that have been compiled, such as those of Christidis and Boles (C & B) 2008, BirdLife International, the International Ornithological Committee (IOC) (adopted by BARC) and Clements. Although the new Working List is based on BirdLife International taxonomy, it generally retains the taxonomic order and common names of C & B 2008, the taxonomy adopted by BOCA and Birds Australia in 2008. In 2013, the argument for preserving the common names rather than adopting internationally accepted names is presented as:

BirdLife Australia believes it is important to maintain consistency in our bird names, given the huge social capital built up over many decades by research and conservation programs.

The taxonomic order of C & B 2008 has many differences to other taxonomies (e.g. pigeons, doves, swifts and frogmouths near the top, and chats in the middle of the honeyeaters). The Working List has many differences to the common names of the BirdLife International taxonomy, some of which are just subtle differences in the use of hyphens and upper/lower case letters.So with C & B 2008 order and common names retained, the new Working List gives us a taxonomy different to anywhere else in the world! Who’s confused?

Bill pointed out that BirdLife Australia does not give a geographic boundary to its Working List, but since it has great similarities to C & B 2008 he suggested itincludesall Australian territories, including Australian Antarctic Territory.

Then Bill presented his own Excel spreadsheet of what has changed in the full taxa using their common names, comparing the new Working List of Australian Birds to C & B 2008 and BirdLife International’s list. The new Working List includes all extinct species plus species recently seen in Australian territory (i.e. rarities), so Bill highlighted all these. He identified the species that have dropped off the list, and all added species. He identified the ‘splits’, where subspecies become a species, and a few bird species which have been given a new common name. All colour coded it made quite a colourful spreadsheet. The bottom line is, go to the website above and check up on some of your local/favourite birds. The rationale for a new list and other comments accompany the list. Eastern Great Egret and Eastern Barn Owl have become subspecies of Great Egret and Barn Owl respectively, neither no longer a full species.I’m picking the easy ones – so read the science and when reporting your sightings use the correct name.

Contributor: Daphne Hards

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