Working Group Avian Checklists


There have been several meetings of the WGAC and there is good progress on the development of the world birdlist database.  A further positive development is that last month the taxonomic team for Birdlife International became participants in WGAC. Paul Donald is their representative and joins both the Executive and Taxonomic Teams of WGAC.

January 2021
Les Christidis

A major IOU initiative

Nacunda Nighthawk (<em>Chordeiles nacunda</em>), Brazilian pantanal, June 2018 © Carol Smith

Building on the IOC World Bird List begun by Frank Gill and David Donsker, the International Ornithologists’ Union (IOU) has formed the Working Group on Avian Checklists (WGAC) with a broadened purpose and function. Its primary purpose will be to produce and maintain on the IOU website an open-access global checklist of birds in the mould of the great Peters-Mayr checklist of the 20th century and intended to serve as the benchmark reference for all taxa of the class Aves. Eminent representatives of the international community of professional avian systematists will compile and maintain it. 

It will classify the Aves from class to subspecies based on up-to-date, corroborative information on the phylogeny of birds and the differentiation of species and subspecies. It will also provide authors and references to the original description of all taxa of all ranks covered by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). Type localities for species and subspecies, and type taxa for all ranks from subgenus to superfamily will be specified. Sources for taxonomic and nomenclatural decisions also will be referenced. Although English names for species will be drawn primarily from the IOC World Bird List, modifications to better align with preferences of checklist committees of individual continents, such as the North American Checklist Committee (NACC) and South American Checklist Committee (SACC) will also be incorporated. Geographic distributions will synchronize with those in the Birds of the World project. Ultimately, type data and deposition for species-group names and synonyms are planned for inclusion as well. 

For this enormous undertaking, the WGAC will be split into two teams overseen by its Chair. One, the taxonomic team, will be responsible for all classificatory decisions and for the geographical distribution of species-group taxa. To ensure the highest standards and authority, this team will comprise leading avian systematists specializing in different avifaunal regions around the globe. The other team will comprise experienced bibliographers who will provide authors, dates, references to original publications of names, type data and nomenclatural explanations.

Heading the project are Les Christidis, WGAC Chair and former co-editor of the passerine volume of the Howard & Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World edition 4; Frank Rheindt, WGAC deputy chair and ICZN Commissioner; and David Donsker from the IOC World Bird List, who will coordinate the bibliographic entry program. Members of checklist committees of individual continents are also included, such as the NACC and SACC.

Under the direction of Marshall Iliff, eBird project leader, the technical infrastructure, database, and linkages to external digital resources will be coordinated at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, one of the foremost interfaces between ornithological science and the broader ornithological community in the world. The database will be built in collaboration with Denis Lepage, creator of Avibase, and firmly rooted in the adoption of taxonomic concepts. Taxonomic concepts, an organizational structure for taxonomies that already has been applied by Avibase across all major checklists, will not only allow us to better understand differences among existing lists, but also will be used to track future taxon changes over time and ensure that external data resources are accurately linked. Avibase already acts as a repository for much of the information WGAC hopes to maintain and will continue to play a key role in the maintenance of the new global list.

The final checklist will produce more than just a hierarchical list of species and recommended names. It will provide, through its detailed fields and connections to external references, the basic information for all ornithology – professional ornithologists, citizen scientists, conservationists and students – to draw on the full record of diversity of earth’s birdlife.   

Composition of WGAC

Executive Committee

Les Christidis (Chair)
Frank Rheindt (Deputy Chair)
David Donsker
Pam Rasmussen
Richard Schodde
Tom Schulenberg
Marshall Iliff
Denis Lepage
Paul Donald


Taxonomic Committee

Frank Rheindt (Chair)
Pam Rasmussen
Richard Schodde
Tom Schulenberg
Terry Chesser
Per Alström
Paul Donald
Juan Ignacio Areta (Nacho)


Bibliographic Committee

David Donsker (Chair)
Frank Rheindt
Richard Schodde
Alan Peterson
Frederik Brammer

Technical Team

Marshall Iliff (Chair)
Denis Lepage
David Donsker
Jeffrey Gerbracht