Proposal (158) to South American Classification Committee


Change English name of Notharchus hyperrhynchus


Effect on South American Check-list: With the passage of Proposal #125, we have recognized Notharchus hyperrhynchus as a species distinct from Notharchus macrorhynchos (White-necked Puffbird) thereby adding a is species to our list. N. hyperrhynchus is in need of an English name.


Background: See Proposal #125 and #157. We are now recognizing two species (a monotypic N. macrorhynchos; and a polytypic N. hyperrhynchus, consisting of N. h. hyperrhynchus, and N. h. paraensis), whereas our list formerly recognized only one (N. macrorhynchos).


Analysis: There are basically two choices in how to deal with English names resulting from a split such as this one. Option #1 is to formulate entirely new names for both resulting species. This option is attractive in the sense that it reserves the "old" name for the former, more inclusive species, thereby negating confusion whenever the "old" name appears in the literature. The down side of this option is that we lose the stability of an established name. Option #2 is to retain the established name for one of the two species resulting from the split, and find a new name for the other species. In such cases, I think that it is most common to retain the established name for the nominate form of the species.


In the present case, I think that retention of the name "White-necked Puffbird" for N. macrorhynchos would be inappropriate. The established English name of "White-necked Puffbird" was based on the prominence of the wide white hind collar of hyperrhynchus and paraensis, which collectively, occupied the vast majority of the range of what was N. macrorhynchos. By comparison, the nominate, or "true" N. macrorhynchos has a very narrow white hind collar. N. hyperrhynchus is also much more geographically widespread (occurring from Mexico to the lower Amazon), and is the "White-necked Puffbird" with which the vast majority of ornithologists and birders are familiar. Most Notharchus have a white hind collar of some sort; it is in N. hyperrhynchus that this collar is most conspicuous. Application of the name "White-necked" to the now monotypic N. macrorhynchos would be misleading and confusing. In Proposal #157, I suggested changing the English name of N. macrorhynchos to "Guianan Puffbird".


The question then is one of which English name to apply to N. hyperrhynchus. Applying option #1 from above, we would formulate a new name for hyperrhynchus, having already given a new name to macrorhynchos. If we were to take this course, I would suggest the name of "White-fronted Puffbird" for hyperrhynchus. In Volume 7 of HBW, Rasmussen & Collar (2002) have this to say in the Descriptive notes:


"Race hyperrhynchus differs from nominate in much broader white forehead, larger bill, broader white hind collar, much less extensive black patches on sides; paraensis similar, with bill exceptionally long."


From the standpoint of field recognition, it is the broad white forehead (= front) that really sets hyperrhynchus/paraensis apart not only from macrorhynchos, but also from all other congeners. The other marks mentioned by Rasmussen and Collar are all good, but the extent of the white forehead is the most prominent mark.


Following option #2 from above (retention of the established name for one of the resulting splits), N. hyperrhynchus would be the only appropriate recipient for the retention of the name "White-necked Puffbird". The white neck or hind collar on hyperrhynchus is decidedly broader and more prominent than on macrorhynchos.  Also, because hyperrhynchus is by far the more widespread and familiar (to ornithologists and birders) form to which the name "White-necked Puffbird" has been applied, it would be most fitting for that name to stay with hyperrhynchus rather than with macrorhynchos.


I could be persuaded to go either way on this issue. Granting new names to both species resulting from this split ("Guianan Puffbird" for macrorhynchos, "White-fronted Puffbird" for hyperrhynchus) would reduce any possible confusion regarding appearance of the old name of "White-necked Puffbird" in the literature, and would give appropriate names to both taxa. On the other hand, retention of "White-necked Puffbird" for hyperrhynchus would maximize stability.


Given that M. hyperrhynchus (with paraensis) is such a widely distributed (from Mexico to the lower Amazon) and well-known species, I'm less inclined to inflict a new English name on that species. In general, I think that a split resulting in two species with roughly proportionate distributions is best served by granting new English names to both taxa, thereby negating any possible confusion as to whether use of the "old" name applies to pre-or-post-split populations. However, if the split involves cleaving off a geographically minute and little-known taxon from a much more widespread and familiar one, then I would generally favor the stability of retaining the "old" name for the more widespread, familiar taxon.


Recommendation: To simplify this, let's say that a "YES" vote would retain the English name of "White-necked Puffbird" for N. hyperrhynchus. A "NO" vote would eliminate "White-necked Puffbird" and replace it with "White-fronted Puffbird". I will recommend a "YES" vote, but could easily change my vote depending on how others feel. The one thing that I feel strongly about, is that N. macrorhynchos needs a new English name.


Literature Cited

RASMUSSEN, P. C. AND N. J. COLLAR. 2002. Family Bucconidae (Puffbirds). Pp. 102­138 in: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., & Sargatal, J., eds. (2002). Handbook of the birds of the world, Vol. 7, Jacamars to Woodpeckers. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.


Kevin J. Zimmer, December 2004




Comments from Robbins: "YES. I agree with Kevin's rationale for continuing to use White-necked Puffbird for N. hyperrhynchus."


Comments from Jaramillo: "YES - 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. White-necked Puffbird is well entrenched, messing with this name would not do anyone any good."


Comments from Stiles: "YES. Separating the name "White-necked" from macrorhynchus, with which it was long associated, seems unwise in that it would create additional problems for those working back through the literature using English names (which are often more stable than Latin names). The fact that there still is a N. macrorhynchus but it's no longer the White-necked Puffbird seems more likely to cause mix-ups, especially in the future. Use of "White-fronted" for hyperrhynchus in the restricted sense seems the best alternative; leave "White-necked" for the old, inclusive species."


Comments from Remsen: "YES. "White-necked" is entrenched as being associated with broadly distributed hyperrhynchus, Mexico to s. Brazil; in such cases of highly asymmetrical range size and long-standing English name for the broadly distributed one, I favor keeping one name for the widespread species and concocting a new one for macrorhynchus."


Comments from Pacheco: "YES. Pelas razões apresentadas, sobretudo, por Remsen; isto é, a retenção do nome em favor do táxon mais amplamente distribuído."


Comments from Nores: "SI, considero que es razonable usar el nombre "White-necked Puffbird" para N. hyperrhynchus a pesar de que este nombre haya sido usado para N. macrorhynchos. Pienso que la SACC es el lugar ideal para cambiar nombres que han sido tradicionalmente usados pero que son incorrectos o poco apropiados."