Proposal (252) to South American Classification Committee


Change the English name of Caprimulgus heterurus from Santa Marta Nightjar to Todd's Nightjar


Effect on SACC: change the English name of Caprimulgus heterurus from Santa Marta Nightjar to Todd's Nightjar.


Background: This poorly known caprimulgid was originally described as Setopagis heterurus, with no English name. It was diagnosed as having a general resemblance to Little Nightjar Caprimulgus parvulus, but with less rufescent underparts and more extensive white markings on the wings and tail. The tail markings were stated to cover both webs of the terminal portion of the three outer rectrices. The type, an adult male, was collected at La Tigrera, Santa Marta, Colombia (Todd 1915, Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash. 28, 79-82).


The species was given the English name Santa Marta Little Nighthawk, with Todd's original diagnosis repeated in a footnote (Cory 1918, Field Mus. Nat. Hist. 197, Zool. Series 13).


Treated as a subspecies of Setopagis parvula (for the first time?) by Hellmayr (1929, Field Mus. Nat. Hist. 255, Zool. Series 12, 235 - 501.), who stated that this goatsucker was represented in the Santa Marta region of Colombia by Setopagis parvula heterura, with darker underparts and longer white tips to the rectrices.


The genus Setopagis was subsumed in Caprimulgus by Peters in 1940 (Checklist birds of the world Vol. 4, Harvard Univ. Press).


Stated to inhabit the more sparse parts of scrubby or deciduous woodlands, together with the adjacent or included clearings, either natural or man-made. It may also prefer slightly hilly terrain, shying away from extensive flatlands (Schwartz 1968, Condor 70, 223 - 227).


In a review of taxonomic relationships within Caprimulginae based on vocalisations, named Santa Marta Setopagis Setopagis heterus (= an incorrect subsequent spelling), with a range of Santa Marta region of Colombia and northern Venezuela (Davis 1978, Pan Am. Studies 1, 22 - 57).


Described as similar to C. p. parvulus but with much wider white band across the fiver outer primaries, slightly darker underparts and slightly larger white spots on all but the central two tail feathers (Cleere 1998, Nightjars, Pica Press).


Generally regarded as a largely Venezuelan taxon, preferring gallery forest edge rather than open, grassy country in the llanos (Sharpe et al. 2001,Bull. Brit. Orn. Cl. 121, 50 - 62).  In Venezuela, occurs in the borders of dry to humid forest, gallery forest and shrubby thickets and wooded areas in grassland, in lowlands and slightly hilly regions (Hilty 2003, Birds of Venezuela, Christopher Helm).


Modern checklists and monographs treat this taxon as a subspecies of Little Nightjar Caprimulgus parvulus, with no separate English name and a range of northern Colombia and northern and central Venezuela.


It has also been called Little Nighthawk and Santa Marta Little Nightjar.


Analysis: This newly elevated species is not endemic to the Santa Marta region of northern Colombia and the name Santa Marta Nightjar therefore seems inappropriate. It is a small, variegated nightjar that lacks distinctive morphological features that would suggest a suitable English name, although it is clearly a nightjar (i.e. presence of long rictal bristles) rather than a nighthawk. It does possess peculiar vocalisations, but these would be difficult to translate into a suitable common name. It inhabits a variety of wooded country throughout its range, which also fails to offer an obvious solution. It's specific name heterurus simply means "different tailed".


Recommendation: With little to go on from the bird itself, I propose the English name Todd's Nightjar for Caprimulgus heterurus, in honour of W.E.C. Todd who described the species.


[Footnote: Todd also described Caprimulgus maculosus, which is currently known as Cayenne Nightjar]


Nigel Cleere, December 2006





Comments from Remsen: "YES. Although I'm usually opposed to novelties, the lack of a historically established, much less accurate, English name removes my normal hesitation. Cleere does a great job of exploring the alternatives, and his new name is as appropriate as any. "Santa Marta" is clearly a misnomer that we have a chance to correct before it gets any momentum."


Comments from Jaramillo: "YES - Todd's Nightjar is appropriate given that Santa Marta is misleading. Now is the time to make this change."


Comments from Robbins: "NO. As Cleere points out, the name Santa Marta Nightjar is an inappropriate English name for heterurus. In addition, he is correct that there is no vocal, morphological, or habitat characters that would provide an appropriate English descriptor. As my voting record demonstrates, I'm not supportive of using patronyms for English names. Fortunately, there is an alternative that conveys both heterurus's relationships and distribution.


"Given the similarity in the primary vocalization shared by heterurus and parvulus, yet very distinct from all other nightjars, I doubt that anyone would question that these aren't sister taxa (plumage and habitat preferences support this premise as well). Thus, to denote this and not introduce a completely foreign name, Northern Little Nightjar for heterurus and Southern Little Nightjar for parvulus would be appropriate English names. Although I generally don't like the use of "Northern" and "Southern" for distinguishing closely related taxa with different latitudinal distributions, but in this case it is quite appropriate. Thus, I vote "no" for the uninformative Todd's Nightjar, if nothing else to generate discussion for the above alternative."


Comments from Stiles: "YES. A new name would be desirable, Todd's is at least not misleading if insipid (I don´t terribly like patronyms either), and I distrust Mark's alternative if only because somebody will surely go the next step at some point and propose N. and -S. Little-Nightjars, to which hyphenations I am decidedly allergic)."


Comments from Zimmer: "Qualified "YES". I am in total agreement that "Santa Marta" should go. I also agree that in this group (in which diversification of plumage characters has been pretty conservative), descriptive names are hard to come by. Unlike some members of the committee, I don't have any problem with patronyms, because at least they are memorable, as opposed to some supposedly descriptive names that really don't describe or distinguish a bird very well. I could be equally, or possibly even more supportive of the longer, and somewhat boring "Northern Little Nightjar" and "Southern Little Nightjar" as proposed by Mark. These names generally reflect the distributions of the two species, which do appear to be one another's closest relatives. I actually think they are the better names, because they are informative in the sense of both distribution and relationships. Going with "Northern Little" and "Southern Little" would also have the advantage of bestowing new names on each of the resulting splits, thereby reserving "Little Nightjar" for the species-pair. I agree with Gary in not wanting to see a hyphen (therefore separating out Little-Nightjars from Nightjars), and some committee members may object to the longer names. So, count me as a YES for getting rid of "Santa Marta Nightjar", and a "YES" to either "Todd's Nightjar" or "Northern Little" and "Southern Little" Nightjars, but with a slight preference for the latter alternative."


Comments from Nores [not an official vote on English names]: "YES. Estoy de acuerdo en cambiar el nombre Santa Marta Nightjar ya que la especie no es endémica de la Sierra de Santa Marta, pero buscaría otro nombre que el propuesto. Yo tampoco considero apropiado poner nombres de personas. Lo que dice Robbins (Northern Little Nightjar for heterurus and Southern Little Nightjar for parvulus) me parece bien."