The Armchair Tick

No, not the kind of tick that sucks your blood.  The kind that birders lust after.

I recently learned that the IOC decided to re-split the Yellow-rumped Warbler back in March.  As birders know, the eastern and western subspecies of our common “butterbut,” the Myrtle Warbler and the Audubon’s Warbler, used to be considered separate species until they were lumped back in the seventies.  Well, now the International Ornithology Congress has reversed itself and split the Yellow-rump into a total of four different species, elevating a Mexican and a Guatemalan subspecies to species status as well.

The reason this is of interest to me is that my life list has just jumped from 521 to 522, with no effort whatsoever on my part.  My first armchair tick!  Suddenly I find myself eyeing other subspecies I’ve noted on the list, like the “Great White Heron” and the white-eyed Eastern Towhees in Florida and the multitudinous varieties of Dark-eyed Junco, wondering if any of them might eventually become ticks of their own.  Hmm.  Truth be told, I still find it hard to wrap my head around the fact that a committee somewhere decides what is a species and what isn’t.  Even with a degree in zoology, it can be hard to grasp how fluid and artificial the whole concept of a species is; this is, after all, an idea invented by classification-happy scientists, not Mother Nature.

In any case, congrats to any birders who reached a major life-list milestone thanks to this split… although it has to be a little anticlimactic, doncha think?

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