I've been browsing through a 1966 printing of Golden Books: Birds of North America. I think this was the first printing of this sometimes underrated guide (I'll save that for another post).
It's interesting looking through this guide and seeing the former names of some species and the past status of many splits and lumps. You can learn a lot from knowing some of these old bird names. Some of the historical name changes make perfect sense, but some don't. I'm going to do a series of posts on some of the less familiar bird name changes and the history behind them.
The first bird I'd like to start with is a name I'd never heard before - Lichtenstein's Oriole (Icterus gularis). This yellow-orange oriole with a black throat was named after German zoologist Martin Henrich Lichtenstein (1780-1857). Lichtenstein was a well known ornithologist and held positions as a professor of zoology at the University of Berlin, as well director of the Zoological Museum of Berlin. I can't find information on whether he actually described Icterus gularis or if it was just named for him. I did find that he described 5 species of North American birds including the Kelp Gull and many others around the world.
The common name of Lichtenstein's Oriole was changed in the 1970's (probably 1974) to Altamira Oriole. Altamira is a city in the state of Taumalipas, Mexico. The Altamira Oriole is widespread along the Mexican gulf coast, northern Central America, and into the extreme southern tip of Texas - where I had the pleasure of viewing one in 2005. Interestingly, from what I can gather from my online research, it seems this bird was known as "Alta Mira" Oriole prior to the 1940's. So, the AOU essentially changed the name back to a former name. As far as common name changes go, this one doesn't help the observer any, but it does help place the distribution of this species to its Mexican roots and eliminates any possibility of thinking this bird has its origins in a tiny European country.
Blurry pic I took at a trailer park in southern Texas