Proposal (694) to South American Classification Committee
English name of Thripadectes scrutator
Effect on South American Check-List: This proposal would change the English name of Thripadectes scrutator to something besides our current name “Rufous-backed Treehunter”.
Background: Both Manuel Plenge and Tom Schulenberg have pressured me to do a proposal that would either validate our current English name or use an alternative, and I agreed to do it because I think I may have caused part of the instability.
Our current footnote (which obviously needs updating) reads as follows:
95. Thripadectes scrutator was called "Buff-throated Treehunter" in Meyer de Schauensee (1970) and "Peruvian Treehunter" in Ridgely & Tudor (1994).
Manuel has compiled the following tally of current usage:
• The species of birds of South America and their distribution: Meyer de Schauensee (1966)
• A guide to the birds of South America: Meyer de Schauensee (1970)
• Birds of the high Andes: Fjeldså and Krabbe (1990)
• The birds of South America: Ridgely & Tudor (1994) [as alternate name]
• List of the birds of Peru and other works: Plenge (2002 to the present)
• The Howard and Moore complete checklist of the birds of the World. 3rd ed. (2003)
• Birds of Peru: Schulenberg et al. (2007, 2010)
• Handbook of the birds of the World (2003)
• SACC List By Country 12 September 2008 and possibly earlier
• Neotropical Birds Online: Lloyd, Huw (2009)
• eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2015.
Rufous-backed Treehunter/Peruvian Treehunter
• Howard and Moore complete checklist of the birds of the World, 4th ed. (2014)
• Birds of Machu Picchu: Barry Walker (2015) as Rufous-backed (Peruvian) Treehunter
• The birds of South America: Ridgely & Tudor (1994)
• Birds of Machu Picchu: Barry Walker (2005)
• IOC World Bird List (4.4) (2014 and possibly earlier)
I add that the earliest English name that I can find is “Taczanowski’s Treehunter” in Cory & Hellmayr (1925), who named it after the person who described the species. As long as one isn’t opposed to eponyms, in my opinion things have gone downhill ever since.
Meyer de Schauensee, evidently influenced by Eisenmann’s crusade against eponyms, came up with “Buff-throated.” The problem with this, as pointed out by R&T 1994 (see below), is that the throat is not really that buffy nor is that a distinguishing feature of the bird:
R&T were absolutely correct on how misleading “Buff-throated” is; here are specimen photos, which in my opinion illustrate that “Buff-throated” is inaccurate:
A closer view, with T. scrutator on right:
So far, so good, but then R&T 1994 proposed “Peruvian Treehunter” as the official name. The problem with “Peruvian Treehunter” is that T. scrutator is neither endemic to Peru (it also occurs in Bolivia) nor the only Treehunter in Peru. It might not have been such a bad choice at the time of R&T 94, when T. scrutator was known from only 1 locality in Bolivia, but there are now additional records from at least two places in Dpto. La Paz as well as other localities in Dpto. Cochabamba. Probably for those reasons, current use of “Peruvian” is nearly restricted to the IOC list.
At this point, the origin of “Rufous-backed Treehunter” is murky. It first appeared in my chapter of HBW in 2003, and I honestly cannot recall whether I concocted this de novo or whether it was handed to me by HBW. As most of you know, I dogmatically favor stability over appropriateness and thus oppose name “improvement”, and so if it was me that did it, it must have been in a moment of weakness, perhaps fueled by the failure of the two previous names to represent any sort of improvement. Either way, the origin was likely spurred by dissatisfaction with Buff-throated and Peruvian. The name Rufous-backed focuses on the primary plumage difference between it and its sister species, Flammulated Treehunter (T. flammulatus), the dorsum of which is striped, i.e. flammulated:
Also, illustrations from HBW Alive:
Analysis: Given that a return to Taczanowski’s is unlikely, and given that none of the three competitors is predominant, I’d say all three are worthy of consideration. Although Buff-throated has historical precedence, it’s actually a lousy name, as you can see from the above images. Peruvian is misleading, as noted above; the only positive point is that most of its range is in Peru. The intent of the name Rufous-backed is to highlight the contrast between it and its sister species T. flammulatus. However, the two species are allopatric, so a view of the back is hardly needed for field identification. Even so, T. scrutator is the only member of the genus with a predominantly rufous back – congeners with minimal back striping are also a plainer, darker brown; thus, the name works in comparison to all congeners. Therefore, I conclude that it is by far the “best” of the three names (and I also conclude that I must have concocted it myself. J).
Recommendation: I recommend a NO vote on this proposal. Our current name seems to have the fewest problems and has already been used widely because of its use by HBW and by SACC. A NO vote indicates sticking with Rufous-backed as the official SACC names.
Van Remsen, November 2015
Comments from Stiles: “NO. I agree that because of the inappropriateness of the other two names and the confused situation in general, we do best sticking with the best name, Rufous-backed.”
Comments from Zimmer: “NO. “Buff-throated” is the worst choice of the three names under consideration (I would actually go with “Taczanowski’s” over “Buff-throated”). “Rufous-backed Treehunter” is more descriptive and diagnostic than “Peruvian” so retaining that name makes the most sense to me.”
Comments from Jaramillo: “NO. Rufous-backed Treehunter is a good name.”