Name change of Gray Jay back to the original common name of Canada Jay

The Birds of North and Middle America Checklist is the official source on the taxonomy (classification and naming of birds) of birds found in North and Middle America, including adjacent islands.  This list is produced by the AOS Committee on Classification and Nomenclature of North and Middle American Birds (NACC). The NACC produces the Checklist of North American Birds, currently in its 7th edition, as well as annual supplements to the latest edition (published in The Auk: Ornithological Advances). The complete printed version of the Checklist of North American Birds, 7th edition and its supplements are available to download.

The NACC operates on a proposal basis. Proposals are submitted by members of the committee and others, and are reviewed for taxonomic changes, English (common) name changes, acceptance of distributional records, and other items related to the charge of the committee. See this link for current and recent proposals.

In December 2017, Dan Strickland and six other members of the AOS submitted a proposal to the NACC to restore the common name of the Gray Jay to its original common name of Canada Jay (Proposal 2018-B-2: Restore Canada Jay as the English name of Perisoreus canadensis). This proposal was based largely on a historical review of names applied to the “Canada Jay” by Strickland, “How the Canada Jay Lost its Name and Why it Matters”, published in Ontario Birds in 2017.

The proposal recommended that the NACC change the official English name back to “Canada Jay” which it held from 1831 to 1957. The proposal to restore “Canada Jay” as the common name of P. canadensis was based on three main criteria: (1) both “Gray Jay” and “Canada Jay” were used concurrently for different subspecies of what were formerly P. obscurus and P. canadensis, respectively, at a time when common names were not applied to overall species names; in 1954, common names were dropped for bird subspecies and the name “Gray Jay” was adopted for the species, despite guidelines calling for the use of English names of nominate subspecies for polytypic species (in scientific nomenclature, when a species is split into two or more subspecies, the originally described population is retained as the “nominate subspecies”). (2) Failure to rescind the substitution of “Gray Jay” for “Canada Jay” ended up violating one of NACC’s nomenclatural (naming) principles, specifically to retain the traditional names whenever possible. (3) A precedent was set for another jay species in North America, whereby the Mexican Jay was officially re-designated as the ‘Gray-breasted Jay’ by the NACC in 1983, but then its original common name was restored to the Mexican Jay in 1998. In addition to its historical precedence, the name “Canada Jay” reflects the scientific name of the species and its main area of distribution.

When reviewing proposals for changes in common names, the NACC strives for stability but can reverse earlier decisions when those were made with little justification. Proposals must receive a two-thirds positive vote by Committee members to pass.

The proposal by Strickland and his co-authors was considered by the NACC and easily passed to restore the common name to Canada Jay (9 votes for to 1 against). The 59th supplement to the Checklist, with the Gray Jay to Canada Jay name change, will be published in The Auk: Ornithological Advances in July 2018. Votes and comments on the proposed change will be posted on the proposals web page.

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About the American Ornithological Society

The American Ornithological Society (AOS) is the largest international society devoted to advancing the scientific understanding of birds, enriching ornithology as a profession, and promoting a rigorous scientific basis for the conservation of birds.  AOS publishes two international journals—The Auk: Ornithological Advances, and The Condor: Ornithological Applications—which have a history of the highest scientific impact rankings among ornithological journals worldwide, and the book series, Studies in Avian Biology.  The Society’s Checklists serve as the accepted authority for scientific nomenclature and English names of birds in North, Middle, and South America. The AOS is also a partner in the online publication of The Birds of North America with the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. For more information, see www.americanornithology.org .

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