Proposal (128) to South American Classification Committee


Change English name of Cinnycerthia olivascens from "Sharpe's Wren" to "Sepia-brown Wren"


Effect on South American CL: This proposal would change the English name of a species on our list from a "Dickinson" name ("Sharpe's Wren") to a "Ridgely-Greenfield" name ("Sepia-brown Wren").


BackgroundCinnycerthia peruana was long known as "Sepia-brown Wren" (e.g., Meyer de Schauensee 1970, Ridgely & Tudor 1989, Fjeldså & Krabbe 1990).


Brumfield & Remsen (1996) provided evidence and rationale for splitting C. peruana into three species, C. olivascens (northern taxon that extends in northern Peru), C. peruana (northern to southern Peru), and C. fulva (southern Peru to northern Bolivia. They proposed "Sharpe's Wren" as the English name for olivascens in honor of the describer of the taxon (and in the absence of good alternatives, historical or descriptive). This was followed by Brewer (2001) and Dickinson (2003), and thus was the name SACC used in baseline list.


Ridgely & Greenfield (2001) used "Sepia-brown Wren" for olivascens with the following statement: "however, we favor continuing to call this best known [member] of the complex the Sepia-brown Wren."


Analysis: Sharpe's Wren might not be a winning charismatic name, but it does honor a well-known British Ornithologist, Richard Bowdler Sharpe, who, I think, has no other New World bird named for him (other than Terenura sharpei).


Regardless, common practice in English names for species that have been split into two or more component taxa is NOT to use the former name for the broadly defined species as a name for one of the components (e.g. "Rufous-sided Towhee" was not used for either of the daughter species, now called "Spotted" and "Eastern"). The exceptions are when one of the daughters dwarfs the other in terms of geographic range (e.g., when Cuban Agelaius phoeniceus assimilis was split from widespread Red-winged Blackbird, the latter name was retained for the widespread species and "Red-shouldered" was invented for the Cuban fragment. Of course, there is a continuum within these examples in terms of "equality" of daughters (e.g., Canada Goose retained for Branta canadensis and Cackling restored for B. hutchinsii) as well as extenuating circumstances (as in existence of prior historical names for the species, as in the goose example above).


Nonetheless, Bob's debatable statement above (olivascens = "best known") notwithstanding, in this case the three daughters are roughly equivalent in range size. Furthermore, potential confusion exists in that Sepia-brown was formerly applied to C. peruana, as the oldest name, not to olivascens; in other words, "Sepia-brown" might be acceptable for the peruana daughter but, in my opinion, not olivascens.


Recommendation: I vote NO on this proposal. "Sharpe's" may not be the best name, but "Sepia-brown" is worse, in my opinion.


Literature Cited:

BREWER, D. 2001. Wrens, dippers, and thrashers. Yale University Press, New Haven.

BRUMFIELD, R. T., AND J. V. REMSEN, JR. 1996. Geographic variation and species limits in Cinnycerthia wrens of the Andes. Wilson Bull 108: 205-227.

FJELDSÅ, J., AND N. KRABBE. 1990. Birds of the High Andes. Zoological Museum, Univ. Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.

MEYER DE SCHAUENSEE, R. 1970. A guide to the birds of South America. Livingston Publishing Co., Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.

RIDGELY , R. S., AND P. J. GREENFIELD. 2001. The birds of Ecuador. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.

RIDGELY, R. S., AND G. TUDOR. 1989. The birds of South America, vol. 1. Univ. Texas Press, Austin.


Van Remsen, August 2004




Comments from Stiles: "[NO]. I agree that the long-standing association of "Sepia-brown" with peruana (sensu lato) would lead to confusion in that the two names would now go with different taxa - a real headache for anyone trying to work back through the older literature using common names. Also, I don´t think that adding another slightly better English name to the mix (say, Sepia Wren or Olive-brown Wren) would do anything but muddy the waters still further, as there would always be the possibility of a still better one later on... Sharpe´s Wren is published, it's not great but it is distinctive and not misleading, so let´s stick with it in the interest of preserving what stability there is."


Comments from Robbins: "[NO]. Although I'm not enamored with the name Sharpe (tells us nothing), I do vote "no" based on Sepia-brown formerly being applied to peruana and not olivascens."


Comments from Nores: "NO. Me parece innecesario cambiar un nombre correcto en honor a su descubridor, por un nombre ya usado para otra especie (C. peruana), que combina dos colores similares para denominar una especie que es prácticamente de un solo color."


Comments from Zimmer: "I vote "NO". I much prefer patronyms to another so-called "descriptive" name that doesn't really do a good job of describing the bird or at least of separating it from a morphologically similar species. Also, as pointed out by others, the retention of the old, inclusive name for one of the component splits just creates more confusion for those trying to sort through the literature. Best to give each of the splits a new name. "Sharpe's Wren" is just fine with me."


Comments from Stotz: "NO. Although I don't really like Sharpe's Wren (and think Sepia-Brown Wren is a nice English name), I think it is a mistake in general to take the English name that was associated with one scientific name and use it for a differently named taxon, especially when the first name still represents a recognized species-level taxon. This is especially true in a case like this where there is no history of associating Sepia-brown Wren with olivascens. Ridgely and Greenfield's statement that olivascens is the best known of the complex" is a purely Ecuador-centric statement. It is the only one of the complex I haven't seen, and anybody with extensive experience in Peru might call either of the other two the "best-known."  Although I will miss the name Sepia -brown Wren, with three common widely distributed species being split out from that species, I think clearly the best practice is new names for everybody.


"So why did Brumfield and Remsen create a new name "Sharpe's" instead of resurrecting "Salmon's" used by Hellmayr?"


Comments from Pacheco: "[NO] Ridgely & Greenfield não apresentaram uma justificativa aceitável para reverter o nome em inglês proposto por Brumfield & Remsen, responsáveis pelo desmembramento do então 'Sepia-brown Wren'. Lamento apenas, tal qual Stotz, que estes últimos autores não tenham resgatado o nome de Hellmayr (1934), que preferira homenagear o coletor do táxon, o naturalista colombiano Thomas K. Salmon."


[Additional comments from Remsen: "Concerning Doug and Fernando's comments on "Salmon's Wren," for better or worse, we decided not to use it because it was applied by Hellmayr only to C. p. olivascens as "Salmon's Brown Wren", with C. p. bogotensis called "Bogotá Brown Wren." A frequent principle is revising English names is to avoid using the previously applied to only one taxon in a polytypic species (unless the component taxa are dramatically asymmetrical in their distributions), and so we thought that creating a new name was the best course. I do like "Salmon's Wren," so if someone wants to propose a change, please do so."]


Comments from Jaramillo: "NO.  I realize this has already been defeated, but agree with the others for the same reasons."