[OB] "Eastern" Cattle Egret, Bubulcus coromandus

Subject: [OB] "Eastern" Cattle Egret, Bubulcus coromandus
From: Kumar Ghorpade <>
Date: Thu, 1 Sep 2011 17:18:25 +0530 (IST)
Since I am currently working on a "Working Handlist of Indian Ornithology" 
(update of Ripley’s 1982 New Synopsis)  and preparing keys to polytypic species 
recorded in our subregion, may I offer some scientific FACTS on this question ?
1.  The Cattle Egret is better placed in the genus Bubulcus (non-aquatic, etc.) 
than in Ardea or Ardeola (aquatic, etc.), which latter genera are probably 
polyphyletic as currently used.
2.  B. coromandus and B. ibis are currently recognized to be separate species 
and also are allopatric as natural populations.
3.  Dickinson (2003: 87) gives B. ibis range as "Spain to Iran, N and C Africa 
to Mascarene and Seychelles Is.; E Nth. America, C and N Sth. America"  And 
that of B. coromandus as "India and Pakistan to S Japan, Philippines, 
Indonesia,” [further matter missing, lapsus ?]   
4.  The Australian populations are B. coromandus as per figures in Pizzey & 
Knight (2003: 112-113).  These authors state that colonization of the Northern 
Territory happened  “probably from Indonesia in 1940s as part of worldwide 
expansion.”  They curiously end with the word “cosmopolitan” which certainly is 
not quite correct!  Usual irresponsibility and carelessness of field-guiders! 
5.  Breeding birds are quite diagnostic in the two species, as reference to 
Sinclair et al. (2002: 62-63) will reveal from the breeding adult painting in 
that field guide to birds of southern Africa.
6.  Our latest and most carefully prepared reference guide (Rasmussen & 
Anderton, 2005) has data which will substantiate recognition of TWO, and not 
one, “cosmopolitan(!)” Cattle Egret species. The scientifically drafted text 
volume (Vol. 2, p. 58) by a well trained and experienced ornithologist states 
that “Consistent differences between Bubulcus ibis and B. coromandus in 
breeding plumage, proportions and vocalizations indicate they are better 
treated as two species.”  They write that B. coromandus was “self-introduced 
Australasia” and “once collected Chagos (Bourne 1971)” where it evidently 
occurred as a vagrant. In their field guide (Vol. 1, Plate 7 & 9) they 
characterize B. ibis as being “similar but stockier,  in breeding plumage with 
orange-buff mainly on crown, breast and mantle” ONLY and not more extensively 
as in B. coromandus.  In Vol. 1 they write that B. ibis “was introduced in 1955 
from Seychelles to Chagos, where
 now well established.”    
    Being a trained systematic entomologist and a bird-watcher in India from 
1955, I believe our current species identities, mainly in guides prepared for a 
commercial amateur market, are doubtful and not correctly diagnosed. I have 
made my point in a recent paper (2011) in Current Science (100(7): 981-983).  
    Taxonomic research over the past 300 years or so has shown, to people who 
can understand and accept, that speciation occurs over time principally by 
geographic isolation, carried out either by active dispersal or by passive 
vicariance.  Being highly mobile (like e.g., large birds of prey) does NOT mean 
that every species can migrate (or emigrate, like B. ibis into the Americas) 
“coolly” and expand ranges, as has been indicated, and cautioned, in research 
articles way back in the 19th Century. Diagnostic characters can also be very 
“minor” (for binocular/camera-enabled humans, without “bird-in-the-hand”) but 
they do exist between sibling and allopatric species which have unfortunately 
been “downgraded” as RACES by lazy/confused/tired persons from the “Rothschild 
Gang” (E. Hartert, K. Jordan) flooded with copious exotic material, and COPIED 
by subsequent authors to this day without proper taxonomic reviews being done 
or even
 attempted.  Edward Dickinson and others are working on this in their 
“Systematic Notes on Asian Birds” being published in the Netherlands from 2000, 
but even these are nowhere near adequate as a working taxonomist like me should 
know and analyse!
    Dickinson’s (2003) World Checklist is a close to accurate, holistic work 
giving ALL so-called races currently worth a trinomial name, and not oblivion 
in synonymy.  For India and adjacent countries I am now engaged in finding out, 
with my expertise in insects, which of our “subspecies” are really good species 
and which others are just variants and within a cline, without population 
breaks into genetically distinct species. Even good photographs of diagnostic 
characters can help separate some of which are currently believed to be poorly 
differentiated races.  There is a lot of work in the field for amateur 
bird-watchers, but careful, honest, objective documentation is a prime 
requirement as also collaboration with experienced museum specialists with 
adequate databases (specimens, literature, etc.) at hand.  Cheers,              

Dr Kumar Ghorpade (B.Sc., M.Sc., Ph.D.), Smithsonian Postdoctoral Fellow 
Postal address: P.O. Box 221, K.C. Park Post Office, Dharwar 580 008, INDIA 

Currently: Post-Graduate Teacher & Research Associate in Systematic Entomology, 
University of Agricultural Sciences, Krishi Nagar, Dharwar 580 005, Karnataka, 
Editor : HUMEA, Field Ornithology (1993-), PERDICULA (Monthly Notes on 
Dravidian Ornithology 1999-)
Life member--Bombay Natural History Society, Madras Naturalists' Society, 
Birdwatchers Society of Andhra Pradesh, etc.

--- On Tue, 30/8/11, Bharat Jethva <> wrote:

From: Bharat Jethva <>
Subject: Re: [OB] Eastern Cattle Egret
To:  "John Penhallurick" 
Cc: "'Birding-aus'" <>
Date: Tuesday, 30 August, 2011, 1:17 PM


Dear Dr John Penhallurick,
I agree with you, I also don't think that it could be a separate species ! I 
hope they have done detailed research when they accept it !

Best wishesDr. Bharat Jethva

--- On Tue, 30/8/11, John Penhallurick <> wrote:

From: John Penhallurick <>
Subject: [OB] Eastern Cattle Egret
Cc: "'Birding-aus'" <>
Date: Tuesday, 30 August, 2011, 12:39 PM


Hi friends,

I have been surprised to see that some authorities, including

worldbirdnames, have accepted the split of the Eastern Cattle Egret from the

taxon found in the rest of the world. Given the way that Cattle Egrets have

spread so widely around the world in such a relatively short time, I find it

hard to believe that gene flow could have been interrupted long enoguh for a

new species to emerge.

I would welcome any thoughts.

Dr John Penhallurick

86 Bingley Cres

Fraser A.C.T. 2615



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