Discovering 51 New Species

Double-crested cormorant photo by Pxfuel.com

During a recent field trip to a nearby national wildlife refuge, I picked up a newly published checklist of birds for the sanctuary.  It identified all the more than 300-plus species of birds that have ever been seen in the sanctuary along with an indication of the relative ease of seeing each species—if it abundant, common, rare, migrant, etc. This would make a good reference. A quick glance at this new checklist got me excited. It included a species I had never seen. A new life bird! In fact, not only was it a species I had never ever seen before, it was a species I never even heard of—a double chested cormorant.

My birding companions tried to temper my enthusiasm explaining that this was more likely to be a typo than a new species. Someone had accidentally typed an “h” instead of “r,” an easy mistake. A double “crested” cormorant suddenly became a double “chested” cormorant. It would be easy to miss such a mistake. Even the most sophisticated spell-checker app would not catch this substitution. And, with hundreds of species to review, a proofreader’s eyes could easily gloss over this error and miss it entirely. When I asked a park ranger, she confirmed that it was their error, a simple mistake, not a new species. But since thousands of the new checklists had already been printed, they planned to continue using it with this minor error and would make the correction when they needed to print more copies, maybe in a year or two. The next version of the checklist would be correct.

Too bad. A double-chested cormorant sounded like an interesting bird.

Double-crested cormorant by S. Hillebrand / USFWS

This incident made me wonder how many other unusual species have been created as a result of typos, spoonerisms, and malapropisms. Minor, accidental errors could result in dozens of new species. I created the following list of new species, which could add 51 new species to my life list:

shallow-tailed kite

purple pinch

coat-tailed grackle

sharp-chinned hawk

mink parakeet

brown trasher

ring-necked peasant

Canada moose

turkey culture 

cinnamon seal

red-jellied woodpecker

march wren

American woodsock

loyal tern

showy egret

yield sparrow

melted kingfisher

Kermit thrush

black-and-right warbler

sharp-nailed sparrow

white-laced ibis

turfbird

mellow warbler

common loan

bone-tailed hawk

self owl

snooty shearwater

mouse sparrow

moot swan

little stunt

cork-tailed flycatcher

gong sparrow

red-beaded woodpecker

greater yellow pegs

doofus hummingbird

golden beagle

sharp-chinned hawk

advocate

downy woodchipper

violent-green swallow

rusted blackbird

bread-billed sandpiper

gay jay

corked-tail flycatcher

mild turkey

spouse grouse

grate crested flycatcher

string-billed gull

white-laced ibis

least sandpaper

muddy duck

I’d like to see them all. How many of these species have you seen? Or dreamed of? Have you noticed some species I missed?

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