Proposal (266) to South American Classification Committee



Macropsalis forcipata has priority over Macropsalis creagra



There is some confusion whether or not to accept the views expressed by Pacheco & Whitney (1998) with regard to the scientific name of the Long-trained Nightjar. This confusion derives, in part, from a footnote on page 245 of Dickinson (2003). Perhaps this is why I have been invited to examine the issues and put a proposal to SACC.


The contending views:

Pacheco & Whitney (1998) recommended the use of Macropsalis forcipata (Nitzsch, 1840), arguing that the name was not a nomen oblitum as had been suggested by Sibley & Monroe (1990), in that it had been used as the valid name for the species by Pinto, Sick and Ruschi despite the substitution of the name Macropsalis creagra (Bonaparte, 1850) by Peters (1940). Cleere (1998) followed Peters (1940) and Sibley & Monroe (1990) and used the name creagra; however, the Editors of the Handbook of Birds of the World (del Hoyo et al., 1999) decided that their work would be based on acceptance of the views of Pacheco & Whitney and overruled the author's wish to use creagra. When Dickinson (2003) was in preparation Cleere was employed as a compiler and it was known to the editors that a paper was to be submitted to the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club seeking to rebut the position of Pacheco & Whitney. This explains the above-mentioned footnote and the retention of the name creagra by Dickinson (2003). A paper was duly submitted to the Bulletin by Cleere & Walters, but it was not accepted for publication. It is understood that the Editor of the Bulletin submitted the paper to Pacheco & Whitney and took their views as is they were impartial referees. A version of this draft has kindly been supplied by Cleere & Walters thanks to which it is possible to summarise their views. Although these may have originally suggested that Nitzsch's name was a nomen nudum their later view was that the description was insufficient to identify the species. They suggested that the name must date from the more complete description by Burmeister (1856) and be credited to him making the name a junior synonym of creagra Bonaparte.


Pacheco, Whitney & Pioli (2003) have since provided further information. They provided a translation of Nitzsch's description and added that Nitzsch referred to two long-tailed species, his own forcipatus and psalurus Temminck and referred to plates 157 and 158 in the 'Planches ColoriŽes' of the latter, demonstrating Nitzsch well understood the distinction from that which forms a key part of his diagnosis.


Points of agreement:

As I understand it Nitzsch did not designate a type but the two parties agree that the holotype of Nitzsch's name has been identified since at least 1856 and is extant. It has been examined by Cleere, who has also examined Bonaparte's type, and it is depicted in Pacheco, Whitney & Pioli (2003). It is agreed that the two are of the same species.


It is also agreed that the name forcipatus has been used as valid since 1899. Neither party was able to offer any evidence as to why Peters (1940) chose to use the name creagra and if he thought it a nomen oblitum then he was wrong.


The critical issue:

I consider it to be shown satisfactorily that the name forcipata Nitzsch has been used as valid since 1899 and thus Article 23.9 of the Code requires its use unless it was not validly introduced in 1840. This then is the critical issue.


Nitzsch's description is indeed brief, but at this period there were numerous names introduced with even briefer descriptions (e.g. in Bonaparte's Conspectus Generum Avium). There seems to be general acceptance that Burmeister was correct in stating that the older of two birds held in Halle was Nitzsch's type specimen, this is thus available to support and sustain the identity so that the implication of no third species need be considered. It is indeed relevant as Pacheco et al. (2003) suggest that Nitzsch mentioned Temminck's plate as a point of reference and that the description was by this reciprocal means thus not as insufficient as it might appear. Thus, I believe, it must be accepted that this name dates from Nitzsch (1840) and not from Burmeister (1856).



I hereby recommend that SACC approve the use of the name Macropsalis forcipata (Nitzsch, 1840) for the Long-trained Nightjar.


Edward C. Dickinson, March 2007




Comments from Stiles: "YES.  If Nitzche's description is indeed adequate, the name should clearly be forcipata. Another of Peters's arbitrary decisions corrected?"


Comments from Nores: "YES. La propuesta de Dickinson es muy clara, y no parece haber dudas que le corresponde el nombre de forcipata ya que no es un "nomen oblitum" y tiene prioridad en el tiempo. La cr’tica de que la descripci—n de Nitzsch es insuficiente para identificar la especie no parece tener demasiado peso como para invalidar la misma."