So, following a recent paper the redpoll lump-fest is gaining traction because there is no genetic differences between all of the current redpoll species, so what!

Science needs to be the driving force for our species, good science. It needs to tell our elected leaders what is happening so that they can make informed choices before selecting policy. To do that, science needs an impeccable reputation and quite rightly. If you put your eggs in the scientific basket, you want to know that they are safe and secure.  Whether our leaders do actually use scientific input is neither here nor there, and something that even a ballot paper cannot change, but that is not what this post is about.

I say, so what to the scientific evidence that will lump all redpolls into one species. It has to happen because science says that it is the case and science is right. eBird and other data gathering institutions rely on science, they are part of the information machine used by Government and so will naturally respond when the lump is formally recognised, and so they should. Their data has to be as good as it possibly can be, if it is to have any chance of getting some protection for species implemented. When eBird lumps the polls, you will lose a tick and plunge down to exactly where you are now, because so has everybody else.

What puzzles me more is why the American Birding Association and other birder orientated groups worldwide follow the scientific lead, they don’t need to. The ABA is essentially a birding organisation that represents those birders who like to see and chase rare birds. In setting out exactly what species you can tick, the ABA sets a standard that we all adhere to when referencing our lists, it is the level playing field. Your actual, personal list might not be the same though, that is between you and your instincts, but the ABA list is the standard.

So why do they follow science, habit? A list of birds in terms of a county, state, province needs to be scientific because it is in the public arena and needs science to back it up. It needs the proven research that says a Bobolink say, is a different species from a Savannah Sparrow. They occupy the same habitat, are not dissimilar looking in general terms and genetically probably not miles apart in the scheme of things. Your list of birds for the same parameters doesn’t need science to back it up though. You can tick your Bobolink confidently, and your Savannah Sparrow and, if you get them, you could also tick your vagrant ‘Ipswich’ Sparrow, currently, under science, a form of Savannah Sparrow.

Ipswich Sparrow is quite distinctive and most should be eminently identifiable in the field, so is Hoary Redpoll. Yes we have finally got to the point here. You set a level required for the identification of a Hoary Redpoll. You define characteristics in plumage and physique that will consistently give you an identification of the bird in front of you as a Hoary Redpoll, and for me that would mean no streaks on the undertail. Anything that is in between, and there should be many such examples, are not Hoary Redpolls but Common Redpolls, unless they are Greenland Redpolls of course, another identifiable form.

Calling it a Hoary Redpoll is no different from calling a Savannah Sparrow and Ipswich Sparrow. In science a Hoary Redpoll will have no more standing than a Common Redpoll and quite rightly, but elsewhere, in the world where the vast majority of birders operate, and you can call it the real world if you like, we will still be seeing and recording, if not reporting via eBird, Hoary Redpolls.

This matters, because the bird is distinctive and distinctiveness should be as equally prized as is species. If we don’t record forms then some will be lost. We’ve done it already, probably more times than we know, and we’ll do it again. Forms that only occur in certain areas have been removed, extirpated. The fact that they were just a form of a very common species and so therefore their loss does not impact on the species is, arguably, where the species concept rather lets them down a bit but, it is not too late to adopt a broader way of thinking, it just takes a will from those who think about these things to persuade organisations such as the ABA to become identifiable form based and not species based, or even both.

To take this further, there needs to be a world forms checklist, not subspecies because not all subspecies are physically that different and identifiable, but a list dealing with uniquely identifiable forms is a prerequisite. Until we have such a list you can start on your patch, your county, province or state list. You can even go through your ABA list and add forms to it, readily identifiable forms, it’s quite easily actually.

So when we are told through the repeated sharing of an article that Hoary Redpoll is not a valid species and will be lumped, our collective answer as enlightened listers should be, and!

Below we have Common Redpoll on the left. Streaky, heavier bill etc. And a Hoary to the right, pure white under tail coverts and all the other peripherals that add up to a Hoary Redpoll, also known elsewhere as Coues Redpoll. A good name given that there are two recognisable, if not genetically separated, forms of Hoary Redpoll.

Two polls

Thanks to all who have either bought my books or downloaded freebie. The Cuba one did attract a comment that said I was disrespectful to Cubans, I hadn’t meant to be, but then my bins are not rose-tinted.


2 thoughts on “And!

  1. I strongly agree with you – the insistence on using species for listing purposes baffles me.
    However, your stance on redpoll id doesn’t sit well with me. You seem to advocate callling any bird that isn’t clearly a Hoary a Common. Some birds are going to be intermediate and unidentifiable, and some of these birds are going to be coming from Hoary areas from Hoary parents. Why not just call them what they are – intermediate.

    • I simplified my opinion for the blog, no, I agree with you and can identify intermediate birds but, any attempt at listing forms for the masses would need to aim lower I think.

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