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Birds of The Western Palearctic

Forms not Species

Whilst travelling abroad I have made efforts to see every form that a species occurs in, so that I could do some armchair ticking in future years. With the continual flux created by several taxonomic authorities who seem to be pulling in different directions, I have been able to add many new species, but have also lost some. It has become apparent that there is no systematic plan to the work of these authorities. Their efforts are not spread evenly throughout the range of families or zoogeographic regions.

We live in hope that one day all will become clear and the list of species that we base our interest upon will become stable. This, sadly, is a forlorn hope and the situation is likely to become more fluid. In the future there will be many new species that are split on the grounds of genetics or distribution. As the scientific world uses ever more complex ways of defining species, e.g. DNA testing, then our world of field ornithology becomes less well defined. There will be many species that we cannot identify in the field, but that should not be viewed with dismay, but more as an opportunity to expand our knowledge and ability.

I have never understood the terminology ‘showing the characteristics of’ when applied to subspecies. This wording for me confers uncertainty to records purely because a form does not stand up to the current tenuous definition of a species. I clearly remember when a Water Pipit was ‘supposedly’ identified one year, when it was a subspecies, and then was a ‘clear cut’ record of a full species the next year. I have often heard people referring to birds as only a subspecies and I wonder how many of us have not entered a record in our notebooks just because this was so.

With the unstable nature of species definition in mind, I formulated a list for travelling abroad so that I looked for everything ‘of interest’. I suggest that as field ornithologists we should use a similar list of birds that incorporates all ‘Forms of the World’. A form would simply be a type of bird that can be distinguished from any other type of bird and not defined necessarily at species/ subspecies levels.

There must have been purpose behind the evolution of such forms, so as birdwatchers, we should value these evolutionary efforts equally. I am sure that every individual bird cannot be attributed to a specific form, but that will be a catalyst to improving the ability of birdwatchers and the quality of literature in the future. If the improvements of the last 25 years can be continued then who knows what skills the birdwatcher in the mid 21st century will have. It might also impress upon birders that birdwatching is not a black and white art and that you cannot identify everything!

What effects would this have: the efforts of the amateur ornithologists spaced slightly further from the scientific world? This would offer much scope for furtherance of ornithology – the more information that could be collected the better. Filtering this information to incorporate the currently accepted structure being used by the scientific world would be extremely simple. All bird data will be held on computer databases where complex searches are easily executed. Then when the next advances are made in avian systematics, data would already exist in the appropriate form for new species that might otherwise have been under observed.

This list of the Forms of the Western Palearctic is suppose to be a discussion list and is not a difinitive list. The list on which this database is based was just for my own use and originally was not intended for distribution. I would appreciate suggested improvements to the list (e.g. more appropriate names, more up-to-date information) and I shall attempt to expand and update the database regularly.

The database contains 16 fields:

  • Form name:- Form names. Latin name:- Latin names.
  • Species/Subspecies:- Current taxonomic status.
  • Status:- Currently accepted or not by relevant authority.
  • Records:- Accidental or feral.
  • Location:- Country data relates to records field.
  • Other name:- Other names.
  • Taxonomy:- Group details of more complex species.
  • Extras:- Migration details etc..
  • SMf:- Sibley & Monroe family number.
  • SMs:- Sibley & Monroe species number.
  • HMf:- Howard & Moore family number.
  • HMs:- Howard & Moore species order.
  • Distribution:- Occurances on island groups can be searched for(to be improved).
  • Ref:- References(to be improved) w=BWP.


The database has been compiled from sources including: The Handbook of British Birds – Witherby, Sibley & Monroe – Checklist of the Birds of the World, Howard & Moore – Checklist of the Birds of the World, Clements – Checklist of the Birds of the World, The Birds of the Western Palearctic – Cramp, List of the Birds of the Western Palearctic – Birding World.