Proposal (205) to South American Classification Committee
Change the English names of Phaethornis longirostris and P. superciliosus
With the adoption of the Hinkelmann-Schuchmann classification of the hermits, we also adopted the English names proposed therein. In this particular case, as was pointed out by Willem-Pier Vellinga, this brought us into a conflict with a name adopted by the AOU Checklist committee. This proposal is simply to resolve this conflict by adopting the AOU name for P. longirostris ("Long-billed Hermit") and, in the process, shortening the English name of P. superciliosus ("Long-tailed Hermit").
In most lists of recent decades, Phaethornis superciliosus included the trans-Andean longirostris group as well as most of the forms currently (as per Hinkelmann and Schuchmann) assigned to P. malaris. The English name for the "former" P. superciliosus (as per Peters) was Long-tailed Hermit (coined, if I am not mistaken, by Eisenmann in 1955). With the rearrangement of these birds, the longirostris group was considered to represent a separate species, which H&S called the "Western Long-tailed Hermit"; they used "Eastern Long-tailed Hermit" for the restricted P. superciliosus and retained "Great-billed Hermit" for their expanded P. malaris. The AOU adopted "Long-billed Hermit" for the longirostris group, presumably because it has yet to be demonstrated that longirostris is the sister group of superciliosus sensu stricto (and probably because it was shorter). This seems to be an eminently reasonable step, since "Long-billed Hermit" is simply a translation of the Latin name and is thus a useful mnemonic. Neither "long-billed" nor "long-tailed" is totally distinctive, as there are other hermits that have longer bills or tails, but given the general lack of distinctive plumage characters among these birds, they will do as well as any others that might be proposed. Neither has a particularly long history, since when longirostris was considered a separate species earlier in the last century, as by Cory and Ridgway, these authors gave English names to the subspecies ("Guatemalan Hermit", "Nicaraguan Hermit" etc.) but not to the species as a whole, and Peters did not assign English names. I therefore propose that in the SACC list longirostris be called the Long-billed Hermit in accordance with the AOU list; as there would no longer be a "Western Long-tailed Hermit", the modifier "Eastern" for superciliosus becomes superfluous, and I suggest that this form be called simply Long-tailed Hermit. As noted above, this also avoids the implication that these two are sister species in the absence of genetic evidence either way as well as the geographic improbability of such a relationship. Genetic evidence might result in a realignment of these forms in any case, but for the present I think the names suggested are the most reasonable (and least inconvenient), hence I recommend a YES vote on this proposal.
AOU Checklist of North and Middle American Birds (online version)
Meyer de Schauensee 1966
Hinkelmann & Schuchmann 1994
F. Gary Stiles, February 2006
Comments from Remsen: "YES, for the reasons outlined by Gary, especially dumping awkward compound names and in removal of the implication that the two are sister taxa without solid data."
Comments from Stotz: "YES. Given that I don't buy the arrangement that we currently follow, I anticipate that the details will change, but I think Western and Eastern Long-tailed Hermit are unduly long and suggest too much about relationships."
Comments from Zimmer: "YES. I don't think it is safe to assume that these two are sister species (as implied by the hyphenated names Eastern Long-tailed Hermit and Western Long-tailed Hermit), and I think the chosen names, although not particularly informative, are less awkward and less misleading (as regards possible sister status). I am not at all confident that the current expanded treatment of P. malaris is correct, but until that group is adequately addressed, I think the proposed name changes for longirostris and superciliosus are the way to go."
Comments from Robbins: "YES. Gary's rationale for both these changes is straightforward. The change makes sense until we see genetic data that might indicate otherwise. I vote 'yes'."
Comments from Pacheco: "YES. Na minha opinião, a solução apresentada por Stiles é apropriada."
Comments from Nores: "YES. Me parece muy apropiado el cambio propuesto, especialmente por lo que se ha también manifestado en otras opiniones, que el uso de Western and Eastern Long-tailed Hermit implica además de un largo nombre una cercana relación taxonómica."