Subalpine Warbler split into three different species

In a new paper, prominent ornithologist Lars Svensson summarised the recent research on the taxonomy of the Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans) and recommended the split of the complex into three separate species:

– Western Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia inornata), with two subspecies: inornata and iberiae (a new subspecies described in the paper for the birds breeding in the Iberian Peninsula, southern France and extreme north-west Italy),

– Eastern Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia cantillans), with two subspecies: cantillans and albistriata, and

– Moltoni’s Warbler (Sylvia subalpina, monotypic).

The taxon cantillans, historically associated with western birds (i.e. from Iberia), is now one of the subspecies of the Eastern Subalpine Warbler because the type specimen of cantillans is a bird collected from Italy and found out to belong to the Eastern Subalpine Warbler. And that’s why Lars Svensson created a new name for the Iberian birds (Sylvia inornata iberiae).

North African birds:

With this taxonomic revision, Subalpine Warbler breeding in north-west Africa which were known as Sylvia cantillans inornata becomes the nominate subspecies of the Western Subalpine Warbler Sylvia inornata inornata.

Identification challenge:

The identification in the field of members of this complex, especially females and juveniles, is not always as straightforward as it may seems. To have a test, check out this bird found by Andrea Corso, Michele Viganò, Ottavio Janni and their colleagues (MISC) in the Sicilian island of Linosa.

Svensson, L. 2013. A taxonomic revision of the Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillansBulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 133: 240-248.

Update (November):

A new paper about the identification of different species in the ‘Subalpine Warbler complex’ has just been published by Lars Svensson:

Svensson, L. 2013. Subalpine Warbler variation and taxonomy. British Birds 106 (11): 651-668.

SourceMoroccan Birds.

Map of the breeding ranges of all five taxa of the subalpine warbler complex.

Map of the breeding ranges of all five taxa of the Subalpine Warbler complex. The grey zone in the north of Italy is of the intergradation between subalpina and cantillans. The points are locations with proven cases of sympatry. The map constructed by Lars Svensson from Shirihai et al (2001), Brambilla et al (2006), and comments from M. Ullman (© Lars Svensson).

Moltoni’s Warbler (Sylvia subalpine)

Moltoni’s Warbler (Sylvia subalpina), Mallorca, Spain (© José Luis Copete)

 Western Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia inornata iberiae)

Western Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia inornata iberiae), Portugal. (Rodrigo Saldanha de Almeida on flickr, licence: CC-by)

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