I am now king of the scrub-jays, having seen California, Florida, Island (above) and Woodhouse's. With that milestone, I now just need to become the king of...lots of other things.
When I first started birding, I had seen one species of scrub-jay. This is not because I hadn't yet been to places like Santa Cruz Island, Arizona or Florida, it is because the only scrub-jay that "officially" existed was the Scrub Jay. Now, the Scrub Jay has been left by the wayside, stripped of its capital letters but gaining a hyphen...and most notably was made into four separate taxa. We've come a long way.
The newest American Ornithologists Union (AOU ) supplement just came out, and a lot of birders are happy with it...you gotta love armchair lifers, or at least I do. Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay was my only addition from north of Mexico, but I got several more from Mexico and Costa Rica. I did not delifer at all, which is how I prefer it when these supplements come out. I'm not anti-lump, I just dislike losing birds. You understand. The vast majority of birders in North America bend the knee to the AOU (the king in the north!) regarding what is considered a full species and what is not, though we are rarely totally happy with what they decide.
Lesser Violetear was one of my armchair lifers. While I am pleased that I now have Mexican Violetear and Lesser Violetear instead of plain old Green Violetear, many are left wondering why the name Lesser Violetear was chosen...there is no Greater Violetear, after all. But hey, I'll take yet another poor bird name if that means a legit split got to go through.
What fascinates me is that there are a number of birders out there who are can't stand all this tinkering with species. They are neither splitters nor lumpers, they just dislike the amount of splitting and lumping that goes on. They are essentially against taxonomic revisions altogether. They dislike the new names, the new species. To them, this is just a nuisance, something they have to endure. Why is this so?
A poor grasp of science comes to mind immediately. Believe it or not, a lot of people fail to comprehend that our understanding of science is constantly changing, and overall these changes are improvements. Like many people, many birders don't really understand basic scientific concepts. People like to pigeonhole things, it's in our nature, at least culturally, and the tendency of pigeonholing is at direct odds with the changing ways we perceive and describe the world around us. We don't want to find out that the planet is not round, that the sun does not rotate around Earth, that American Coot and Caribbean Coot are conspecific. So while a lot of folks are really hung up on things staying the way they were originally taught, science marches on.
There is another reason birders advocate for a static taxonomy...they have trouble being up to date. In other words, they are simply unaware that the AOU is responsible for making these decisions and that it happens annually. A surprising number of birders believe that the American Birding Association (whose primary focus is advocating birding, not science) is "in charge" of splitting and lumping, which is indicative of the general ignorance on this topic out there in birderdom.
Finally, there is a distinction between birding and ornithology. Not all ornithologists are birders, at least not in the traditional sense. One does not simply earn the title of ornithologist after a few years of birding. Almost all birders are not ornithologists (no, "field ornithologists" don't count in this case). Science does not have to answer to the whims of birders; that's just how it is, but some birders have great difficult accepting this.
There is no doubt that birders have a lot to contribute when it comes to the field of ornithology, such as documenting the abundance and distribution of seabirds like Long-tailed Jaeger. That does not entitle reluctant birders to a moratorium on updating avian taxonomy. The AOU does not have a list enforcement arm (unlike bird record committees), so if you don't like what they do, you don't have to play by their lists.
Obviously the AOU is not perfect. If you follow the AOU very closely, you are probably aware there is no shortage of criticisms that can be lobbed at them. One could say that they act extremely slowly, they give birds poor names, they split things that should not be split and they lump things that should not be lumped. However, no one who is well-versed in taxonomic relationships, and science in general, advocates for keeping taxonomy static. There is no reason to release a single AOU supplement every 25 years just to make sure all the whinging birders are ready for it. Advocating for a fixed list of species is basically just saying "Fuck off, science. I don't want to be bothered by things changing"...and that, obviously, is a myopic, selfish and bizarre way of viewing the world. If you want to reject the fact that our collective knowledge of birds is constantly growing and changing, then you can go ahead and reject the names of birds and established species altogether. Call the Common Gallinule an American Coot instead...no one can stop you. Lesser Nighthawk? Pffffft...no, that is a Greater Daybat. Island Scrub-Jay? Napes. Mainland Blue-Flapper.
A lot of species that we now take for granted were once considered two or more species, or lumped in with other species. Long-billed Dowitcher was once considered a subspecies of Short-billed Dowitcher (above).
It all comes down to change...the last thing the world needs are more people who cannot accept the fruit of new studies and research, and the accompanying changes in the way which we understand said fruit. Sure we can be skeptical and not accept everything the AOU does as ordained by the gods of ornithology (though much of what the AOU does is ordained by ornithological gods), but change is going to come and that isn't something to be afraid of. You don't have to agree with it. The science in this field is not always perfect (the infamous Kumlien's Gull study comes to mind), as we are imperfect beings...but all the world's authoritative entities on bird taxonomy (the AOU, the IOC, the Clements checklist) can agree on one thing...taxonomy should be updated regularly. In attempting to refine the relationships between the world's birds, trying to figure out the passenger manifest of Noah's Ark is not going to cut it!
Will Red Crossbills ever be split? There was a lot of hype about it for years...but maybe an 8-way split is just too gnarly, and perhaps it is just simply not deserved...these "types" are thought to have diverged less than 100,000 years ago (for comparison, Eastern and Western Willets diverged 700,000 years ago). Whatever new information that can be gleaned about Red Crossbill types and how they are related will be fascinating to learn. Whole new frontiers of bird knowledge are opening up, and I hope those who would rather drag their sluggish feet in the past will eventually want to keep pace with the rest of us, regardless of whether field guides change or not.