The 2019 Checklist of Alaska Birds

Changes in the 25th edition—2019 (downloadable at right)

ADDITIONS TO THE CHECKLIST in 2018 (in taxonomic order)

Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus: Light-morph ad, 15 Nov 2018–2+ Jan 2019, St. Paul Island, Pribilof Islands (B. Lestenkof, B. Pierce, B. Benter, S. Clark).  Photos AKCLC.

Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio: Imm, 3–22 Oct 2017, Gambell, St. Lawrence Island (P. E. Lehman, P. Pyle, N. Moores, J. Hough, and G. H. Rosenberg).  Photos AKCLC.

LeConte’s Sparrow Ammospiza leconteii: One bird, 13 Oct 2018, Sitka (C. Goff).  Photo AKCLC.

Bay-breasted Warbler Setophaga castanea: Ad male, 6–8 Jun 2018, Gambell, St. Lawrence Island (P. E. Lehman and others).  Photos AKCLC.


Little Shearwater (Puffinus assimilis) was deleted because, in view of uncertain taxonomic relationships among some small black-and-white shearwaters in the Pacific, the descriptive details on file for the two Alaska reports are now regarded as inadequate to point to this species alone.

Bay-breasted Warbler (Setophaga castanea) was substantiated in 2018 and moved to the main list.


Solitary Snipe, Red-footed Booby, and Black-throated Gray Warbler are maintained as Casual.

OTHER ALASKA CHANGES FOLLOWING THE 59th Supplement (2018) to The A.O.U. Check-list of North American Birds (Seventh ed., 1998)

In the family Caprimulgidae the Gray Nightjar subspecies known in Alaska is elevated to status as a full species, Caprimulgus jotaka.

The family Hydrobatidae, renamed Northern Storm-Petrels, separates the families Diomedeidae and Procellariidae.

In the family Accipitridae the genera Aquila, Circus, and Accipiter, in that sequence, precede the genus Milvus.

In the family Picidae, the Downy and Hairy woodpeckers are restored to the genus Dryobates from Picoides and are listed following Dendrocopos; the American Three-toed and Black-backed woodpeckers, which remain in Picoides, are listed preceding Dendrocopos.

In the family Tyrannidae, the subfamily Tyranninae (Myiarchus and Tyrannus) precede the subfamily Fluvicolinae (Contopus through Sayornis).

In the family Corvidae, the English name of Perisoreus canadensis is restored to Canada Jay.

In the family Muscicapidae, four species are removed from the polyphyletic genus Luscinia: the Siberian Blue Robin and Rufous-tailed Robin to the genus Larvivora, the Bluethroat to the genus Cyanecula, and the Siberian Rubythroat to the genus Calliope.  In that order, those three genera separate Muscicapa and Ficedula.

DDG and JJW (for the AKCLC), 11 January 2019

Alaska Checklist Committee: Daniel D. Gibson, Lucas H. DeCicco, Robert E. Gill Jr., Steven C. Heinl, Aaron J. Lang, Theodore G. Tobish Jr., and Jack J. Withrow.

The 2018 Checklist of Alaska Birds

Changes in the 24th edition—2018 (downloadable at right)

ADDITIONS TO THE CHECKLIST in 2017 (in taxonomic order)

Nazca Booby Sula granti: Ad, 30 Aug 2017, 13.5 mi/21 km off East Amatuli Island, Barren Islands, entrance to Cook Inlet, at 58° 55ʹ N 151° 35ʹ W (M. G. Levine). Photos AKCLC. The identification of another bird reported as this species one week earlier (Ad, 24 Aug 2017, 40 mi/64 km south of Tugidak Island, Kodiak archipelago, at 55° 58ʹ N 154° 34ʹ W (S. Cobb) was not agreed upon unanimously by the committee; a second vote will be conducted in 2018.

Black Kite Milvus migrans: One bird, 2-3 Jan 2017, St. Paul Island, Pribilof Islands (B. Lestenkoff). Photos AKCLC.

Rock Wren Salpinctes obsoletus: One bird, 3 Jul to at least 18 Nov 2017, Gustavus (B. B. Paige, J. D. Levison, R. B. Benter, N. Drumheller, and others). Photos AKCLC.

Thick-billed Warbler Acrocephalus aedon: One bird, 8-13 Sep 2017, Gambell, St. Lawrence Island (R. Stoll, V. Stoll, G. H. Rosenberg, A. J. Lang, G. Scyphers, and others). Photos AKCLC.

River Warbler Locustella fluviatilis: One bird, 7 Oct 2017, Gambell, St. Lawrence Island (S. Bryer, C. Irigoo Jr., E. Banstorp, P. E. Lehman, and others). Photos AKCLC.

Pied Wheatear Oenanthe pleschanka: SY female, 4 Jul-4 Aug+2017, Cape Nome, Seward Peninsula (A. Harper, J. D. Levison, R. B. Benter, J. Bosler, T. G. Tobish Jr., and others). Photos AKCLC.

Northern Parula Setophaga americana: Singing male, 28-29 Jun 2017, Ketchikan (S. C. Heinl and A. W. Piston). Photos AKCLC. Transferred from the unsubstantiated list.

Northern Parula was substantiated in 2017 and removed to the main list.

The definition of Accidental has been emended to read: “One or two Alaska records, or none in last 30 years.” As a result, we now maintain Cook’s Petrel, American Black Duck, and Fieldfare as Accidental.

Least Flycatcher is now maintained as Rare/annual. Dusky Warbler is now maintained as Casual.

OTHER ALASKA CHANGES FOLLOWING AOU Check-list Supplement 58 (2017)

In the family Anatidae the genus Chen has been submerged in Anser; the Checklist of Alaska Birds now begins with Emperor Goose Anser canagicus, Snow Goose A. caerulescens, and Ross’s Goose A. rossii, in that order.

The dabbling ducks have been extensively revised and reordered. Baikal Teal is now in the monotypic genus Sibirionetta and directly follows Aix. The ‘blue-winged’ ducks – in the order Garganey, Blue-winged and Cinnamon teal, and Northern Shoveler – are removed to the genus Spatula; and Gadwall, Falcated Duck, and Eurasian and American wigeon are now in the genus Mareca and listed in that order. The genera Sibirionetta, Spatula, and Mareca separate Aix from Anas.

In the family Scolopacidae the curlews have been reordered: Bristle-thighed, Whimbrel, Little, Long-billed, and Far Eastern. Bar-tailed Godwit is now listed first in Limosa.

In the family Laridae the former widely-recognized Thayer’s Gull has been submerged in Iceland Gull, as L. glaucoides thayeri. (Since the AKCLC has maintained this taxon that way for years here in Alaska, the only change to the Alaska list is to delete the parenthetic “includes thayeri” after listing for Iceland Gull.)

In the family Ardeidae the genus Mesophoyx has been submerged in Ardea, so Intermediate Egret is now Ardea intermedia.

In the family Accipitridae the subspecies of the former “Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus” have been elevated to status as separate Old World and New World species, the Hen Harrier C. cyaneus and the Northern Harrier C. hudsonius, respectively. The identification of a partial specimen from Attu Island (a salvaged distal left wing tentatively identified long ago at U.S. National Museum by its length as C. c. cyaneus—see Gibson and Byrd 2007) has not yet been confirmed through its DNA, which process we expect to see accomplished in 2018. Only then will we know if the Attu bird provides the only Alaska (and North American) record of Hen Harrier C. cyaneus—or has been an incorrectly identified example of the North American taxon. More later.

In the family Laniidae the former Northern Shrike has been split into two species. Lanius excubitor (Great Gray Shrike) is now regarded as the bird of the western Old World, while the related birds of the eastern Old World and all of the New World are now Lanius borealis (Northern Shrike).

Genera in the family Fringillidae are re-ordered Coccothraustes, Carpodacus, Pinicola, Pyrrhula, Leucosticte, Haemorhous, Chloris, Acanthis, Loxia, and Spinus. House Finch is listed first in Haemorhous.

The former family Emberizidae has been split and now comprises only Old World Buntings. All New World sparrows and allies are removed from to the newly erected family Passerellidae, which directly follows Emberizidae in linear position. The order of genera within Passerellidae remains the same, Pipilo through Junco.

Genera in the family Icteridae have been rearranged in the order Xanthocephalus, Dolichonyx, Sturnella, Icterus, Agelaius, Molothrus, Euphagus, and Quiscalus.

The family Parulidae has been moved to linear position directly following the family Icteridae.

The family Cardinalidae directly follows Parulidae and now concludes the Checklist of Alaska Birds.

It was another busy year. If I have omitted any substantive change here, the omission has been inadvertent.

DDG (for the AKCLC), 6 January 2018

Alaska Checklist Committee: Daniel D. Gibson, Lucas H. DeCicco, Robert E. Gill Jr., Steven C. Heinl, Aaron J. Lang, Theodore G. Tobish Jr., and Jack J. Withrow.

Gibson, D. D., and G. V. Byrd. 2007. Birds of the Aleutian Islands, Alaska. Series in Onithology 1. Nuttall Ornithological Club and American Ornithologists’ Union.


Authorship for Museum Collections?

A recent paper in Zootaxa by Rouhan and colleagues (here, though paywalled) advocates that collections make such important contributions to published science that they should be recognized as coauthors. The paper is entitled “The time has come for Natural History Collections to claim co-authorship of research articles.” When I began reading their article, I was opposed to the idea. I give credit to the authors, though, for by the time I was finished, I was at least open to the concept. Importantly, they are not advocating for individual museum staff to be coauthors, but rather that an institution or group name for the collection should be used. That was a key distinction for me: I would not want to see collections’ contributions get confused with those of their associated staff. From another perspective, however, when I write a paper that uses many different collections, I would not want to appear as a scientific minion among a small forest of institutions that I happened to use in pursuing my questions. (Imagine the institution shopping that human authors would use!)

The problem Rouhan et al. (2017) are addressing is that museum collections make huge contributions to published science, but those contributions are often unrecognized and difficult to track. Here at the University of Alaska Museum Bird Collection we’ve attempted to solve this in a different way (here), in which we keep track of publications that used our collection in a Google Scholar profile (we published on this here). We were careful not to use the term “author,” however (e.g.,“as if the collection were an author”), and we do not advocate a change to that status for collections. We believe our method serves the purpose quite well without unduly abusing the already contentious issue of authorship.

That said, I do think that museum staff should be authors more often on projects when they make substantial contributions, and that this would happen more often with careful consideration of widely accepted authorship criteria (e.g., here).

But as I noted, my mind is open to the concept of collections as authors if a consensus were to develop that these other two solutions under the present framework were inadequate. It is very uncommon to see institutions or consortia listed as authors, although it is becoming more common in large-scale genomics research.

The 2017 Checklist of Alaska Birds

Changes in the 23rd edition—2017 (downloadable at right)

Four species ADDED in 2016 to Checklist of Alaska Birds (in taxonomic order)

Calliope Hummingbird Selasphorus calliope: Hatching-year male, 3-5 Sep 2016, Auke Bay, photos by Gus B. van Vliet and Patty Rose.  Casual, because of its long, enigmatic, unsubstantiated past in se Alaska.  Its history in Alaska began with Willett’s 1921 statement (in Bird notes from southeastern Alaska.  Condor 23:156-159): “According to [local resident F. H.] Gray, quite common at Wrangell in spring and fall during some years; other years apparently absent.”  In the absence of any pre-1921 published mention of this species in Alaska, however, Willett’s explicit intention (op. cit.:156) “to include only species regarding which some fact or facts have come to light that add to previously published matter regarding them” would seem to make his 1921 report enigmatic.  Four+ (silent) decades later, there were six (unsubstantiated) reports from the late 1960s through the 1980s (male, [no date] May 1967, Juneau, Richard J. Gordon; female, 6 May 1968, Juneau, RJG; at least one, summer 1968, Juneau, fide RJG; one, 27 Jul 1974, Juneau, Evelyn S. Dunn; male, 14 Aug 1975, Little Port Walter, Baranof Island, Alex C. Wertheimer; and female, 18 Jun 1988, Mitkof Island, Peter J. Walsh).  Insert in Family Trochilidae following Rufous Hummingbird Selasphorus rufus.

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Love Notes for Dead Birds 6

A truly marvelous epistle, written on notepaper celebrating “Love is in the air.” A woodpecker flew into a window despite obstacles and visual deterrents, landed comfortably (though dead) on some pillows, and, well, read the details…



(Turns out that it was an adult female.)

About the Love Notes for Dead Birds: We receive a lot of birds that people find dead and route to us through places like wildlife agencies, rehabilitation clinics, etc. What makes these specimens scientifically useful is to write the location and date down with the bird and freeze it until it can be gotten to us. People often write a little more than necessary, and we’re pleased to share some of those.

Avian influenza update, Alaska

Several years ago, Dan Gibson and I published a paper on Asian birds coming to North America through Alaska entitled “The Asia-to-America Influx of Avian Influenza Wild Bird Hosts Is Large.”  In this paper we reversed the conclusions of a popular model of the global spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). We suggested that wild birds are a greater risk than domestic poultry for bringing HPAI into North America. Since then, our model proved the more accurate, presaging the arrival in North America in fall 2014 of a pure Asian strain of H5N2. Wild birds were implicated, and we inferred passage through Alaska. This strain of HPAI went on to cause the worst poultry disease outbreak in U.S. history, resulting in billions of dollars in economic losses.
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Love Notes for Dead Birds 5

Condition: “Super Excellent”.

Except, you know, for the fact that it’s dead…

Condition given as "Super Excellent," overlooking the fact that the bird is quite dead.

Condition given as “Super excellent,” overlooking that the bird is in fact quite dead.

About the Love Notes for Dead Birds: We receive a lot of birds that people find dead and route to us through places like wildlife agencies, rehabilitation clinics, etc. What makes these specimens scientifically useful is to write the location and date down with the bird and freeze it until it can be gotten to us. People often write a little more than necessary, and we’re pleased to share some of those.