ncook57's picture

Blue tits - scientific name?

Hi, I entered a Blue Tit observation yesterday and one of the comments I got was that the scientific name should be Parus Caeruleus rather than Cyanistes Caeruleus. Well, Cyanistes Caeruleus was the default that came up after I entered Blue tit, so that's how I left it. Having done a bit of googling and looking in two books I've got, it seems that both are correct.

Does someone know why there are two different scientific names for the Blue Tit?

(By the way, the two books I looked in were both RSPB publications and each had the different names - so even they don't know!!!)



kcf32's picture

Blue tits - scientific name

I too suffered from this confusion when doing some recording for our local wildlife trust. I was referred to the National Biodiversity Network as a source of the "latest" scientific name which is Cyanistes Caeruleus.

Cyanistes Caeruleus is the name given to the blue tit by the RSPB on its web site, but my two field guides (neither recent publications) use Parus Caeruleus.

My assumption is that as scientific evidence about a species accumulates and improves it reveals differences between species that were thought to be of the same family and it has become necessary to create new genuses to accommodate them. (This is only assumption!)

agingjb's picture

I almost start to wonder if

I almost start to wonder if the English names of many species are more suitable than the ever changing scientific names for designating birds unambiguously.

bobthebirder's picture


For most purposes we can stick to English names, and we all know what we mean. But with increasing knowledge of geographical races due to DNA analysis, the experts are coming up with a host of "new" birds, as well as updated relationships between the familiar ones. This often means that the scientific name needs to be changed, to keep up with current knowledge.

A good source of the latest situation is avibase, at
but note that the scientific names here are not necessarily those in use in the UK!

Bob Ford

Manga Waggott's picture


Avibase site looks good! Thanks.


Ray Turner's picture


but note that the scientific names here are not necessarily those in use in the UK!” I thought the whole point of scientific names was they are universal (not withstanding issues around legacy) and thus avoiding misunderstands arising due to local/colloquial names.


RoyW's picture

Universal / Unique

Rules of scientific nomenclature mean that a name cannot be used for a population if it has previously been used to represent another species - so if a new "blue coloured" tit that fits into the current "Parus" genus is discovered it cannot be named Parus caeruleus, even though Blue Tit has now been renamed - Parus caeruleus and Cyanistes caeruleus are BOTH now unique* scientific names for Blue Tit (although the first is now out of date).
*referring to only the one species.

There are occasionally disagreements about taxonomy, which means that all national and international bodies do not always agree.
For example, The British Ornithologists Union (BOU), and the International Ornithologists Congress (IOC), treat American Green-winged Teal, Anas carolinensis, as a separate species from Eurasion/Common Teal, Anas crecca, while the American Ornithologists Union (AOU), and the Clements International List, treat the two as races of Green-winged Teal, so both are Anas crecca (in this case they will often be written as Anas crecca carolinensis and Anas crecca crecca though, so the difference can usually be seen.
Another example is the Yellow Wagtail complex, which is variously treated as a single species (Motacilla flava) with numerous subspecies, two species (M. flava and M. tschutschensis, or a whole host of different species (the two already mentioned + M. flavissima, M. cinereocapilla, M. thunbergii, M. feldegg, M. lutea, M. leucocephala, M. iberiae...).
Again, the names used to represent 'full' species are already used in trinomial names when these are treated as subspecies.

The main time when real confusion can easily occur, is when a species is 'split' into two or more species.
Stonechat is a good example of this...
The scientific name Saxicola torquatus was universally accepted as referring to a single species, with many different races, found in Africa, Europe, and Asia (note that the name on Ispot, Saxicola torquata, is an old spelling and the change to torquatus had universal agreement from the relevant authorities!).
This single species is now typically treated as three species (African Stonechat, which retains the original scientific name S. torquatus, European Stonechat, S. rubicola, and Siberian Stonechat, S. maura. This means that although Saxicola torquatus used to be the scientific name that applied to Stonechats in the UK, it now applies to individuals that are treated as a separate species!
(To avoid confusion I would personally think that there is a very good argument for changing current rules of nomenclature, so that when species are split in this way none of the 'new' species keep the binomial name that originally applied to them all).

Manga Waggott's picture

I was under the impression

I was under the impression that Linnaeus's Binomial Nomenclature that we use is "Universal/Unique....and applied throughtout the world. Your explanation about rules of present nomenclature make me feel also need for change...however, I don't have that detailed understandig on the far as plants are concerned....I thought scientific names are unique and addressed at the level of Genus, Species and further variation as subspecies and varieties....Change of name of the families, Genus etc does occur because more traits taxonomists can understand, more of segregating groups...then changes... a common man may struggle but students and scientists I believe keep learning......???...I am not very sure if users of iSpot should worry so much about details about taxonomy unless they are at that level, or there is a conflict as here (Blue tit)...


Montgomery.D's picture

Green - winged teal

hi RoyW, interesting reading, in ornithology are race and subspecies (tri-nominate) one and the same?

trevindevon's picture

Latest latin names

I have read lots of comments re the latest classification latin names.
I'm not sure how or if I should start a new topic but I am keen to find an up to date list or publication. My 2009 RSPB pocket bird book is not up to date whilst my Collins Birds Guide has some correct entries and some not correct.
Strangely, my Android app on my smartphone whilst not complete does seem to have the latest latin name for Stonechat for example.

jerebarker's picture

Bird names

There is always the International Ornithological Union (what used to be the IOC as mentioned above - another name change!) which maintains an increasingly useful website at that aims to stay on top of the ever-shifting taxonomy. Worth a look, if a little bewildering at first.

RoyW's picture

It's to make 'relationships' within the family clearer

The changes to the scientific names within the Tit family (Paridae) were made in 2005 following genetic studies (particularly one by Gill et al. - ).
These changes were adopted by the British Ornithologists Union soon after ( ), and are the main scientific names used for the species in the family.

By breaking the species that were previously all included in the genus Parus up into smaller genera, it becomes far easier to see which of the species are more closely related genetically. All are still in the Paridae family.
When changes like this are made it often takes time before all organsations 'catch up' - and obviously all books that have already been published will still contain the old scientific name, which becomes a synonym for the species.

agingjb's picture

I think there are

I think there are incompatible aims here - taxonomy and unambiguous nomemclature.

DesBowring's picture

English names

The recent changes in 'English' names of many bird species courtesy of the BOU means that both 'scientific' and 'English' names are never stable - the only answer is to keep abreast of all the changes or fall by the taxonomic wayside!

RoyW's picture

Stability of names.

The major problem with English names is that not only are they not stable (and never have been), the same name is often applied to two or more different species - and these aren't always even closely related.
So with English names you have the problem that as well the problem of not realisng that you are talking about the same species, there can be confusion because you aren't! (eg. A relatively inexperienced American birdwatcher visiting Scotland could tell a local birdwatcher that he had seen lots of Hawks, but was wondering about the ID of a much larger bird that he had seen and wanted to know if it was likely that it could be a buzzard. If the Scottish birdwatcher replies that it was quite likely because Buzzards were common in the area, the American could go away thinking that he had been given confirmation that he had seen a vulture, when he had probably seen an eagle and the 'hawks' were Buzzards - Buteo species being known as hawks in the US, and 'buzzard' being used as a slang term for vulture).

With scientific names it is not usually a problem if you use out of date names, because they are still understood as meaning the intended species (even in the Stonechat example I gave in a post above, it is easy to understand that Saxicola torquata/us means European Stonechat (now S. rubicola) when a bird in Europe is being referred to, and is not a claim of African Stonechat!

scarpermac's picture

Instability of 'English' names

Read this with fascination, moved onto the next forum to see they might well be related with regards confusion over uses of names;

Feel free to look at my ongoing (hopefully improving) collection of pictures on Flickr:

dejayM's picture


As always, I've arrived here quite late - like FOUR years!
I am in some dialogue in iSpot ZA.
Our swallow, the Barn Swallow, goes there for some sunshine. There are plenty of posts of Barn- or Eupopean- on that site - you can search.
What I find fascinating is that they have a different Latin name for the very same bird - the tri-nominate Hirundo rustica subsp. rustica. Their ID Dictionary will not accept Hirundo rustica and vice versa (ours won't process the other).

Mydaea's picture

"they have a different Latin

"they have a different Latin name for the very same bird"

No they don't. H. rustica is the species. H.r. rustica is one of a number of geographical subspecies. H. rustica covers all the subspecies. Use of trinomials is optional and best left for technical use or in rare cases such as yellow wagtails in UK or swallows in S Africa where >=2 subspecies may occur together at certain times of year. We have only one race of swallow here so the trinomial is unnecessary.

dejayM's picture

on the ball

Thanks - on guard as always. I understand what you are suggesting.
And I have read much in the last few hours about this very thing. I think there are six swallows (only five Hirundo) in South Africa but they are quite distinct in appearance and of course, by name. I know that some Barns go to and from Eastern and Northern Europe, never once entering the UK. So I now know what sp. name the Estonian's use for their National Bird.
These birds ARE the ones that are born here and go on holiday to South Africa, or Namibia say.
Plenty of creatures migrate great distances, (take the Manx Shearwater) to join cousins in, for instance, Argentina but do not change their name en route.
There are eighteen 'Hirundo Swallows' listed >>here<< none are called Hirundo rustica rustica.
I would be interested to know if any name changes occur in a similar way.

Mydaea's picture

There are no name changes.

There are no name changes.

I had thought (wrongly as it turns out) that there was a SA race as well, but that does not alter the taxonomic situation.

dejayM's picture


Annoying, isn't it, to find EoL using the English name Eurasian Swallow.
I had meant names of other animals that may change when migrating but methinks that's enough for this topic which is a little off the main thread and, as I say, four years too late!
Thanks again.

ophrys's picture


As Mydaea says, our Swallow is Hirundo rustica ssp rustica. According to Svennson, its range covers Europe, W.Siberia, NW Africa, Asia Minor, most of Levant, W Himalaya. Two other ssp. are given...transitiva in E. Mediterranean coast and savignii in Egypt.


My Flickr photos...

dejayM's picture


Thanks to you too, my comment was being edited as you 'spoke'.