"Wisdom begins with putting the right name on a thing"
(Old Chinese Proverb)


A brief description of the range of each species is available on the spreadsheets. This range information is broad stroke.  With a few exceptions, we describe original ranges, not locations where a species is introduced. John Penhallurick’s website World Bird Info provides detailed ranges of species and subspecies (in progress).

We consulted many excellent resources in compiling the ranges.  These include Howard & Moore’s Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World, Internet Bird Collection and HBW,  The Clements Checklist of the Birds of the World, John Penhallurick’s World Bird Info/Bird Data Project,  the various Handbook series including Africa,  Australia and New Zealand, Europe and North Africa, numerous field guides and many primary sources.   We thank those who corrected and commented as we posted preliminary versions and look forward to more input.

The  ranges on the spreadsheet are presented in a two column format. The first column provides the  geographical region(s) at the most general level: North America, Australasia,  Pacific Ocean, and so on. The second column adds a qualifier such as (1) “widespread” to “e, se” referring to the general region specified  in the first column or  (2) the  specific countries or parts thereof, for  example “e, ne China” to “New Caledonia.” A third column adds  a species’ non-breeding range if it differs substantially from the breeding range.  Geographical terminology and abbreviations  include  the following:

A.  General regions
  • North  America (NA)–includes the Caribbean
  • Middle  America (MA)—Mexico through Panama
  • South  America (SA)
  • Latin  America (LA)—Middle & South America: Replaced with MA, SA 6.3
  • Africa  (AF)—entire continent rather than south of Sahara
  • Eurasia  (EU)–Europe, Asia from the Middle East through central Asia north of the  Himalayas, Siberia and northern China to Japan.
  • Oriental  Region (OR)–South Asia from Pakistan to Taiwan, plus southeast Asia, the Philippines  and Greater Sundas.
    • Beaman 1994 (Palearctic Birds: A Checklist of the Birds of Europe, North Africa and Asia north of the foothills of the Himalayas), provides a working definition of the boundary between the Palearctic and Oriental regions, which can be summarised as follows, courtesy of Richard Klim: “In southern Asia the boundary runs from the Makran coast of Pakistan at Ras Ormara northwards to the Harboi Hills and the mountains of Quetta, and along the Sulaiman Range. The line then runs along  the mountainous borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the main range of the Himalayas, the mountains at the extreme northernmost tip of Myanmar, the Lijiang Range in northern Yunnan and the mountainous western margins of the Red Basin of Sichuan [species included are limited to those known to occur at or above: 2000m in northwestern Pakistan and adjacent Afghanistan, the northwestern Himalayas (Pakistan/Kashmir) and central/northern Sichuan; 2500m in the western Himalayas (Himachal Pradesh), northern Yunnan and southern Sichuan; and 2800m in the eastern Himalayas (Nepal to Arunachal Pradesh) and northernmost Myanmar].  In eastern China, the boundary follows the Yangtze/Huang Ho watershed in southern Gansu, the Qinlang Shan in Shaanxi, and then the 34°N line to the Yellow Sea coast.  On the Pacific fringe, the Nansei, Daito, Kazan and Ogasawara Islands are included.
  • Australasia  (AU)–Wallacea (Indonesian islands east of Wallace’s  Line), New Guinea and its islands, Australia, New Zealand and its subantarctic islands, the Solomons,  New Caledonia and Vanuatu.
  • Atlantic,  Pacific, Indian, Tropical, Temperate, Northern & Southern Oceans (AO, PO, IO, TrO, TO, NO, SO)
  • Antarctica  (AN)
  • Southern  Cone (So. Cone) includes Argentina and Chile south of the Tropic of Capricorn,  also Falkland Islands.
B.  Regional Qualifiers
  • Regions  of continents or countries by compass (n,e,s,w)
  • Formal  subregions. The Oriental region, for example,  includes South Asia (Pakistan to Taiwan and south to Sri Lanka, i.e all Indian subcontinent, plus southern China and  Taiwan, but not Burma) and Southeast Asia (Indochina Peninsula from Burma east to  s Vietnam, south to Singapore).
  • Country  name(s).
  • Islands—specific  or groups (Gr Sundas =  Sumatra, Borneo, and Java).
  • Landscape  feature-Tepuis, Amazonia, Mediterranean Sea,  Caribbean, Antarctic Peninsula, Arabian Peninsula, and so on.

The ranges of subspecies on the IOC World Bird List are meant to differentiate among the conspecific taxa but not to describe in detail the full range or provide a word map for each subspecies.  To that end, we have used the broadest strokes possible and have largely avoided geographical names (lakes, mountains, etc) and political sub-units  (states and provinces). Each general region is intended to be as clear as possible without requiring the supplemental research that might be necessitated by the use of local names – both current and historic.  For example, “ne South Africa” is preferred over “Transvaal” or a list of modern South African provinces and “se Australia” prevails over “s New South Wales and Victoria.”  This convention is used as long as those general ranges distinguish one subspecies from the other(s).  If more local and precise areas had to be used, a broader reference follows in parentheses e.g. Taita Hills  (sw Kenya), sc Oregon  (nw USA) or n Baja California  (nw Mexico).  Also avoided are references to states and provinces that become unwieldy and confusing when modifiers are added – “s Australia” rather than “sw and sc South Australia” or “se South Africa” rather than “e Eastern Cape Province.”

Rather than name all of the countries in which a subspecies occurs, we give the extremes so that one could draw an imaginary, blurry line around the area on a map remembering that there are intergrade zones between many of these subspecies.   This is not meant to indicate that the subspecies occurs continuously within this area; many, if not most, have discontinuous distributions.  Non-breeding ranges are added where they differ significantly from breeding ranges, sometimes just the extreme location to which that subspecies might move  (“to n Peru”).

Decisions regarding country names continue to challenge us.  There are political issues  – Tibet or Xizang?   Burma or Myanmar?  Isle of Pines or Isle of Youth?  Even spelling and capitalization are not always simple, especially because range descriptions in primary and secondary sources are not consistent –  Malukus or Moluccas?   Suriname or Surinam?  w Papuan islands or West Papuan Islands?  n Natuna Is. or North Natuna Is.?    In numerous instances, large, well-known areas have had to be treated as independent, stand-alone entities (e.g. Alaska, Siberia, Himalayas) to avoid some confusing and awkward situations.  For example, does “nw USA” refer to Alaska or to Washington and Oregon?

Sally Conyne

April 2012