Proposal (163) to South American Classification Committee


Change the English name of Heliangelus micraster to "Flame-throated Sunangel"


This proposal would substitute a Ridgely-Greenfield name for a Cory name (Little Sunangel) used in most literature in which H. micraster has been considered a separate species.


Ridgely & Greenfield (2001) argued that micraster is in reality not smaller than several congeners, and that its most distinctive character is the flame-orange gorget, hence they propose the name "Flame-throated Sunangel" as a substitute for "Little Sunangel", used by most authors including Schuchmann (1999). In fact, most Heliangelus except exortis are slightly larger than micraster but this would scarcely be evident in the field, thus the older name is not incorrect in the strict sense, simply non-distinctive. Although "Flame-throated" is clearly the better name (and if I were starting from scratch I would certainly prefer it), I think that stability inclines the balance in favor of "Little", especially given its use in a major work (Schuchmann 1999) which, for better or worse, will be widely taken as a standard; it also appears in a recent field guide (Clements & Shany 2000). I note in passing that Sibley & Monroe also give an alternative for micraster in the event that it be split, "Gould's Sunangel", for which I can find no earlier reference (and hence feel that it is best ignored). Somewhat reluctantly, I therefore recommend a NO vote on this proposal (i.e., conserve "Little Sunangel" as the English name of Heliangelus micraster.




Clements & Shany 2000
Cory 1918
Ridgely & Greenfield 2001
Sibley & Monroe 1990


Gary Stiles, January 2005





Comments from Remsen: "NO. I also think that conserving historical names, provided not wildly misleading, is preferable to slight improvements."


Comments from Schulenberg: "YES. I'm for conserving older names, but I don't think conservation of old names is much of an issue in this case. Within the period during which English names began to matter (the last few decades) micraster was not recognized as a species, and so "Little Sunangel" was not in circulation.


"We sometimes look back to Hellmayr (but rarely to Cory, although the same principal applies) when we need a name (as in the case of a recent split), because that's as good a place as any to start. And if we are lucky, a suitable Hellmayr or Cory name saves us the time and trouble to make up a name from scratch. Sometimes, however, we find out that a Hellmayr name or a Cory name is pretty lame, and so we give it a pass. This shouldn't surprise us. In Cory's day, English names were used little if at all for most South American birds. I don't think that ornithologists of that period expected English names for tropical species to receive much use, and so I suspect that they gave them much less thought than do we.*


"Currently then we have a choice between a name from long ago (Cory) that received little use until it was resurrected by Schuchmann in a widely used reference work (HBW) and a freshly coined name that was used in another important reference work (Ridgely and Greenfield).


"In terms of priority I see little to distinguish them. Otherwise "Little" and "Flame-throated" both are descriptive names. Of the two, "Flame-throated" looks to be the more informative. And so that's the one that I would choose."


* some may think that we spend too much time thinking about English names"


Comments from Pacheco: "NO. Tenho preferência declarada pela manutenção dos nomes historicamente propostos, quando esta ação não é prejudicial. Parece-me ser este o caso."


Comments from Silva: "NO. If we will start to improve English names, I think we have to re-evaluate all the list."


Comments from Zimmer: "YES, for reasons well summarized by Tom."


Comments from Robbins: "YES. The name is superior to "Little" and I don't consider that an inappropriate, little-used name should have priority in this case."


Comments from Nores: "SI. Aunque estoy de acuerdo de tratar de mantener nombres que se han usado por mucho tiempo, creo que en este caso que se justifica cambiarlo por dos razones: el nombre "Little" no aparece como muy apropiado ya que hay varias especies de 10-11 cm en el género: H. mavors, H. clarisse, H. amethysticollis, H. strophianus, H. exortis y H. micraster (Schuchmann 1999), mientras que el nombre Flame-throated Sunangel es muy descriptivo y de fácil observación en el campo. Segundo porque considero que la South American Check-list es el lugar apropiado para realizar estos cambios."


Comments from Jaramillo: "YES - I am in favour of conserving older names, particularly if well entrenched. However, I do take these on a case by case basis, and in this case, I agree with the comments Tom makes."