Friday, May 24, 2019

MacGillivray’s Warbler

MacGillivray’s Warblers breed in the Rocky Mountains and winter in Mexico and Central America. Their range and taxonomy are both interesting, but today I write about their nomenclature. They are one of the few birds named for more than one person. Their scientific name is Geothlypis tolmiei. William Fraser Tolmie was a physician and worked for the Hudson Bay Company. He made the first recorded ascent of Mount Rainier. John Townsend named this warbler for him in 1836.

William MacGillivray was a zoologist who ultimately taught at the University of Aberdeen (Scotland) and helped write many of Audubon’s publications. Audubon gave Macgillivray scant recognition but did name this bird after him--Sylvia macgillivrayi. Unfortunately, Townsend published his description of the bird slightly before Audubon, so Townsend’s scientific name takes precedence. Audubon’s common name remains in the popular literature. 

I was delighted to band this female MacGillivray’s Warbler in our Olympia backyard on 18 May 2019. The bird was in a huckleberry thicket. Usually they are found in brushy riversides. Although relatively common, they are often hard to see.

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