I don't understand it. How could it have happened a third time? They've had two opportunities to correct it. But there it is, once again. The Sibley Guide To Birds, third printing, page 488: "The dark-eyed junco, a familiar visitor to wintertime bird feeders throughout much of North America, is a species of the junco genus of American finches."
Mr. Sibley, once again, the dark-eyed junco is not a finch. It's a sparrow. A sparrow.
And I was just beginning to put that second printing behind me. But now the scab's been ripped off, and the wound is as fresh as it was seven years ago, when The Sibley Guide first came out. Oh, you'll still see me and my spotting scope at Dunwiddie Marsh Saturday morning, but at this point I doubt even sighting a Kirtland's warbler would lift my spirits.
Apparently the 42 letters I sent Mr. Sibley, his publisher, and his literary agent either went unread or now line the nests of Carolina wrens. I'm not sure what the man's afraid of, especially since I larded these letters with all kinds of reassurances like "it's a common mistake" and "I get all those seed eaters mixed up, too" and other things I didn't really mean.
I've suffered many a sleepless night pondering how such a blatant error came to pass. And when I can sleep, I am tormented by fever dreams of dark-eyed juncos mating with house finches and spawning horrible sparrow-finch abominations. Are Mr. Sibley's nights filled with such drear phantasmagoria, too? Or, in some odd karmic stroke, have I somehow been called to shoulder his burden of conscience because he shrugged it off?
I was hoping The Sibley Guide would be different. I spent years enduring one Roger Tory Peterson hack job after another, tolerating it because I had no alternative. (Golden Field Guides? Please.) Perhaps this David Sibley would have a fresh, keen perspective on ornithology. But no, he's just another oriole- milking money-grubber.
People like Sibley, I'm convinced, thrive on ignorance. He knows most people couldn't care less about birds, and he's already been promised his big fat advance from the publisher, so what's the difference if some tiny stupid bird is misidentified? So a junco stays a finch.
I'm as flexible about taxonomic classifications as the next naturalist. If ornithologists now want to classify buntings as cardinals, sure, okay. It's not what I would necessarily do, but I can accept it. There is a small core of reason within me. But that's my curse, you see. I can't just roll with the punches like the other birders.
Which leads me to another worry. It's plain that Mr. Sibley is a supreme incompetent; but could it also be that the ornithology establishment and birding public don't share my concern either? If they did, the outcry would be enough to inspire a revision. But so far, and to the best of my knowledge, there's been complete silence on the matter. Is there some kind of mass collusion going on here? Or is this Sibley's scheme to make his work more accessible—to make it just as factually deprived as its readers? The world is insane.
The National Audubon Society is still gamely endorsing The Sibley Guide, which, to be honest, is no surprise. Those self-congratulatory amateurs are too busy direct-mailing birdie address stickers to anonymous citizens to conduct responsible birding. Those people would accept juncos as finches—hook, line, and sinker. What lightweights. They're almost as bad as the Wild Birds Unlimited people.
Eh, why fight it. A junco is now a finch. Why the hell not? While we're at it, let's call a flicker a type of jay. Harriers? Just lump them in with the hawks. The next edition of The Sibley Guide should refer to robin's-egg orange and say that owl pellets can be identified by their jelly center.