The grouse are among the best-studied bird taxa worldwide. Yet, they are not “safe” from being re-named
taxonomically as new systematic studies and interpretations come along. The long-standing debate
regarding the taxonomic treatment of the spruce grouse and the Siberian grouse continues. Despite recent
phylogenetic studies that support the separation of the genera Falcipennis with the species F. falcipennis
and F. canadensis and Dendragapus (Dimcheff et el. 2002, Drovetski 2002), BirdLife International
currently classifies the Siberian grouse into the genus Dendragapus together with the spruce grouse D.
canandensis and the blue grouse D. obscurus. The American Ornithologist Union (AOU) however,
continues to separate the genera Falcipennis (F. falcipennis and F. canadensis) and Dendragapus (D.
obscurus). Also the hazel grouse is at risk of being renamed once again: although BirdLife continues to
use Bonasia bonasia, the AOU went back to Tetrastes bonasia. These debates will certainly continue as
new phylogenetic studies come along.
The new spelling of the scientific names of the Rock ptarmigan as Lagopus muta and the White-tailed
ptarmigan as L. leucura, however, is likely to last. The changes in spelling from ending –us to –a reflect
new determination of the gender of the generic name Lagopus (David & Gosselin 2002a, b) and are to
cause gender agreement of specific with the generic name. “Lagopus” has been treated virtually
universally as a masculine noun in ornithological literature of the last decades. Yet, the Latin noun
Lagopus (white grouse, ptarmigan) is feminine. To Pliny, who should have known, Lagopus was
feminine, and also Brisson, who first described the genus in 1760, consistently used feminine adjectives
in combination with Lagopus. We, who are less firm in Latin grammar, can look it up in Latin
dictionaries: no doubt, Lagopus is female. The nominate form, the willow ptarmigan, consequently
remains to be named L. lagopus.
In the past, the GSG has not played an active role in grouse taxonomy, although GSG members are
among the scientists who provide new phylogenetic insights. I would very much welcome a Taxonomy
working group within the GSG that keeps an eye on these developments, and is prepared to argue for a
consistent grouse taxonomy based on best available knowledge.
American Ornithologist Union http://www.aou.org/
BirdLife International http://www.birdlife.org
David, N. & Gosselin, M. 2002a. Gender agreement of avian species names. Bull. Brit. - Orn. Club 122(1): 14-68
David, N. & Gosselin, M. 2002b. The grammatical gender of avian genera. Bull. Brit. - Orn. Club 122(4): 257-282
Dimcheff, D.E., Drovetski, S.V. & Mindell, D.P. 2002. Phylogeny of Tetraoninae and other galliform birds using mitochondrial 12S and ND2 genes. - Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 24: 203-215.