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.
It’s going to be a great year! Get out and enjoy the birds of Alaska with a copy of the authoritative checklist. You can get a copy by clicking at right or here.
As of January 2016 the total number of species known to have occurred in Alaska is now 510. The five added to the Alaska list in 2015 were: Continue reading
Our paper is out this month in the Journal of Virology pointing to the importance of Beringia in the intercontinental spread of avian influenza.
A figure from the paper showing the movements of birds and the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N8 in 2014.
A word cloud of the paper’s contents
Get out and enjoy the birds of Alaska with a copy of the authoritative checklist in hand. You can get a copy by clicking at right or here. What’s new? Plenty!
Increasing the scientific bang for every research dollar spent is important, especially in museums, where funding levels are perennially low. When we do get into the field and get our hands on a bird, it costs about the same to bring it home with us as it would to return with just a few drops of blood or a couple of feathers. While there is little difference in the initial cost, there is a huge difference in the scientific potential of the effort’s product: many more scientists can do a lot more things with a whole bird preserved as a specimen than with only a tiny sample likely to be quickly depleted. And the vast majority of bird populations can easily withstand the relatively small amounts of scientific collecting that are done these days.
A recent opinion paper in Science by a group of authors more concerned with human ethics than with science and biodiversity used a rather broad brush to paint scientific collecting in a negative light. Perhaps through their lack of intimate familiarity with biodiversity science, they made a number of errors in their effort to urge field biologists to stop collecting voucher specimens. Setting aside the issue of why a prestigious journal like Science would publish what is a rather weak contribution, the appearance of this piece does provide an opportunity to again help people understand why scientific collecting is important, why it does not pose a threat to populations of wild organisms, and why in a time of global change adding specimens to collections is now more important than ever. There is a substantial body of peer-reviewed literature on this topic; I will just summarize some of the main points here.
The UAM Bird Collection is used for a lot of interesting research, and we always enjoy the resulting products, especially when researchers push back the frontiers of human ignorance in new and important directions. In this case, some researchers (see Haynes et al. 2013) arrived on the scene at the bitter end (for the birds) of what we might call an avian Jonah experiment. Yes, birds were swallowed by a whale. We were sorry to learn that, unlike Jonah, the birds did not live through the experience, but instead emerged later, much the worse for wear, from the wrong end of the whale.
As of 1 January 2014 the list of avian taxa known in Alaska included 501 naturally occurring species in 64 families and 20 orders. The new edition of the checklist can be downloaded as a pdf here or through the checklist link in the right margin of our main web page.
Formal Alaska Checklist Committee reports are published at 4- or 5-year intervals in Western Birds. The most recent report discusses 15 species and three subspecies added to the checklist and one species and one subspecies deleted from the checklist during 2008-2012, resulting in a net total of 499 species and 117 subspecies recognized at the beginning of 2013 as occurring or having occurred naturally in Alaska.
Check out our note in Nature on how Small collections make a big impact and the UAM Birds Google Scholar profile upon which it is based.
The origin of the idea was a mental crossing of two wires: Mitt Romney’s oft-played comment “Corporations are people, my friend,” and our annual update of publications supported by the collection.