Proposal (39) to South American Classification Committee
Change English name of Margarornis stellatus
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 newer "Ridgely-Tudor" name.
Background: Meyer de Schauensee (1966, 1970) changed the English name of Margarornis stellatus from Cory & Hellmayr's (1925) "Fulvous-spotted Margarornis" to "Fulvous-dotted Treerunner." Hilty & Brown (1986) and Sibley & Monroe (1990) also used "Fulvous-dotted Treerunner." Ridgely & Tudor (1994) coined "Star-chested Treerunner," with the following note:
"Although it or a variant has long been in use, the English name Fulvous-dotted Treerunner is very misleading: the bird's basic color is only vaguely fulvous, actually a more rich rufous, but the dots themselves are startlingly white. We prefer our newly coined but far more evocative name of Star-chested Treerunner."
Ridgely & Greenfield (2001) also used "Star-chested," but Remsen (2003) stuck with "Fulvous-dotted."
Analysis: This is another of many, many proposals we need to consider on English names. 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 newer names, which are usually "better" and now have a 10-15 year tradition of their own.
As noted above, "Fulvous-dotted" is inaccurate -- the dots on the chest are a dull whitish but may look "startlingly white" because of their highly contrasting black borders. The "star" added to name is a nice touch that also reflects the scientific name. However, the shape of the "dots" on the chest is not star-like, as one might think from the name; presumably, "star" refers to their brightness. Nonetheless, it is indeed a better name that overwrites a misleading one.
Recommendation: I will vote "YES" on this proposal, but somewhat reluctantly, and if anyone can make a case for "Fulvous-dotted" not being an "erroneous" name, I will change my vote for the sake of stability.
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.
HILTY, S. L., AND W. L. BROWN. 1986. A guide to the birds of Colombia. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
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 P. J. GREENFIELD. 2001. The birds of Ecuador. Vol. I. Status, distribution, and taxonomy. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.
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: "NO. "Star-chested" implies to me a star (presumably white) on the chest. This bird has a white throat and upper breast, and small white dots, but no "star". So, to my mind the proposed new name isn't very accurate (even if it does mirror that scientific name). I understand that "Fulvous-dotted" is not very accurate either, but the bird (arguably) is fulvous (or at least is some shade of brown), and is dotted. It's not a great name, but it's not totally incomprehensible either. In any event, changing a name that's not great to another one that's not spectacularly better doesn't strike me as a net improvement. "
Comments from Robbins: "NO, if we are going to change the name then lets use a better English name than the misleading "Star-chested". I recommend that we use "White-dotted" as an English name."
Comments from Zimmer: "I vote "YES" for the proposed change of the English name of Margarornis stellata from "Fulvous-dotted Treerunner" to "Star-chested Treerunner". Although I too, favor stability over tinkering, I make exceptions for names that are misleading. The dots on this bird are clearly not fulvous. I do not share Tom's problem over the fact that the white spots are not star-shaped. After all, we have "Star-throated Antwren" for Myrmotherula gularis and "White-starred Robin" for Pogonocichla stellata (Africa), and in neither case, are there actual star-shaped markings. Rather, the "star" refers to the impression of white spots on a black background, much as distant stars look against a night sky. Mark's suggestion of "White-dotted Treerunner" is probably better, but this involves more tinkering."
Comments from Stiles: "NO. I agree that the older name is actively misleading but I don´t like "star-chested" for reasons given above as it is also misleading; how about "Starred Treerunner" (more accurate and a better mnemonic)?"
Comments from Jaramillo: "YES. Don't feel strongly about this one. Go with Star-chested Treerunner."