Taxonomy of the Atlas Long-legged Buzzard revisited

“A new study showed that ‘Atlas Long-legged Buzzard’ is composed of individuals with admixed genomes of Long-legged Buzzard (rufinus) and Common Buzzard (buteo + vulpinus), but with closer relationship with the latter. The study thus suggested that cirtensis should be treated as a subspecies of Common Buzzard”.

Details: Atlas Long-legged Buzzard is actually a Common Buzzard.

A new North African subspecies of Common Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

Svensson, L. 2015. A new North African subspecies of Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 135: 69–76.

In this recent taxonomic paper, Lars Svensson described a new subspecies of Common Chaffinch from north Cyrenaica, Libya: Fringilla coelebs harterti subsp. novUntil now, the birds breeding in this region were generally included in Fringilla coelebs africana.


A new subspecies of Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs in North Africa is described. It is restricted to northern Cyrenaica in north-east Libya. Differences from the other North African subspecies, F. c. africana and F. c. spodiogenys, are discussed, the main ones being that males invariably possess a prominent white patch on the central nape, a hint of a white post-ocular supercilium, a more yellowish tinge both above and below, stronger yellow fringes to the tertials and wing-coverts, and a less clean blue-grey head. Reasons for not recognising the subspecies F. c. koenigi are reconfirmed. There is some variation in size and in saturation of male plumage within the range of africana, making separation of koenigi untenable.

First posted in MaghrebOrnitho.


Fringilla coelebs harterti :تم وصف نوع فرعي جديد من الحسون الظالم في شمال برقة، شمال شرق ليبيا

Fringilla coelebs africana :حتى الآن، يتم عادة إدراج الحسون الظالم الدي يتوالد في هذه المنطقة في النوع الفرعي

Libyan Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs harterti): a new subspecies found only in Cyrenaica,north-east Libya.
Libyan Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs harterti): a new subspecies found only in Cyrenaica, north-east Libya (photo: Encyclopedia of Wild Birds in Libya – موسوعة الطيور البرية في ليبيا).
Libyan Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs harterti): a new subspecies found only in Cyrenaica,north-east Libya
Libyan Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs harterti): a new subspecies found only in Cyrenaica, north-east Libya. (‎photo: Encyclopedia of Wild Birds in Libya – موسوعة الطيور البرية في ليبيا) ‎

A review of the identification criteria and variability of the Slender-billed Curlew

Corso, A., Jansen, J. & Kókay, Sz., 2014.  A review of the identification criteria and variability of the  Slender-billed Curlew. British Birds 107: 339-370.
PDF in

Abstract and a taster (4 pages) of the paper at British Birds‘ website:

This paper presents a complete review of all proposed identification characters for the Slender-billed Curlew Numenius tenuirostris. The review is based primarily on examination of museum specimens, but also on photographs of live birds. All characters were examined from scratch, so the analysis provides a revalidation of some criteria while challenging others. The most useful features for the identification of Slender-billed Curlew were found to be: the colour and pattern of the underside of the outer primaries; pattern and extent of the tibial feathering and length of exposed tibia; leg colour; pattern of the tail feathers; and shape of the dark flank markings. All other proposed features were found to overlap to some extent with some Eurasian Curlews N. arquata.

Since the mid 1990s, when the species was seen on the last-known regular wintering grounds, in Morocco, curlews showing characters associated with Slender-billed Curlew have been reported from several countries, including England, Greece, Hungary, Italy and Spain. These reports have generated considerable and ongoing debate and this paper should provide a key baseline for any future reviews.

Identification of the Slender-billed Curlew (Szabolcs Kókay/ British Birds, 2014)
Identification of the Slender-billed Curlew (Szabolcs Kókay / British Birds, 2014)

Genetic variability in the Eurasian Stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus)

Mori, A., Baldaccini, N. E., Baratti, M., Caccamo, C., Dessì-Fulgheri, F., Grasso, R., Nouira, S., Ouni, R., Pollonara, E., Rodriguez-Godoy, F.,Spena, M.T., Giunchi, D. (2014). A first assessment of genetic variability in the Eurasian Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus. Ibis 156(3): 687–692. doi:10.1111/ibi.12164


The Eurasian Stone-curlew is a species of conservation concern in Europe. We investigate for the first time the extent of population structure among populations sampled from six geographical areas, representing four subspecies inhabiting the western part of the species’ distribution. Neither mitochondrial nor nuclear markers fully supported current subspecies boundaries. However, both markers support significant differentiation of the Canary Island populations from those sampled from the Mediterranean. Further work is needed to establish the taxonomic status of this potentially distinct Macaronesian taxon. More broadly, further genetic research is required to design and implement an effective conservation plan for this species.


On the systematic status of the Cyrenaic Partridge (Alectoris barbata)

Spanò, S., Pellegrino, I., & Borgo, E. (2013). On the systematic status of the Cyrenaic Partridge (Alectoris barbata Reichenow, 1896)Avocetta 37: 145-148.
PDF from CISO – Centro Italiano Studi Ornitologici


Some considerations on the morphological features that differentiate Alectoris barbara barbata from A. b. barbara are exposed, and are also reported the results of a genetic investigation performed on historical specimens. Results showed a considerable genetic distance (0.06), certainly enough to consider it an ESU (Evolutionary Significant Unit), but most likely a separate species.

Cyrenaic Partridge (Alectoris barbara barbata)
Cyrenaic Partridge – Alectoris (barbara) barbata – حجل برقة

Maghreb Wheatear (Oenanthe halophila) could be a new North African endemic

Schweizer, M. & Shirihai, H. (2013). Phylogeny of the  Oenanthe lugens complex (Aves, Muscicapidae: Saxicolinae): Paraphyly of a morphologically cohesive group within a recent radiation of open-habitat chats. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 69 (3): 450–461. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2013.08.010

The new phylogenetic study was inconclusive regarding the Maghreb Wheatear split from the Mourning Wheatear complex. However, it should be split by applying the integrative approach toward species delimitation as was applied in other cases including in the genus Oenanthe. 

La nouvelle étude phylogénétique n’a pas été concluante en ce qui concerne l’élévation au rang d’espèce du Traquet halophile Oenanthe halophila (c’est-à-dire le “split” entre ce taxon et le Traquet deuil Oenanthe lugens). Cependant, il devrait être “splité” en appliquant l’approche intégrative à la délimitation des espèces, comme cela a été appliqué dans d’autres cas, y compris dans le genre Oenanthe


The morphologically inferred Oenanthe lugens complex comprises nine taxa of open-habitat chats which occur in rocky and/or mountainous areas adjacent to the Saharo-Sindian desert belt. It has traditionally been divided into the lugubris group of north-east Africa, the lugentoides group of the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula and the lugens group of North Africa and the Middle East. Previous molecular phylogenetic studies have shown that the O. lugens complex might not be monophyletic. However, it remained unclear how this result might have been affected by incomplete taxon sampling, as the lugentoides group and two out of three taxa of the lugubris group have not been analyzed so far. In this study, we present a phylogenetic hypothesis of the O. lugens complex based on two mitochondrial genes and one nuclear intron using, for the first time, a complete taxon sampling. The application of a multispecies coalescent approach allowed us to simultaneously estimate the sequence and timing of speciation events.

The O. lugens complex was consistently revealed as a polyphyletic assemblage and the traditionally recognized groups should be treated as at least three different species: O. lugens, Oenanthe lugubris, and Oenanthe lugentoides. While O. lugubris and O. lugentoides were revealed to be sister groups, O. lugens was found to be closely related to the species pair Oenanthe chrysopygia/Oenanthe xanthoprymna. The latter differ quite strongly in morphology and have traditionally not been associated with members of the lugens complex. We thus corroborate the results of previous studies, which demonstrated that morphology seems to be a poor predictor of phylogenetic relationships in Oenanthe. In contrast to the mtDNA markers analyzed, it was revealed that differences among taxa were not fixed in the nuclear intron. In the case of the taxa persica of the lugens group, an influence of introgression in autosomal markers cannot be excluded and deserves further study. The three species O. lugens, O. lugubris, and O. lugentoides and their associated taxa comprise a comparatively young radiation, which started to diversify in the Pliocene with major diversification events during the Pleistocene. The different taxa seem to have evolved during periods of increased aridity in isolation in rocky mountainous areas adjacent to hyper arid regions.

Distribution of the 9 different taxa of Oenanthe lugens complex
Distribution of the 9 different taxa of Oenanthe lugens complex. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2013.08.010
Maghreb Wheatear - Traquet halophile - Oenanthe (lugens) halophila, Batna, Algeria
Maghreb Wheatear – Traquet halophile (Oenanthe halophila), Batna, Algeria (photo: Raouf Guechi)

Subalpine Warbler split into three different species

Western Subalpine Warbler (Sylvia inornata iberiae)

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.

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

This is based on a much detailed blog-post published at MaghrebOrnitho.

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)

Phylogeographic history of the Houbara–Macqueen’s bustard complex as revealed by mitochondrial DNA

Korrida, A. and Schweizer, M. (2014). Diversification across the Palaearctic desert belt throughout the Pleistocene: phylogeographic history of the Houbara–Macqueen’s bustard complex (Otididae: Chlamydotis) as revealed by mitochondrial DNAJournal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 52 (1): 65-74.

Studies on the influence of Pleistocene climatic fluctuations and associated habitat changes on arid-adapted bird species living in the Holarctic region are comparatively rare. In contrast to temperate species, the populations of arid-adapted avian species might be characterized by low genetic differentiation because periods of population isolation were associated with the short interglacial periods, while population expansion events might have occurred during the longer glacial periods when steppe-like vegetation might have been prevalent. In this study, we tested this hypothesis in a widespread arid-adapted taxon of the Palaearctic desert belt, the Houbara–Macqueen’s bustard complex. The later includes the Houbara bustard Chlamydotis undulata, comprising the North African subspecies Chlamydotis u. undulata and Chlamydotis u. fuertaventurae from the Canary Islands, and the Asian Macqueen’s bustard Chlamydotis macqueenii. A long fragment (1042 bp) of the Cyt-b gene was investigated in 39 representatives of the two species to assess phylogenetic and phylogeographic patterns, and demographic history and to compute divergence time estimates using a Bayesian relaxed molecular clock approach based on different coalescent priors. While the two species are genetically distinct, we found little intraspecific genetic differentiation. The divergence time of the two species falls within a period of extreme aridity at around 0.9 million years ago, which most likely resulted in an east–west vicariance along the Arabo-Saharan deserts. Differentiation within Houbara and Macqueen’s bustard occurred later during the Middle to Upper Pleistocene, and as we have predicted, periods of range expansion were associated to the last glacial period at least in the Macqueen’s bustard.