During a recent field trip to a nearby national wildlife refuge, I picked up a newly published checklist of birds for the sanctuary. It identified all the more than 300-plus species of birds that have ever been seen in the sanctuary along with an indication of the relative ease of seeing each species—if it abundant, common, rare, migrant, etc. This would make a good reference. A quick glance at this new checklist got me excited. It included a species I had never seen. A new life bird! In fact, not only was it a species I had never ever seen before, it was a species I never even heard of—a double chested cormorant.
My birding companions tried to temper my enthusiasm explaining that this was more likely to be a typo than a new species. Someone had accidentally typed an “h” instead of “r,” an easy mistake. A double “crested” cormorant suddenly became a double “chested” cormorant. It would be easy to miss such a mistake. Even the most sophisticated spell-checker app would not catch this substitution. And, with hundreds of species to review, a proofreader’s eyes could easily gloss over this error and miss it entirely. When I asked a park ranger, she confirmed that it was their error, a simple mistake, not a new species. But since thousands of the new checklists had already been printed, they planned to continue using it with this minor error and would make the correction when they needed to print more copies, maybe in a year or two. The next version of the checklist would be correct.
Too bad. A double-chested cormorant sounded like an interesting bird.
This incident made me wonder how many other unusual species have been created as a result of typos, spoonerisms, and malapropisms. Minor, accidental errors could result in dozens of new species. I created the following list of new species, which could add 51 new species to my life list:
greater yellow pegs
grate crested flycatcher
I’d like to see them all. How many of these species have you seen? Or dreamed of? Have you noticed some species I missed?
About the Author
Hank Weber is a retired business executive who has nothing to do all day except relax, watch birds, and enjoy life in the Hudson River Valley, just 20 miles north of New York City. Some call him an unemployed bum. Others mostly ignore him.