(CMR) The Grand Cayman Bullfinch bird has been awarded full endemic species status, which means it is scientifically recognized as a species unique to Grand Cayman, existing nowhere else in the world.
According to the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, this month, the American Ornithological Society announced that the species Cuban Bullfinch (Melopyrrha nigra), previously recognized as two endemic subspecies on Cuba and Grand Cayman, has been split into two endemic species, the Grand Cayman Bullfinch (Melopyrrha taylori) on Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands and the Cuban Bullfinch (Melopyrrha nigra) on Cuba.
The decision was a belated response to an ornithological paper submitted in 2014 by four authors from Cuba and two from the Cayman Islands. The endemic split had already been recognized by other world Ornithological Councils. The Grand Cayman Thrush, the only other modern endemic bird, was last seen in 1938 and is now considered extinct.
In modern times, the bullfinch on the Cayman Islands is of restricted range, occurring only on Grand Cayman. Up to the 1980s, it was widespread throughout the island, but intense development in the western half of Grand Cayman has since resulted in a species shift eastward, and it now occurs almost exclusively east of Newlands.
In the 1970s, Gary Morgan identified fossil bones of this species from circa 13,000 BP from caves on Cayman Brac.
The bullfinch was first collected on Grand Cayman for museums on 12 August 1886 by W.B Richardson for ornithologist Charles B Cory. He identified it as Melopyrrha nigra, the same species present in Cuba.
In 1886, Charles B Taylor collected bird specimens on Grand Cayman between 14 March-21 April 1896 for Lord Rothschild’s museum at Tring, England and where the bird specimens of the British Museum are now housed. Dr Hartert, the Director at Tring, declared the bullfinch a new species and named it M. taylori in 1896. Later, especially under ornithologist James Bond, it reverted to two subspecies.