Wood ducks, international bird lists and
conservation: a comment on Choudhury (2020)
In BirdingASIA 33, Choudhury (2020) made the case for the
continued use of the common name White-winged Wood
Duck for Asarcornis scutulata (as opposed to White-winged
Duck used by international bird lists), due to longstanding
usage of that name in the countries in which it occurs. In
discussing some of the challenges with the use of White-
winged Wood Duck, he noted that there were several other
‘wood ducks’, and stated, ‘However, the name Australian
Wood Duck is now seldom used for Chenonetta jubata, for
which the name Maned Duck is now generally accepted’. This
is not correct. Australian Wood Duck is the agreed common
name in Australia for this Australian endemic species
(Christidis & Boles 2008, Ehmke et al. 2018, BirdLife Australia
2019) and has been since the mid-1990s when members
of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union and other
ornithological societies were asked to vote on a selection of
(contentious) common names for Australian birds (Higgins
1995). Since this time, all major Australian eld guides use
Australian Wood Duck (Morcombe 2004, Slater et al. 2009,
Simpson & Day 2010, Pizzey & Knight 2012, Menkhorst et al.
2017) and it is this name that is used by governments, NGOs
Despite this, most international bird lists use Maned
Duck, including the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Birds of
the World (Carboneras & Kirwan 2020, following Clements
et al. 2019), the ‘IOC’ World Bird List Version 10.2 (Gill et al.
2020), and the Handbook of the Birds of the World & BirdLife
International (2018) (bizarrely this source does not even list
‘Australian Wood Duck’ in the ‘Alternative common names’
section for this species). Although eBird uses Maned Duck as
a default (following Clements et al. 2019), it does recognise
Australian Wood Duck in its Australian English preferences
to ‘match prevailing usage in Australia’, largely in accord with
Christidis & Boles (2008).
This situation is not to discredit Choudhury’s (2020)
argument for the use of White-winged Wood Duck. To the
contrary, it highlights that there are already multiple species
with common names that include ‘wood duck’ and this
should not inhibit the use of White-winged Wood Duck for
Asarcornis scutulata. It also highlights the disconnect between
international lists of common bird names and local usage for
Fraser & Gray (2013) noted that while Australian Wood
Duck ‘is often placed in the same subtribe as the American
Wood Duck (genus Aix), the relationship is not particularly
close and the physical resemblance only passing. It seems
more likely that the Australian bird was named independently
for its habit of nesting and perching loudly and conspicuously
in trees away from water’. Fraser & Gray (2013) also noted that
‘Gould (1848) reported that Wood Duck was already used by
‘the Colonists of New South Wales and Swan River’, most of
whom would have been unaware of the American bird’.
In reference to local usage, Choudhury (2020) rightly
states ‘that in vernacular situations English names are
often shortened when no confusion may result, each of
these species [i.e. (American) Wood Duck Aix sponsa and
White-winged Wood Duck] is likely to be called ‘wood duck’
informally in its native range, whatever the formal, globally
applicable English names are’. This is true in Australia, where
‘wood duck’ is common vernacular for Chenonetta jubata
and ‘Australian Wood Duck’ is typically used in more formal,
As Choudhury (2020) notes, common names that
have local currency are important for public recognition
and conservation (see also Recher 2017, Ehmke et al. 2018).
Considering the parlous state of so many of the world’s birds
(BirdLife International 2018), names with local currency are
important. Recher (2017) expressed concern regarding the
limited Australian representation on the committees of
international bird lists, particularly in adjudicating on names
of Australian birds. The International Ornithologists’ Union
has recently formed the ‘Working Group on Avian Checklists’,
consisting of international expertsfrom each continent (IOU
2020) to produce and maintain an open-access global checklist
of birds, intended to serve as the benchmark reference for all
taxa and to reconcile the taxonomy and naming in the four
world bird lists (e.g. McClure et al. 2020). Although English
names for species will be drawn primarily from the IOC World
Bird List,encouragingly ‘modications to better align with
preferences of checklist committees of individual continents
will also be incorporated’ (IOU 2020).
Names such as ‘robins’, ‘ycatchers’ and ‘warblers’ are
accepted common names for dierent, unrelated families on
dierent continents. Thus, there is already good precedence
for having multiple ‘wood ducks’ in the world.
BirdLife Australia (2019) Working list of Australian birds v3. Accessed at
Working_List_v3.xlsx on 01/07/2020.
BirdLife International (2018) State of the world’s birds: taking the pulse of
the planet. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International.
Carb onera s, C. & K irw an, G . M. (2020)Man ed Du ck(Chenonetta jubata),
version 1.0. Birds of the world.Accessed at https://doi.org/10.2173/
Choudhury, A. (2020) A case for the continued use of the name White-
winged Wood Duck. BirdingASIA 33: 8–9.
Christidis, L. & Boles, W. E. (2008) Systematics and taxonomy of Australian
birds. Melbourne: CSIRO Publishing.
Letters to the Editors
BirdingASIA 34 (2020): 9–10
Clements, J. F., Schulenberg, T. S., Ili, M. J., Billerman, S. M., Fredericks,
T. A., Sullivan, B. L. & Wood, C. L. (2019) The eBird/Clements checklist
of birds of the world: v2019. Ithaca, NY, USA: Cornell Laboratory
of Ornithology. Accessed at https://www.birds.cornell.edu/
clementschecklist/download/ on 01/07/2020.
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Camacho, L., Robinson, B. W., Christidis, L., Schulenberg, T. S., Ili,
M. J., Rasmussen, P. C. & Johnson, J. (2020) Towards reconciliation
of the four world bird lists: hotspots of disagreement in taxonomy
of raptors. Proc. R. Soc. B: Biol. Sci. 287: 20200683.
Menkhorst, P., Rogers, D., Clarke, R., Davies, J., Marsack, P. & Franklin,
K. (2017) The Australian bird guide. Melbourne: CSIRO Publishing.
Morcombe, M. (2004) Field guide to Australian birds. Archerfield,
Queensland: Steve Parish Publishing.
Pizzey, G. & Knight, F. (2012) The eld guide to the birds of Australia. Ninth
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Recher, H. F. (2017) Field guides, bird names, and conservation. Pac .
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Slater, P., Slater, P. & Slater, R. (2009) The Slater eld guide to Australian
birds. Second edition. Sydney: New Holland Publishers.
James A. Fitzsimons
The Nature Conservancy
Suite 2-01, 60 Leicester Street
Carlton VIC 3053, Australia
and School of Life and Environmental Sciences
Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway
Burwood, VIC 3125, Australia
Letter's to the Editor