Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Brand-New Species: The California Scrub Jay

It is an exciting time in ornithology!  Well, if you're into that sort of thing (which, of course, I am... and you are reading this, which must be an indication of some passing interest on your part...)

Scrub Jay, showing slight interest
Ornithology has historically gone through phases of "lumping" and "splitting" when it comes to determining and naming species, subspecies, races, etc.  A few decades ago, ornithology saw a lumping period: the Yellow-shafted Flicker and Red-shafted Flicker became the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus); Bullock's Oriole (Icterus bullockii) and Baltimore Oriole (I. galbula) became the Northern Oriole... and have since been re-split!  With new technology and new research in DNA, new evidence emerges and birds that were previously lumped together as one species can be split into separate species.  The Plain Titmouse is now split into two separate and distinct species, the Oak Titmouse (Baeolophus inornatus) and the Juniper Titmouse (B. ridgwayi).
NOT a Plain, Oak, or Juniper Titmouse.  This beauty is the brand-new California Scrub Jay!
Just a few months ago, the Western Scrub Jay was split into two species, California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica) and Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii).  The official word came out in July of this year in the Checklist of North American Birds, published by the American Ornithologist's Union.  Previously the two variants were known as the Pacific form and the Interior form, as the Scrub Jays on the west coast (California, Oregon and Washington) are more vividly and darker colored than their interior counterparts, found from Nevada east to Texas.  Enough evidence has been discovered to indicate that while the two forms will interbreed if their paths cross (which is seldom) they are distinct enough to warrant status as distinct species.
This California Scrub Jay is proud of his distinct species-hood.
The Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) may be next for consideration as a candidate for splitting; the races or subspecies that were actually once classified as two species, Myrtle's warbler and Audubon warbler, may soon be reinstated as distinct species!  Exciting times indeed!  Stay tuned!!

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