Every year BirdLife South Africa releases an official checklist of the country’s birds. If you are an African BirdLife subscriber, you’ll likely have received a complimentary copy with the magazine before and electronic versions are also available. Behind the scenes, a lot of work needs to go into updating this list every year.
The BirdLife South Africa List Committee, which consists of top local ornithologists and birders, meets annually to decide on updates to this list. New records for the country need to be added, provided that they have been accepted by the BirdLife South Africa Rarities Committee, and changes to the names and classification of birds have to be included in order to keep up to date with the latest in ornithological taxonomy.
Taxonomy is the science of classifying and naming living organisms based on how closely related they are evolutionary. When ornithologists discover that two species which were once regarded as different, are in fact close enough related to be regarded as one species, this combination of species is known as a lump in the birding world. On the other hand, when what was once regarded as one species is now discovered to be two more-distantly related species, birders refer to this as a split.
Several ‘listing authorities’ around the world keep track of these taxonomic changes as well as a list of all the world’s bird species. Some of the better-known world lists include the IOC World Bird List, Clements Checklist of the Birds of the World, The Howard & Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World and HBW Alive/BirdLife International.
BirdLife South Africa considers these international changes and implements most of them in their own checklist, whilst also trying to ensure that there is some degree of stability to local bird names. For instance, eagle-eyed birders might have noticed that the BirdLife South Africa checklist has kept the name ‘Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler’ rather than changing it to ‘Chestnut-vented Warbler’ as per the IOC World Bird List.
Recently the IOC released their latest version of their international list, and with it comes several important changes which we are likely to soon see in BirdLife South Africa’s checklist as well as field guides and apps in South Africa. The adoption of these changes or not will be communicated once the National List Committee has had a chance to consider them and adjudicate. I’ve set these out the IOC’s directives below as well as a little extra information about each of them:
Here’s one change that probably won’t affect the South African list just yet, but which could be one to watch out for in the future.
So be sure to watch out for BirdLife South Africa’s next checklist and enjoy keeping your life list up to date with the latest in ornithological research! Also be sure to check out the South Africa Listers’ Club, where you can submit your total and climb the listing ranks.