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Change, and Changing Bird Names

March 5, 2019

Change. Experiences change people, natural selection changes species, new discoveries changes the body of science and the names we give to birds.

Rufous-sided Towhee or Spotted Towhee. We report – you decide.
(Grace Murayama, Sepulveda Nature Area 3-10-18)

True story.
In the late 1960’s my best friend John told me of his peculiar parents. “They’re birdwatchers. They came home all excited the other day because they saw a Rufous-sided Towhee. Can you believe that?” We exploded in laughter. Rufous-sided Towhee. Who ever heard of such a name! Or of people getting excited about it. Old people are really weird.

Fast forward eight years. My birding hobby is now 24 days old. I’m wandering around Hunter Mountain on the northwestern edge of Death Valley National Monument and spot a rusty-black bird kicking at the leaf litter under a bush. After 20-30 minutes of thumbing end-to-end-to-end through the plates in my Peterson’s Guide to Western Birds and re-re-re-checking the bird, I decide it’s a Rufous-sided Towhee. It’s a nice-looking bird! With a great name! I laugh to myself at how things change, and chalk up life bird #29.

Fast forward another 10-15 years. Lillian and I are at the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum, attending an Audubon Quarterly Council meeting, discussing matters of critical importance, all of which I’ve long since forgotten. During the lunch break we wander into the bird collection to check out the glass cases full of stuffed birds. We spot a Rufous-sided Towhee, dusty with age. It’s labeled “Spotted Towhee.”

“Can you believe that,” I say. “They haven’t changed the label since the 30’s, I’ll bet.” There were other birds with similarly outdated labels.

Now, of course, the “Rufous-sided Towhee” disappeared 23 years ago, when it was split (re-split?) into the Eastern and (our) Spotted Towhee. When that happened, and I had to re-learn the new (old) name, I thought of that little museum and all the labor they saved by not changing their labels.
[Chuck Almdale]

Here’s a Towhee appreciation from Joan Larson: Renaming the ‘towhee.’

The following is a Guest Editorial from a very-long-time local birder.

What Did I see and Where Did I See It?

By Dan Guthrie: Pomona Valley Audubon Society Program Chair

Not taking foreign trips recently has allowed me time to try to enter sightings from my past trips into eBird. These historical sightings help provide critical data for research, conservation and education which in turn contribute to hundreds of conservation decisions. All very motivating reasons, but I ran into a couple of problems.

First, and hardest to solve, is trying to figure out just where I was! Even if I wrote down a locality name, lots of small towns in China, Russia etc. are hard to find on a map, especially the computer maps which seem geared towards places that tourists frequent. Places with cathedrals or castles, not little out-of-the-way places frequented by birders often with no town, not even a little one. And the names I wrote down in my notes were not in the local language.

The second problem is that the bird names have changed. eBird is pretty good at providing current names for old ones, but a lot has changed. With PVAS recently receiving a 1934 first edition of Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to the Birds, I decided to look at my own 1941 copy of Peterson’s Guide to western birds and I found a lot of different names. Want a challenge? See if you recognize [or can guess] any of the current names from this sampling. [Answers are on the blogsite version of this posting.]

1______________________ Aleutian Sandpiper
2______________________ Cooper’s Tanager
3______________________ Russet-backed Thrush
4______________________ Willow Thrush
5______________________ Short-billed Gull
6______________________ Richardson’s Owl (and three of my favorites)
7______________________ Pileolated Warbler
8______________________ Sennett’s Warbler
9______________________ Calaveras Warbler

So how old is your field guide?

Keep going down for answers






Answers to What Did I See and Where Did I See it?
1. Rock Sandpiper
2. Summer Tanager
3. Swainson’s Thrush
4. Veery
5. Mew Gull
6. Boreal Owl
7. Wilson’s Warbler
8. Tropical Parula
9. Nashville Warbler

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