Proposal (487) to South American Classification Committee


English names for new species Arremon torquatus group


Passage of proposal 468 means that we must invent English names for 7 “new” species of Arremon, all formerly included within Stripe-headed Brush-Finch, A. torquatus.


One of the component species, A. atricapillus, has previously been considered a species, with the named Black-headed Brush-Finch, so that one was clear-cut.


After considerable discussions (click here to see) with Andrés Cuervo, Steve Hilty, Alvaro Jaramillo, Mark Pearman, Tom Schulenberg, Gary Stiles, and Doug Stotz, I conducted a poll that asked each person to rank the candidate names from first to last for the other 6 species.  The results of that poll showed that one name stood out in each case as the clear favorite, and those are the names presented in this proposal.  They are:


1. Gray-browed Brush-Finch for A. assimilis (found from Colombia and Venezuela south to southern Peru).  “North Andean” was a distant second, but because the species’ range extends well south of the MaraĖon, it was considered inappropriate by several.  “Variable” also received support, but it was pointed out that A. torquatus is actually more variable.  “Boissoneau’s” (from Hellmayr) was also considered.


2. Sierra Nevada Brush-Finch for A. basilicus, which is endemic to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia.  “Santa Marta” was already taken by Atlapetes melanocephalus.  Further, as noted by Andrés, Colombians usually refer to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta simply as "La Sierra Nevada", and because Santa Marta is the coastal capital city of Dept. Magdalena, "Santa Marta" by itself is most likely taken as the city, not the mountains.  “Colombian” (misleading for a Santa Marta endemic), “Bangs’s” (describer), and “Carriker’s” (in honor of his contributions to the region) were also considered.


3. Perija Brush-Finch for A. perijanus, which is endemic to the Perija Mountains.  As noted by Andrés, Meyer de Schauensee (Birds of Colombia, Caldasia 1952) also used this name.  “Phelps’s” (one of the describers) also received support.


4. Caracas Brush-Finch for A. phaeopleurus, which is endemic to Venezuela’s Coastal Range.  “Buffy-flanked” was in the running but was considered inaccurate.  Also considered were “Coastal Range” and “Cordillera Costal.”


5. Paria Brush-Finch for A. phygas, which is endemic to the Paria Peninsula of extreme NE Venezuela.  “Venezuelan” was also a candidate but considered misleading because two other species were also in Venezuela, including one also endemic to the country.  “Sucre”, “Berlepsch’s” (describer), and “Spot-crowned” (misleading) were also considered.


6. White-browed Brush-Finch for A. torquatus, which is found from S. Peru to NW. Argentina.  Also considered were “South-Andean”, “Black-banded” (not appropriate for subspecies borelli), and “Stripe-headed” (the latter best reserved for the composite group).


I recommend that we use these 7 names as the SACC names but also invite proposals for changes to any individual names; because these names are all novel, only a simple majority rather than the usual 2/3 majority would be required for change.



Van Remsen, June 2011



Comments from Thomas Donegan: “I follow the BirdForum page and noted you had an SACC proposal on Brush-Finch names.  I wonder if, whatever differences you think that we may have, you would find these comments to be helpful (or would like to reconsider your proposal in light of them):


“There is some umbrage to be had with two of the names you propose: There is a brief discussion of English names for the Colombian species in this group in Donegan et al. (2010), in connection with the recent McMullan et al. field guide. In that field guide, we adopted two different names to those set out in this proposal. These two other English names were OK'd by Daniel Cadena, first author of the Arremon review, before we went to press.


“- "Perija Brush-Finch" is already in current usage for Atlapetes nigrifrons, a Perija endemic which should be treated as split from A. latinuchus (to which it is apparently not closely related at all). See Donegan & Huertas (2006) who proposed this split and name.  Perija Brush-Finch was used in the recent McMullan et al. field guide for A. nigrifrons, which is treated as split there, and is also down as the name for the species on the IOC's list of proposed splits.  Given that the name is in modern usage for another species (with apologies to Meyer), it could be confusing to adopt it here for A. perijanus.  This group is a difficult one to coin morphological names for, because they all look pretty similar.  The first choice should therefore probably be a geographical name.  However, with "Perija" already in usage, one must fall back on patronyms.  We used Phelps' Brush-Finch for Arremon perijanus in the McMullan field guide, referring to the describers and first explorers of the Perija range, who established one of the Neotropics' best national-based bird collections. 


“- "Sierra Nevada" Brush-Finch would be precluded by those that adopt Gill & Wright (IOC)'s recommendations that birds named after a particular place should all use the same name formulation (e.g. Canada Warbler, Canada Goose; but American Wigeon, American Golden Plover).  For the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the standard moniker used for tens of bird names is "Santa Marta".  "Santa Marta Brush-Finch" is pre-occupied by A. melanoceps.  In the McMullan et al. field guide, we adopted the name "Colombian Brush-Finch".  Although there are other brush-finches that occur in Colombia, this one is a national endemic and no other Brush-Finch has been given that name in recent publications.  "Sierra Nevada" is moreover not a very enticing proposal, in that the term refers to various other mountain ranges in Spain, the USA and elsewhere.  "Sierra Nevada" also means just "Mountain of Snow", so this sort of a name would be better suited to a species found in snow-covered habitats or at least nearer the snow line, rather than for a species of premontane and montane forests and their borders.


“The recent Clements update and IOC both also use "Phelps' Brush-Finch" and "Colombian Brush-Finch" for these species in their online editions and updates, following discussions with the authors, as do a variety of other electronic publications.


“We were not seeking to pre-empt the SACC in adopting the names mentioned above, just trying to come up with some workable English names to reflect latest taxonomy in the absence of a proposal until now.  I am sure we will follow whatever is the most widely used treatment if and when there is a second edition.  Nonetheless, some of the considerations that went into adopting these names may be of interest and they now have some (perhaps only minor, limited and incipient) recent traction.



Donegan, T.M, Salaman, P., Caro, D. & McMullan, M. 2010. Revision of the status of bird species occurring in Colombia 2010. Conservación Colombiana 13: 25-54.

McMullan, M., Donegan, T.M. & Quevedo, A. 2010.  Field guide to the birds of Colombia.  Fundación ProAves, Bogotá.  225 pl.”


Response from Remsen:


“1. perijanus: Atlapetes nigrifrons is not (yet?) recognized as a species by SACC, so we consider that name open.  See linked comments on the problem with the name “Phelps’s”, but if the nigrifrons situation is considered a problem by everyone, I agree we should reconsider.


“2. basilicus.  To label a Santa Marta endemic with name “Colombian” seems highly misleading to us.  Not only are the Santa Martas a peripheral and tiny fraction of that country’s territory, but also there are several other brush-finches endemic to Colombia; further none of the many Santa Marta endemics have the English name “Colombian.”  See the linked comments on whether anyone would really wonder if Arremon basilicus occurs in the Sierra Nevadas of, say, California.  That someone would actually expect this species to occur at snow line because it is called Sierra Nevada comes across as beyond far-fetched.


“That other recent lists use different names, none of which has a history, is not a concern.  We would rather pick the best names possible at the beginning rather than be bound to poor or inaccurate names such as ‘Colombian,’ ‘Venezuelan,’ and ‘Buffy-flanked’ with no real history of usage.”


Comments from Robbins: “YES.  I have no strong opinions on these English names, so will give a “yes”; but if better names are put forth I’ll be glad to change my vote.”


Comments from Stiles: “YES. Thomas has brought up an interesting point in the use of other names for basilicus and perijanus, but I find flaws in his arguments in each case.  With regard to basilicus, I am very unconvinced by "Colombian", which conveys little useful information given that there are several Colombian brush-finches.  To a Colombian, "Sierra Nevada" immediately implies the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.  Because there are no brush-finches in California, I quite fail to see how this name could cause confusion to North Americans (or anyone else, really); its use in a field guide doesn't carry all that much weight (and field observers should appreciate the much more specific and informative "Sierra Nevada" in any case..).  With regard to perijanus, the problem is that "Perijá" has been used based upon a proposed split that has yet to be sanctioned: the cart leading the horse.  We badly need a good, thorough study of the whole latinuchus complex using morphology, genetics, and biogeography and until we have one, I would argue that splitting off nigrifrons is premature.  Its perhaps most distinctive feature, the black forehead, is shared by caucae among the Colombian races of this complex and should a genetic study find that these two are conspecific, "Perijá" would be decidedly misleading.  Given that we have such a study for the torquatus complex, I think that this study should take precedence in terms of English names: hence, "Perijá" for perijanus.”


Comments from Zimmer: “I vote YES to accept the names proposed by Van for the various “new” species in this group.  In voting “yes” I did take into consideration the points raised by Thomas Donegan regarding conflicting names in recent usage for basilicus and perijanus, but I find the counter arguments by Gary and Van more persuasive.”


Comments from Pérez-Emán:  “Just two comments: 1) two brush-finches endemic to Perijá mountains (one a recent split (by Cadena & Cuervo (2010)) and another a clear valid taxon by reasons clearly stated by Donegan and Cadena (proposal #222) make the task of giving appropriate names difficult. For geographical reasons, Perijá Brush-finch is the appropriate name of A. perijanus, especially if we consider A. nigrifrons is not recognized yet (although the name might be, in practice, already in use for this last taxon). I would prefer Phelps’ Brush-finch for A. nigrifrons, once it is recognized, as this taxon previous name was dedicated to these great contributors to the ornithology in Venezuela (A. rufinucha (later latinuchus) phelpsi). 2) Paria Brush-finch is clearly not a good name for A. phygas. This species occurs both in Paria Peninsula and the Turimiquire massif. This region (encompassing both areas) is characterized by a good number of endemics, but some are exclusive of Paria Peninsula, which might be considered as a center of endemism by itself. As such, giving the Paria name to a bird that occurs in the complete region is misleading. Venezuelan Brush-finch is problematic as there are two Venezuelan endemics with this new classification. As Sucre is also not appropriate (it does not describe the geographical range of the species and Sucre is a name for several localities in different countries) Berlepsch’s Brush-finch would be the only available (although I prefer geographical descriptive names if a morphological descriptor is not possible).”