Have you ever heard of a marsh hawk or a sparrow hawk? These long-familiar bird names have passed into history. The study of birds, like any science, remains a work in progress. New findings about birds' DNA or other attributes bring changes in classification of species, often resulting in new names. Check a field guide, and you'll now find them as the Northern Harrier and this American Kestrel. Join your local Audubon and take a field trip to see what you can see!
How Birds’ Names Change
Or Who took my Rufous-sided Towhee?
Written by Bob Sundstrom
This is BirdNote!
[Spotted Towhee trill]
A listener recently wrote us: “Years ago, some of the birds at my feeder were the Rufous-sided Towhee, Oregon Junco, and Red-shafted Flicker [Spotted Towhee trill; Northern Flicker wick-wick-wick call]. But I can’t find them in my current field guides. They're gone, and so are the marsh hawk and sparrow hawk.” [American Kestrel call]
Well, the listener’s right. Some of these long-familiar bird names have passed into history.
The study of birds, like any science, remains a work in progress. New findings about birds’ DNA or other attributes bring changes in classification of species, which often result in new names. Take the Rufous-sided Towhee, found across North America. Differences between its western and eastern forms – plumage, songs, genetics – brought an official split into two distinct species: the Spotted Towhee in the West [Spotted Towhee trills], the Eastern Towhee in the East [Eastern Towhee “drink-your-tea” song].
The Red-shafted Flicker, on the other hand, was lumped with the Yellow-shafted Flicker, because so many hybrids were found. Now, they all fly from tree to tree as the Northern Flicker. [Northern Flicker wick-wick-wick call]
But where have the “marsh hawk” and “sparrow hawk” gone? Check your field guide for the Northern Harrier and the American Kestrel. Learn more at birdnote.org. [American Kestrel call]
Bird audio provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Spotted Towhee song recorded by K. Colver #49764. Eastern Towhee recorded by W.L. Hershberger #94294. American Kestrel recorded by D.S. Herr #133146. Northern Flicker recorded by R.C. Stein #6819.
BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and produced by John Kessler.
Ambient sounds recorded by D.S. Herr.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2013 Tune In to Nature.org February 2017/2020 Narrator: Mary McCann
ID# 2008-02-27-names-02-KPLU names-02b