Taxonomy


 HBW and BirdLife Taxonomic Checklist v4 (current version)

BirdLife International uses the taxonomy published in the two volumes of the HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World and subsequent updates.

BirdLife uses this list as the basis for much of its global, regional and national priority-setting work, including, for example, the assessment of all birds for the IUCN Red List, and the identification of Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs). However, some national BirdLife Partners may use other checklists and taxonomic sources that are particularly relevant in their context.

Download an Excel version of the current list here.

Download a PDF version of the current list here.

The Excel version of the Checklist includes the scientific and common names used, the authority (for the original description of the taxon), the latest global IUCN Red List category (e.g. Extinct, Vulnerable, Least Concern, etc.), taxonomic notes where relevant, and a record ID number unique to the taxonomic entity. Previously recognised taxa are also included and distinguished as ‘Not recognised’. In addition the zipped file contains an Excel file listing taxonomic and status changes in the current version, plus tabs listing those species that have updated range maps and factsheets. There is also a separate Word copy of the taxonomic references and this taxonomic approach document. The pdf version is the static version of the current Checklist.

The HBW/BirdLife International Taxonomic Working Group makes decisions on modifications to the Checklist, making extensive use of systematic criteria by which species rank can be consistently assessed where this is necessary (e.g. for newly described species or proposed splits). These criteria (Tobias et al. 2010) involve weighting morphological and acoustic differences as compared with the nearest believed relative, and are particularly intended to help make decisions involving allopatric taxa (as opposed to those in sympatric, parapatric or hybrid zone situations, where the situation is generally clearer).

Further details on the basis of the Checklist, the application of these criteria and the incorporation of molecular data are given in the Introductions to the two published volumes;

Introduction to Volume 1: Non-passerines
Introduction to Volume 2: Passerines

Maintaining and updating the BirdLife taxonomic list

BirdLife International is the IUCN Red List authority for birds, so the list of species recognised by BirdLife forms the list of bird species in the IUCN Red List. BirdLife’s taxonomic list is also followed by a number of international conservation agreements, such as the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) and the EU Birds Directive. It is vital, therefore, that it is kept up to date and widely communicated to the conservation and scientific worlds.

From 2014, BirdLife joined forces with Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW) to produce the HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World, with volumes for non-passerines published in 2014, and for passerines in 2016. Our annually updated list in Excel format became renamed as the Handbook of the Birds of the World and BirdLife International digital checklist of the birds of the world. This also formed the taxonomic underpinning of HBW Alive. The latest version is available to download using the links above, and earlier versions are available to download using the links below.

HBW Alive has now been integrated into Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Birds of the World platform. As Cornell uses a slightly different taxonomy to that used by BirdLife, the list of species displayed in Birds of the World does not exactly match the BirdLife list. BirdLife and Cornell are working to align their checklists so that one day we hope that the species displayed in Birds of the World will exactly match those on the BirdLife Data Zone and the IUCN Red List, but this is a process that may take some time. BirdLife will continue to update its checklist on an annual basis, reflecting both the discovery of new species and, more frequently, changes to existing species limits based on the latest research. We will continue to use and promote the objective scoring methods that make the BirdLife list unique in the transparency and objectivity of its decision-making, and will continue to provide full justification for the changes adopted. We welcome input to the taxonomic work undertaken, and anyone can propose taxonomic issues or provide new information for consideration by the BirdLife Taxonomic Working Group by posting a message on the taxonomic change proposals section of the BirdLife Globally Threatened Bird Forum or email: taxonomy@birdlife.org. Once revisions to the current treatment are adopted, there is a necessary time-lag before revised taxa are assessed against the IUCN Red List Criteria and subsequently published on the BirdLife Data Zone and IUCN Red List websites, and included in new versions of the Checklist, which are typically released at the end of each year.

The taxonomic notes presented in the two volumes of the Illustrated Checklist that explain the reasoning and evidence behind taxonomic decisions and previously available online in HBW Alive can be downloaded here. We are also working to make each one available in the relevant species factsheets on the BirdLife Data Zone. The details and results of the acoustic analyses undertaken to support many of these decisions can be downloaded here, and the morphometric measurements taken from hundreds of museum specimens to support many of these decisions can be downloaded here.

The evolution of HBW Alive therefore does not mean there will be any reduction in effort on the part of BirdLife to maintain, update and promote our objective and transparent taxonomic checklist to support conservation and science.

Archive of earlier versions of the Checklist

Prior to the publication of the first volume of the HBW/BirdLife Checklist (for Non-passerines) in 2014 and the second volume (for Passerines) in 2016, BirdLife published an annually updated taxonomic checklist based on the taxonomies followed in a number of regional lists.