Bird name madness

To: Geoffrey Dabb <>
Subject: Bird name madness
From: Martin Butterfield via Canberrabirds <>
Date: Thu, 8 Feb 2024 05:42:31 +0000
The pious hope in your last sentence is almost an irresistible challenge.  May I suggest, should someone be less able than me to control their impulses, that as with other fields of natural sciences, the answer to that question is "it depends".  Mainly it depends on which eminent person in the field of study you are talking to.  

It is all a great pity, especially as in my most recent foray into looking at my concordance between eBird Australia and Bird Life Australia the names appeared to be moving more into alignment. 

On Thu, 8 Feb 2024 at 14:48, Geoffrey Dabb via Canberrabirds <> wrote:

Warning:  bird name issue


I must comment on a bird name point illustrated  by this issue of Gang-gang.  There is a report about the ‘Australian Little (Black-backed) Bittern’.  I sympathise with writers and editors who find this kind of thing necessary. We are entering a new age of English name duplication where different policies and preferences collide.


From an Australian viewpoint, the new species is the Australian representative of a species group known as ‘Little Bitterns’, with our subspecies being split relatively recently.  So it is, to us, the Australian Little Bittern.  However from a global perspective the name ‘Little Bittern’ belongs to a species that occurs in Europe, Asia and Africa, and the global namers do not want to add an adjective, which would be needed if there were more than one ‘Little Bittern’. Hence IOC invents ‘Black-backed Bittern’ for the Australian species, and inflicts it on Australian users of that list.


The same thing has happened with ‘Gull-billed Tern’.  To us, the new species is ‘Australian Gull-billed Tern’,  but the IOC retains ‘Gull-billed Tern’ for the widespread species and has invented ‘Australian Gull’ for our species.  To add to the confusion, both species are recorded in Australia, as Gull-billed Tern and Australian Gull (the familar Gull-billed Tern).


It is too much to hope that any single bird group is going to reach agreement on a single set of names, let alone  a joint approach with other groups.  We are going to see a lot more of ‘One name (second name) (maybe third name)’  so get used to it. I hope no-one will ask which is the right name.


From: Canberrabirds <> On Behalf Of
Sent: Tuesday, February 6, 2024 1:02 PM
To: CanberraBirds email list <>
Subject: [Canberrabirds] Fwd: February Gang-gang newsletter now available



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