Proposal (63) to South American Classification Committee


Change English names of Myioborus "Redstarts " to "Whitestarts"


Effect on South American CL: This proposal would change the English names of all species of Myioborus on our list from "Redstart" to "Whitestart."


Background: The warblers in the genus Myioborus were known as "Redstarts" for all of their history until last decade or so. This presumably derives first from the very superficial resemblance of North American Setophaga ruticilla to the "real" redstarts of Europe in the genus Phoenicurus, which share orange-red coloration in the rectrices and tail movements that accentuate it. Second, the Painted Redstart was given that English name when incorrectly placed in Setophaga, even though it had white where the "real" Setophaga had orange, and the species of Myioborus, by implication considered the sister genus to Setophaga by Ridgway (1902), were also called "redstarts." Widespread M. miniatus was described in Setophaga, so it was only logical to use "Redstart" for it and relatives. Thus, Myioborus miniatus and Middle American M. torquatus have been called "Redstarts" for over a century. Coues (1872) used "Redstart" for both M. pictus and M. miniatus.


I'm not sure where the "whitestart" idea got started, but Hilty & Brown (1986) used it as a secondary, alternative name for the Myioborus "redstarts." Ridgely & Tudor (1989) took note of this, but stated:


"while agreeing that that would certainly be more accurate -- there is no red, only white, in the tail -- we feel that the name "redstart" is simply too well entrenched to be changed at this late date."


Sibley & Monroe (1990) continued with "Redstart." Then, Curson et al.'s (1994) warbler family book used "Whitestart" for Myioborus, including partly North American M. pictus, whose English name "Painted Redstart" has been firmly established for more than a century. Although this was not followed by Howell & Webb (1995), Dunn & Garrett (1997), AOU (1998), Dickinson (2003), and others, Ridgely & Greenfield (2001) and Hilty (2003) adopted "Whitestart."


Analysis: If we were "starting from scratch," I'd vote for "Whitestart." It is more accurate, and it nicely emphasizes that Setophaga and Myioborus are not sister genera. But we're not starting from scratch, and hopefully not in the business of striving to find better and better English names. In particular, I would object to changing the long-standing but extralimital English name "Painted Redstart" for M. pictus. Also, see excellent discussion in Rowlett (2003). If we were going for accuracy, then Setophaga ruticilla should be renamed "Orangestart."


Recommendation: I vote "NO" on this proposal. My feelings are aptly captured by the Ridgely-Tudor quote above.


Literature Cited:

COUES, E.. 1872. Key to North American birds. Vol. 1. Page, Boston.

CURSON, J., D. QUINN, AND D. BEADLE. 1994. Warblers of the Americas. Houghton Mifflin.

DICKINSON, E. C. (ed.). 2003. The Howard and Moore complete checklist of the birds of the World, Revised and enlarged 3rd Edition. Christopher Helm, London, 1040 pp.

DUNN, J., AND K. GARRETT. 1997. A field guide to the warblers. of North America. Houghton Mifflin.

HELLMAYR, C. E. 1935. Catalogue of birds of the Americas. Field Mus. Nat. Hist. Publ., Zool. Ser., vol. 13., pt. 8.

HILTY, S. L. 2003. Birds of Venezuela. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

HILTY, S. L., AND W. L. BROWN. 1986. A guide to the birds of Colombia. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

HOWELL, S. N. G., AND S. WEBB. 1995. A guide to the birds of Mexico and northern Central America. Oxford Univ. Press, New York.

RIDGELY , R. S., AND P. J. GREENFIELD. 2001. The birds of Ecuador. Vol. II. Field guide. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.

RIDGELY, R. S., AND G. TUDOR. 1989. The birds of South America, vol. 1. Univ. Texas Press, Austin.

RIDGWAY, R. 1904. The birds of North and Middle America. Bull. U. S. Nat. Mus., no. 50, pt. 3.

ROWLETT, J. 2003. [Review of]: "The Birds of Ecuador, Volume I: Status, Distribution, and Taxonomy. Volume II: Field guide." Auk 120: 562-568.

SIBLEY, C. G., AND B. L. MONROE, JR. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the World. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut.


Van Remsen, October 2003




Comments from Stotz: "NO. Not in a million years. The use of whitestart instead of redstart, as far as I am aware, starts with Alden and Gooders 1981, Finding Birds around the World. They admit, that they can't do anything about American Redstart, which clearly offends them, but they can about Myioborus, so they do."


Comments from Robbins: "I vote "YES" for this very appropriate change (I've supported this usage for quite awhile)."


Comments from Jaramillo: "NO -- While I like the more precise nature of Whitestart, it does confuse things and make changes where none is needed. I don't want to be calling it the Painted Whitestart, it just sounds wrong."


Comments from Zimmer: "I vote "NO". I just can't bring myself to do this (especially for Painted Redstart). We haven't done away with "nighthawks" or "meadowlarks", so I think we can tolerate the inaccuracy of "redstarts". These names are just too well-entrenched to mess with."


Comments from Stiles: "[YES] Whitestarts - definitely a better name, the question is whether it is worth changing. This name has been around since a Nuttall monograph on social behavior of Andean birds by Moynihan (1980?), if not before. Redstart is definitely inappropriate for most Myioborus in a literal sense (not only no red in the tail, but no red anywhere), but finds its justification in the superficial similarity with Setophaga and in the fact that M. pictus, the only one to reach the US, does have a red breast. Redstart is the classic name but a number of important new works do incorporate Whitestart. So, very tentatively, I´ll go with whitestart (I gather that this one has already been rejected, so put me down with the recalcitrant minority)."


Comments from Nores: "[YES] Si. Este parece un problema más sentimental que ornitológico. Redstart es evidentemente inapropiado para especies que no tienen color rojo y por eso es mejor "Whitestart". Sin embargo, hay opiniones como la de Stotz que evidentemente están más relacionado con la costumbre de usar un nombre y con no ofender a las especies."