Proposal (#199) to South American Classification Committee


Change English name of the Colibri from Violet-ear to Violetear


Proposal: This proposal, if approved, would result in the name "Violet-ear" for the Colibri hummingbirds becoming "Violetear".

Discussion: Warning: this proposal is likely to induce sleep, but bears consideration. It is brought to seek approval or rejection of an English name the usage of which appears to show considerable geographical variation. Having worked principally in Colombia, I was surprised to need to insert a hyphen for these bird names when recently conforming a checklist to SACC standard. There are two issues here: (i) extent of usage, and (ii) consistency with other bird names.

(i) Extent of usage

The term "Violet-ear" is used for the Colibri by most North American texts (e.g. AOU list), many international texts (e.g. Sibley & Monroe 1990; Schuchmann 1999; Clements 2000; Dickinson 2003) and in Central America's leading bird guide (Howell & Webb 1995). However, in some parts of the Neotropics, particularly northern South America, the term "Violetear" (non hyphenated) is arguably the more commonly used name (see e.g. Hilty & Brown 1986; Rodner et al. 2000; Salaman et al. 2001; Stiles et al. 2000; Ridgley & Greenfield 2001 and Hilty 2003; though e.g. Meyer de Schauensee 1970 & 1974 and Dunning 1987 each use "violet-ear").

A GOOGLE search suggests this pattern of usage when one considers the geographical range of each species:

Brown Violetear 308 - 663 Brown Violet-ear (Colibri delphinae)
Green Violetear 860 - 26,200 Green Violet-ear (Colibri thalassinus)
Sparkling Violetear 600 - 594 Sparkling Violet-ear (Colibri coruscans)
White-vented Violetear 196 - 1,030 White-vented Violet-ear (Colibri serrirostris)

Overall, it would seem that the Violet-ears have it, though the predominantly northern Andean species C. coruscans is majority used without a hyphen.

(ii) Consistency with other bird names

Most Neotropical birds with a compound name and a hyphen include a modifier and a name of a type of bird: e.g. Wood-Quail, Yellow-Finch, Wood-Rail, Water-Tyrant (and other tyrant modifiers: see proposal 187), Tit-Spinetail, Tiger-Heron.

However, almost all Neotropical birds with a compound name relating to a bird body part do not include a hyphen: e.g. Avocetbill, Bentbill, Blossomcrown, Conebill, Goldentail, Goldenthroat, Greytail, Helmetcrest, Hookbill, Jewelfront, Lancebill, Metaltail, Pintail, Plushcrown, Redstart (Whitestart), Sabrewing, Sapphirewing, Scythebill, Softtail, Starthroat, Spadebill, Thornbill, Thorntail, Tuftedcheeck and Yellowthroat. An exception to this is where the compound word would be confusing, obviously "Bare-eye" and "Fire-eye" being better than "Bareeye" and "Fireeye" respectively and "Racket-tail" used rather than "Rackettail" presumably for the same reason (though n.b., somewhat inconsistently, "Softtail"). In each of these cases, the second word after the hyphen is lower case, so that the bird is not indexed e.g. as an "eye" but as a "bare-eye". I would suggest that "Violetear" is not as confusing as any of the other hyphenated body part bird names mentioned (and "Starthroat" is arguably much worse), but if one looks at "Violetear" with squinted eyes, it could perhaps be pronounced in a different way.

References not on SACC list:

Salaman P., Cuadros T., Jaramillo J. G. & Weber W. H. 2001. Lista de Chequeo de las Aves de Colombia. Sociedad Antioqueña de Ornitología, Medellín, Colombia, 116 pp.

Stiles, F.G., Bohórquez, C I., Cadena, C.D., de la Zerda, S., Hernández, M., Rosselli, L., Kelsey, M., Valencia, I.D. & Knapp, D. Aves de la Sabana de Bogotá, Guía de Campo. Asociación Bogotana de Ornitología, Bogotá, 276 pages.

Conclusion: I have no strong views on this (admittedly) not very exciting proposal. Thank you for reading this far if you have! A "Yes" vote would be to change to "Violetear". A "No" vote would endorse "Violet-ear".


Thomas Donegan, 19 December 2005


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Comments from Stiles: "YES. Actually, the best point is that body-part names be unhyphenated on principle unless a double-vowel or other combination seems likely to produce confusion or unpronouncable monsters."

Comments from Zimmer: "YES, and echo the comments by Gary concerning the desirability of formalizing a non-hyphenated construction except in cases such as "Bare-eye", when there is obvious potential for confusion in pronunciation when the hyphen is removed."

Comments from Nores: "YES. Me parece bien uniformar los nombres compuestos, especialmente en los casos como este en donde las excepciones están justificadas por problemas de pronunciación."

Comments from Pacheco: "YES. Concordo com a proposta e com as opiniões de aprovação."

Comments from Remsen: "YES. One less annoying hyphen to worry about, and as Donegan notes, removal of hyphen is more consistent with other similar English names. I think the danger of mispronunciation as "Viole Tear" is minimal, certainly not worth the hyphen."

Comments from Jaramillo: "YES - Attempting to be consistent on this issue of not hyphenating names that refer to body parts is a good idea."