Birder's Guide

NOV 2013

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Page 19 of 67

What the Heck is a Tanager? In fact, according to Barker et al. (2013), most of the evidence indicates that the Emberizidae as a family may need to be restricted to just Emberiza and several related Asian genera, which means that the American sparrows would require a new family name: Passerellidae. And there are a few other species that also appear not to belong with the New World sparrows and towhees: the seedeaters and grassquits. But we'll get to them shortly. Notwithstanding the seedeaters and grassquits, the New World sparrows and towhees are a rather nicely defned grouping (at least in the ABA Area). "We're the Swiss Army knife of bill morphology." This brings us to the fringillids. These "winter" fnches have a tendency to wander far and wide and to set up house whenever and wherever food resources are available. This has allowed some very interesting examples of diversifcation in bill size and shape to develop. The family is found throughout Eurasia, Africa, and many islands, so it is not as unique to the Americas as most of the other groups mentioned in this account. Fringillidae is named for the genus Fringilla, which is mostly extralimital to the ABA Area. Only Brambling (F. montifringilla) and Common Chaffnch (F. coelebs) have been recorded in North America. This genus is somewhat distantly related to the rest of the fringillids, but there seems little doubt they all belong together. Although not a part of the offcial ABA Area avifauna, the Hawaiian "honey- creepers", also known as the drepanidids, are worth mentioning. Scientists used to believe that this diverse group of species was a distinct family. But over time research showed that these birds were clearly related to the fringillids, which makes sense, because wanderlust and bill modifcation seem wired into the family's genetic makeup (consider the crossbills). As morphology and genetics aligned, the family Drepanididae became the subfamily Drepanidinae within the family Fringillidae. However, recently published molecular data indicate that the Hawaiian fnches share their most recent common ancestor with the Asian Carpodacus rosefnches, and are not even worthy of being treated as a separate subfamily (Lerner et al. 2011)! The AOU agreed with this assessment Brown-capped (left) and Black (right) rosy-fnches: The rosy-fnches are members of the genus Leucosticte, which has more species in Asia than in North America. Indeed, fringillids reach their peak diversity in the Himalayas. Photo © Christopher Taylor. 18 Birder's Guide to Listing & Taxonomy | November 2013

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