SV: [Birding-Aus] New Zealand Oystercatchers

To: "crompton" <>
Subject: SV: [Birding-Aus] New Zealand Oystercatchers
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Mon, 10 Jul 2006 11:04:18 +0200

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 På vegne av crompton
Sendt: 10. juli 2006 10:25
Til: birding aus
Emne: [Birding-Aus] New Zealand Oystercatchers

Hi all, Just got a copy of The hand guide to the birds of New Zealand. Its list 
of oystercatchers are as follows

Pied Oystercatcher - Haematopus ostralegus ( a totally differant bird to the 
one we find in Australia - Haematopus longirostris???)

Chatham Island Oystercatcher -  Haematopus chathamensis

Variable Oystercatcher - Haematopus unicolor

There was no mention of the South Island Oystercatcher - Haematopus finschi. Is 
it a recent new species? The book says it was published in 2001!  Also the book 
seems to use alot of names for birds that are more like slang or just plain 
uncommon or ambiguous ( example above with Pied Oystercatcher )  than official 
english names and I'm not talking about names like Kakpo or kea, I'm talking 
about Red billed gull for Silver gull and Pied Shag for Pied Cormorant and even 
Black Browed Mollymawk for Black Browed Albatross!
Any thoughts on what some of you might think is a trival matter? my appologies 
if you do many thanks in advance G.Crompton

Dear Mr Crompton ,
                                 In these times of globalisation it is perhaps 
no longer strange to get a reply from Norway concerning a New Zeland query by 
an Australian; but I have lived long enough to still find this a wonderful 

I answer, although I have not all the relevant facts at hand here, because this 
concerns a hobby-horse of mine, the fact that species, and therefore also names 
of animals, never can be fixed once and for all, and that there are genuine 
grounds for differences of opinion between what I always call splitters (i.e. 
people who first and foremost see differences, and therefore split genera and 
species into as small units as possible) and lumpers (people who are most 
impressed by similarities and therefore combine small units into larger 
wherever they can). These days these differences are much to the fore, as there 
is also a big debate going on on what are the correct criteria of deciding what 
is a good species, with many people switching from the old Biological Species 
Definition to the more modern Phylogenetic Species Definition. I can 
pontificate more about this if you want me to; suffice it for now to say, that 
the phylogenetic criteria usually allow for 'smaller species' than the 
biological criteria,

The Pied Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus is a good example. All black and 
white oystercatchers look more or less alike, and they all occur at different 
places. So the lumpers considered them all to belong to the same 
species,Haematopus ostralegus, with local variaties. Splitters have long 
pointed out that there are lots of differences bewteen these forms, in details 
in colourpatterns, colour of bare parts, etc etc; so they operated with a 
number of different species, the true Pied Oystercatcher of Eurasia, the 
American Oystercatcher H. palliatus, the Australian Pied Oystercatcher H 
longirostris, and the SIOP, the  South Island Pied Oystercatcher H. finschi. 
Most authors nowadays, but clearly not the authors of the new NZ hand guide, 
accept a number of pied oystercatcher species. (Recent research also has shown, 
by the way, that the SIPO is closer related to the real H. ostralegus from 
Eusasia than to the Australian Pied Oystercatcher.

Also about the Chatham Oystercatcher there is much disagreement among authors, 
and it is variably considered a full species, as apparently in this case, a 
subspecies of the SIPO, or a subspecies of the Variable Oystercatcher, the only 
NZ one where everybody seems to agree.

My hobby-horse is now that in cases like this, there IS no right or wrong 
solution, and these cases cannot be decided by a committee once and for all. 
Everybody is entitled to its own opinion!!

Your other examples concern in fact the same problem. The newest research on 
gulls has split the Australian Red-billed Gull L. scopulorum from your 
Australian Silver Gull as a good species in its own right, and therefore it is 
logical that it also gets a different English name.

Albatross workers have split up the albatrosses into three genera, the sooty 
albatrosses , the large albatrosses, and the smaller albatrosses or mollymawks, 
now often designated as mollymawks rather than albatrosses.

Finally, the designation of a bird as a cormorant or a shag seems to me rather 
arbitrary, like the decision to call a bird a pigeon or a dove, or an egret or 
a heron.

Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
9037 Tromsø, Norway

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