Standardizing the Classification of North American Birds for Research and Conservation

Science Center Objects

The Challenge: Federal and state government agencies, NGOs, scientists, and authors of field guides and other literature need a standardized classification of birds to provide the taxonomic and nomenclatural foundation for bird research, conservation, and education in North America. These public agencies, private individuals, and organizations rely on the latest developments in systematics,  taxonomy, and classification to determine the appropriate units for scientific study and conservation. The challenge is to incorporate the latest science into current classifications so that they can guide scientific and management activities.

The Science: The American Ornithologists’ Union formed the AOU Committee on Classification and Nomenclature to provide a standard taxonomy for the birds of North America. This committee, established in 1883, has been chaired by Patuxent scientists for the past 20 years. The committee evaluates and codifies the latest scientific developments in the systematics of North American birds, based on scientific research both by committee members and outside researchers. Decisions of the committee provide the standard taxonomic and nomenclatural foundation for resource managers, scientists, and the public. The committee publishes the AOU Checklist of North American Birds and its annual supplements, which are relied on as the authority on North American avian diversity and classification, and provide an authoritative reference for the implementation of legislative and management mandates.

The Future: Knowledge of avian diversity, systematics, and taxonomy is increasing at an unprecedented rate, as new types of data and new methodologies provide better and more accurate scientific information on species limits, evolutionary relationships, and other aspects of bird systematics. The committee will continue to conduct and evaluate scientific research and translate the results into a framework for use by DOI and other government agencies, research scientists, NGOs, and others. The committee will periodically publish new editions of the AOU Checklist of North American Birds and will update the Checklist through annual supplements published in the scientific journal The Auk: Ornithological Advances. These publications will continue to inform resource management, scientific study, education, and other activities that promote the conservation and well-being of North American birds.