Canada Jay and Other Changes in Bird Classification

Canada Jay and Other Changes in Bird Classification 

By Andy McCormick 

Last summer the American Ornithological Society’s Committee on Classification and Nomenclature of North and Middle American Birds (also known as NACC) released its annual report of changes to bird taxonomy. Notations for these changes can seem arcane, but the goal for the changes is to try to group birds to conform with their evolutionary development. Learning birds by their genus is a helpful way of grouping similar birds. However, some of these changes mean that some of us will have to learn some birds in their new genera. Most of these changes are based on genetic testing of birds.  


The big news for North America is that the Gray Jay is now the Canada Jay. The bird retains its scientific name of Perisoreus canadensis. This reverses a committee action from 1957 and will likely lead to the adoption of the Canada Jay as the official bird of Canada. There is a long-standing tradition of not changing common names of birds unless there is a species-level change such as a split, but it was waived in this case. Canadian birders really wanted this change.  


The former White-collared Seedeater has been split into two species. Morelet’s Seedeater (Sporophila morelleti) ranges from along the Rio Grande in Texas south to Panama. See also the Audubon Guide description.

The other species resulting from the split is Cinnamon-rumped Seedeater (Sporophila Torgueola, sensu stricto) which is endemic to the Pacific slope and interior of Mexico, from Oaxaca north to southern Sonora and in a disconnected manner in southern Baja California Sur. If you have birded in San Blas or Oaxaca, Mexico this is the seedeater you have likely seen. However, if you have seen this species in Arizona, it will not longer be recognized, since these birds are now considered escaped caged birds.  


Formerly ten North and Middle American woodpeckers were in the genus Picoides. This genus has been split and one new species has been added to the new genus. American Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers remain in Picoides.  

The following nine species of woodpecker are now in the genus Dryobates: Downy, Nuttall’s, Ladder-backed, Red-cockaded, Hairy, White-headed, Smoky-brown (Mexico and Central America: Moved from genus Veniliornis), Arizona, and Strickland’s (Mexico).  


Some sparrows have been reclassified. The sparrow genus Ammodramus has been split. As a result, North America now has only one species in this genus: Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum). Baird’s Sparrow and Henslow’s Sparrow are now in their own genus Centronyx.  LeConte’s, Seaside, Nelson’s, and Saltmarsh Sparrows are now in the genus Ammospiza. 


Five kites have been reorganized and now have their own subfamilies. Pearl Kite and White-tailed Kite are now in the subfamily Elaninae. Hook-billed Kite, Gray-headed Kite, and Swallow-tailed Kite are now in the subfamily Gypaetinae

For more information on these changes you can see photos and read the article “2018 AOS Supplement is Out!” by Michael Retter in aba blog published by the American Birding Association. 

No worries, however. The birds have not changed. Only the way we humans classify them has changed.  

Canada Jay by Mick Thompson

Canada Jay by Mick Thompson