Proposal (36) to South American Classification Committee
Change English name of Furnarius torridus
Effect on South American CL: This proposal would change the English name of a species on our list from a "Meyer de Schauensee" name to a "Ridgely-Tudor" name.
Background: Meyer de Schauensee (1966, 1970) changed the English name of Furnarius torridus from Cory & Hellmayr's (1925) "Pale-billed Ovenbird" to "Pale-billed Hornero." Sibley & Monroe (1990) also used "Pale-billed Hornero." Ridgely & Tudor (1994) used the novel "Bay Hornero", with the following note:
"As the bill color of F. torridus seems similar to that of F. leucopus, the previously suggested English name, Pale-billed Hornero, is misleading as it suggests a nonexistent difference. We feel "Bay" accurately conveys the saturated color tone of F. torridus as compared with F. leucopus, much as, for instance, Bay Antpitta (Grallaria capitalis) is more saturated than Rusty-tinged Antpitta (G. przewalskii)."
Ridgely & Greenfield (2001) also used "Bay Hornero" and repeated the essence of the quote above. Remsen (2003) maintained Meyer de Schauensee's name "Pale-billed Hornero."
Analysis: This is one of many, many proposals we need to consider on English names. As noted in Prop 34, the recurrent theme will be the trade-off towards maintaining the stability of Meyer de Schauensee (and often older) names that were used for 30 or more years, versus using Bob's newer names, which are usually "better" and now have a 10-15 year tradition of their own.
However, this is one of the few cases in which I do not think Bob's name is better. Wondering why Cory & Hellmayr used "Pale-billed" if indeed the difference was nonexistent, I checked our LSUMZ series of F. torridus here, and indeed the dried bills are more extensively pale basally along the culmen than those of the sympatric taxon, F. leucopus tricolor. This also checked out with label data, although the sample size is small (N = 5). Although subtle, I suspect that this might even be a consistent field character. [I included this in my Handbook account draft, but it was edited out.]
Furthermore, I don't like "Bay". First, there is the potential confusion with "bay" as in water body for these water-edge horneros. Second, I doubt many people could tell you what the color "bay" is, or if they can, they would relate it to the substantially darker and more reddish "bay" of the Bay-breasted Warbler.
Recommendation: I will vote "NO" on this proposal. Not only is stability sacrificed for the novel name, but also the older name may be more accurate, and I dispute the novel one as being an improvement.
CORY, C. B., AND C. E. HELLMAYR. 1925. Catalogue of birds of the Americas Field Mus. Nat. Hist. Publ., Zool. Ser., vol. 13, pt. 4.
MEYER DE SCHAUENSEE, R. 1966. The species of birds of South America and their distribution. Livingston Publishing Co., Narberth, Pennsylvania.
MEYER DE SCHAUENSEE, R. 1970. A guide to the birds of South America. Livingston Publishing Co., Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.
REMSEN, J. V., JR. 2003 (in press). Family Furnariidae (ovenbirds). Pp. #-# in "Handbook of the Birds of the World," Vol. 8. Broadbills to Tapaculos (del Hoyo, J. et al., eds.). Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
RIDGELY, R. S., AND G. TUDOR. 1994. The birds of South America, vol. 2. Univ. Texas Press, Austin.
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, July 2003
Comments from Schulenberg: "YES. Just goes to show how non-doctrinaire I am with respect to my general reluctance to tinker with bird names. But I have found the "Pale-legged" vs. "Pale-billed" set of names for two broadly sympatric species to be a source of confusion: arguably, a greater source of confusion than would be engendered by a simple, one-time name substitution. It may be that bill color could be a field mark separating torridus from leucopus in the field, although it is down on list of features to examine. My experience is that long before one gets around, in the field, to studying the bill color, the overall color of the body plumage will have given the identification away, I also don't have problems with the name "Bay". I don't think that it is realistic at all to think that anyone would confuse "bay" meaning a color with "bay" meaning a body of water (or with any of the other meanings of "bay", such as the sound of dog). And although "bay" properly means a redder (more chestnut) shade of brown, I don't think the color of torridus is that far off the mark that it is inappropriate in this case. "
Comments from Robbins: "NO. I find "Bay" as a confusing name that really isn't an improvement."
Comments from Zimmer: "YES, primarily to avoid confusion with the English name of F. leucopus."
Comments from Silva: "NO. I am very conservative with English names, perhaps because they do not mean anything for me and most of the Latin American ornithologists."
Comments from Jaramillo: "YES. I am swayed by the argument that Pale-legged and Pale-billed are confusing. I sacrifice my general interest in retaining stability of names, for my other interest in decreasing general confusion with names."