Proposal (153) to South American Classification Committee


Change English Name of Chamaeza ruficauda to "Brazilian Antthrush"


Effect on South American Check-list: This proposal is the second of three that will attempt to stabilize the English names of three species of Chamaeza antthrushes that share an intertwined taxonomic and nomenclatural history. This proposal would change the English name of a species on our list, Chamaeza ruficauda, from "Rufous-tailed Antthrush", to "Brazilian Antthrush".


Background: See the detailed history of this complex under Proposal #152.


Analysis: Although the published vocal analysis upon which Willis based his split of these antthrushes was weak, subsequent work has confirmed his conclusions regarding the relationships of the Atlantic Forest populations to one another. C. campanisona, C. ruficauda, and C. meruloides clearly behave as good biological species that largely replace one another altitudinally, but with some overlap. They are vocally and morphologically distinct from one another. Nominate ruficauda is also clearly distinct from C. turdina of Colombia/Venezuela, differing markedly in morphological characters and having a dramatically different song and calls. There is less documented justification for the separation of meruloides from turdina, which have somewhat similar songs, but I think that Willis's conclusions regarding the morphological differences and huge range disjunction are correct, and that maintaining all of these as separate species is the proper course. The species-level taxonomic changes proposed by Willis have been universally adopted.


Conversely, the application of English names has been a free-for-all. I will make arguments regarding the English name of turdina and meruloides in separate proposals. This proposal will focus on C. ruficauda. One the one hand, we have "Rufous-tailed Antthrush" which dates back at least to Cory & Hellmayr (1924) [who used "Colombian Rufous-tailed Antthrush" for C. turdina, and "Venezuelan Rufous-tailed Antthrush" for C. chionogaster] and was, as far as I can determine, used by all authors up until 1992, at which time Willis split turdina/chionogaster from nominate ruficauda. In that paper, Willis suggested English names for the newly described C. meruloides, and for the newly split C. turdina (with chionogaster), but made no recommendation regarding any change of English name for C. ruficauda. Subsequent to this split, various authors (Sibley & Monroe 1990, Sick 1993, Clements 2000) have employed the English name of "Brazilian Antthrush" for C. ruficauda. The species goes by "Rufous-tailed Antthrush" on our base list, and Krabbe and Schulenberg (2003) in HBW Volume 8 also use this name.


C. ruficauda does have an entirely rufous tail (lacking a black subterminal band or a pale terminal fringe), which is one of the plumage characters separating it from the elevationally parapatric C. campanisona, which has an olivaceous-brown tail with a black subterminal band and a whitish terminal fringe, and from the locally syntopic C. meruloides, which also has a fairly rufescent brown tail, but with a pale tip. These features of the tail are not particularly obvious in the field, and are not the best means for telling the three species apart. On plumage characters, these three species represent minor variations on a common theme, and it would be difficult to construct descriptive names involving plumage characters that would be particularly informative. They are best separated on voice and on structural characters. Indeed, from a purely descriptive standpoint, the best English name for C. ruficauda would probably be "Long-tailed Antthrush", because it is proportionately (and noticeably) longer-tailed than the other two species. This all having been said, there is nothing inaccurate in the name "Rufous-tailed Antthrush", and it has the advantage of a long history, and agrees with the scientific name ruficauda. The only disadvantage I can see to its retention is possible confusion with turdina, which also used to be included under the name of "Rufous-tailed Antthrush".


The name "Brazilian Antthrush" has some appeal, because it's adoption would circumvent any confusion stemming from application of the old name of "Rufous-tailed" to only one of the subsequent splits. It is also a simpler name, and one that highlights the fact that ruficauda is primarily a Brazilian bird (occurring also in northeastern Argentina in Misiones).


Recommendation: As much as I like the idea of geography-based names for birds with restricted ranges in general, and the idea of highlighting Brazil and its wonderful avifauna in particular, I don't think it is warranted in this instance. The name "Rufous-tailed Antthrush" is long established, accurate (even if not overly helpful), and is in perfect agreement with the Latin name. Even though the species is primarily a Brazilian bird, it is known from Argentina, and therefore, if any Chamaeza were deserving of the name "Brazilian Antthrush" it should be meruloides, which is endemic to Brazil. I recommend a "NO" vote on this proposal, which would have the effect of retaining the English name of "Rufous-tailed Antthrush" for C. ruficauda.


Literature Cited

CLEMENTS, J. F. 2000. Birds of the world: a checklist. Fifth Edition. Ibis Publishing Company, Vista, California.

CORY, C. B., AND C. E. HELLMAYR. 1924. Catalog of birds of the Americas. Publications of the Field Museum of Natural History (Zoological Series) 13:3 (369 pp.)

HILTY, S. L. 2003. Birds of Venezuela. Second Edition. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

KRABBE, N. K., AND T. S. SCHULENBERG. 2003. Family Formicariidae (Ground Antbirds). In DEL HOYO, J., A. ELLIOTT AND D. CHRISTIE (eds.). Handbook of Birds of the World: Volume 8. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

RIDGELY, R. S., AND G. TUDOR. 1994. Birds of South America, Volume II: the suboscine passerines. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas.

SIBLEY, C. G., AND B. L. MONROE, JR. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

SICK, H. 1985. Ornitologia Brasileira, uma introdçao. Editora Univ. Brasília, Brasília.

SICK, H. 1993. Birds in Brazil. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

SICK, H., AND J. F. PACHECO. 1997. Ornitologia Brasileira. Editora Nova Fronteira, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

WILLIS, E. 1992. Three Chamaeza Antthrushes in eastern Brazil (Formicariidae). Condor 94:110-116.


Kevin J. Zimmer, December 2004




Comments from Robbins: "NO. I vote "no" in changing Chamaeza ruficauda to Brazilian Antthrush for reasons supplied by Kevin."


Comments from Pacheco: "NO. As justificativas de Zimmer me parecem aceitáveis para votar pela manutenção de "Rufous-tailed Antthrush", o nome tradicional."


Comments from Jaramillo: "NO.  I don't like leaving the name of a split taxon to refer to only one of the split entities. However, the time when this is appropriate is when the name has historic and widespread use as it does in this case. I don't think that keeping Rufous-tailed Antthrush for ruficauda will cause confusion, and I do like the fact that it matches the binomial."


Comments from Stiles: "NO. I agree that the two arguments - long-established, agreeing with the Latin name - give "Rufous-tailed" the edge over "Brazilian" - especially as the bird is not endemic to Brazil!"


Comments from Nores: "NO. Pienso que "Rufous-tailed Antthrush es un nombre correcto ya que la especie tiene cola rufa y está de acuerdo con el nombre científico. Brazilian Antthrush, por el contrario, no es un nombre totalmente correcto ya que la especie, como Zimmer señala, habita también Argentina y probablemente también Paraguay."