Proposal (769) to South American Classification Committee


Add newly described Megascops gilesi to the SACC list


Effect on AOU SACC classification: Add a new species to the South American list.


Background: In 1919, Carriker collected a Megascops that he believed to be a new species, and sent to Todd at the Carnegie Museum. Todd and Carriker (1922) identified it as “M. choliba subsp.” due to lack of material to verify it as new. In the mid-1990s Peter Boesman and Paul Coopmans were the first to document the voice of a Megascops in the Sierra de Santa Marta of northern Colombia. Nothing further was made of this population until about a decade later, when Niels Krabbe independently found and recognized this population as an undescribed species and set about to describe it. Meanwhile, the owl has been observed by many birders visiting the mountain range and was included in the Dantas et al. (2016) phylogeny of Megascops. Given its novel phylogenetic position, voice, and morphology, Krabbe (2017) described the Santa Marta bird as M. gilesi, Santa Marta Screech-Owl, providing an exhaustive survey of the vocalizations of the remaining Megascops as part of the same paper.


Analysis and recommendation: This is a distinctive species, sister, surprisingly, to a clade containing M. roboratus, M. watsonii, and M. atricapilla (even though the new species seems closer to the M. guatemalae group in voice and morphology!). It seems entirely reasonable to accept Krabbes description and include M. gilesi on the SACC roster of South American Megascops. I recommend a YES vote, and additionally that the English name Santa Marta Screech-Owl also be adopted.


Literature cited:

Dantas, S. M., J. D. Weckstein, J. M. Bates, N. K. Krabbe, C. D. Cadena, M. B. Robbins, E. Valderrama, and A. Aleixo. 2016. Molecular systematics of the new world screech-owls (Megascops: Aves, Strigidae): biogeographic and taxonomic implications. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 94:626-634.

Krabbe, N. K. 2017. A new species of Megascops (Strigidae) from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia, with notes on voices of New World screech-owls. Ornitología Colombiana 16: 1-27.

Todd, W. E., and M. A. Carriker. 1922. The birds of the Sant Marta region of Colombia: a study in altitudinal distribution. Annals of the Carnegie Museum 14 (611 pp.). 


Daniel Lane, January 2018 (with minor revision 1 Feb. 18)




Comments from Stiles: "YES. The genetic, morphological and vocal differences clearly justify considering gilesi a separate species (and many cogent comments by Krabbe are instrumental for the following two proposals as well)."


Comments from Robbins: "YES.  Niels did an excellent job of providing support on why this Megascops should be treated as a species."


Comments from Areta: "YES. The full dataset supports the recognition of this species."


Comments from Zimmer: “YES, for reasons documented in the cited literature and in the Proposal.


Comments from Remsen: “YES.  All available evidence indicates that this is a valid species-level taxon.”


Comments from Cadena: “YES. Great to see this long-overdue description published. The existence of the holotype specimen for nearly a century is evidence of the tremendous value of museum collections and their adequate care of specimens (note the sad story about the different fate of the more recently collected specimen described by Krabbe in his paper). The vocal data carefully analyzed by Krabbe leave no doubt that this is a distinct species, and observation we confirmed with molecular data a few years ago revealing this population represents a long branch of somewhat uncertain affinities.”


Comments from Jaramillo: “YES.  Finally, we can show this bird to folks and actually give it a name!”


Comments from Pacheco: “YES. The data presented corroborate the decision to treat this new taxon at the species level.”