"Got Your Bills in A Cross? Debate continues as to the true number of crossbill species in Britain, Europe and beyond. David Callahan assesses the current state of the taxonomy and what is yet to come". (Birdwatch, Issue 210, p.69)
Now, clearly I will be interested to read this, as I am sure some of you will, but what exactly can this article say, and, is there really any 'debate' concerning this subject other than on Bird Forum ? Okay, Birdlife lost the plot on Scotbill a few weeks ago.....until the RSPB reminded them of the script. Nothing against Mr. Callahan, who is a good writer, but as a rule I am generally a bit wary of journalists - remember that embarrassing Glasgow Herald article on Scotbill that their 'Environmental Correspondent" wrote ? Sure there are those Scully types that don't believe in Scottish Crossbill as the evidence is flimsy, but us Mulder types continue to observe, sound record and sometimes even catch them. The Scully types are often serious listers, who in many cases rather than buy a sound recorder and microphone to ID crossbills, choose to deny its existence as they can't see any differences and instead blow their money on plane fares to Fair Isle to see a small brown bird that shouldn't be there. The BOU seem to believe in Scottish Crossbill as a species so surely that should be that, shouldn't it ? In Britain we have 3 breeding species - Common, Parrot and Scottish. Two-Barred can occur as rare migrant. So that is the current state of the taxonomy in the UK as I see it: not a pretty sight but it is what it is.
What is still to come regarding the future of Loxia taxonomy ? In UK at least how about this as a guess:
1) Further work on classification and understanding of crossbill vocalisations, with reference to speciation and irruptive populations. More 'new' calls will be discovered (and fact, already have been. One of my main areas of focus). Possible lab based studies on song and call learning (not my thing ethically).
2) More 'refined' genetics esp. for Loxia scotica, but also the others ( Not my field, but I would gladly participate in this).
3) More Stable Isotope analysis of Common Crossbill populations especially given the current irruption ( Not my area, though I have offered to gather samples).
4) Further work on biometric and taxonomic classification of Crossbill species. (I am interested in long term studies of biometric stability of a dormant crossbill population in relation to sporadic influxes from the continent. Other workers doing their own thing with bios also.)
5) Ecological studies on feeding efficiency and 'fitness' to environment ala Benkman - possibly a PhD project ? (I am doing this with field observed wild birds). Possibly supplemented in the lab using captive birds (again, not really my thing).
My participation is only small though hopefully will make a contribution. I have already got a new call here in Scotland. My project has recently suffered some major set backs though.
In USA, well I can't keep track with the number of Red Crossbill 'species' there - I reckon there will be more though......they, so far, are hands down the cutting edge in all things crossbill ( like in so many things !). I reckon they'll possibly discover a crossbill on Mars......or send a crossbill to Mars.....or a crossbill will win X Factor. Something like that.
In Europe, more could be done on the boreal 'natal' grounds of Common and Parrot Crossbills - calls, biometrics, genetics, anything ! So if anyone in Russia fancies taking up the baton, or more precisely the Telinga ? ! I am sure the Med races will be given the same 'treatment' as our own beloved scotica, and some may reach full species status (if any ornithogical body can be bothered approving it).
Roll on next copy of Birdwatch, a fine journal for the discerning 21st Century orni-enthusiast.
Crossbill Taxonomy in Action ?