Proposal (259) to South American Classification Committee


Change English name of Coragyps atratus to "American Black Vulture"


There are two well-known "Black Vultures", in different families and regions:


Coragyps atratus is possibly the most common bird in South America.

Aegypius monachus is a threatened Eurasian species.


Each species has a long history of being associated with the name "Black Vulture".


Arguments in favour of adopting the "American" prefix:


1. The existence of two names may cause initial confusions for old world birders on their first visit to South America who are unaware of the Latin names of the two species. "American" does away with this.


2. English name homonymy is best avoided where possible. Despite some recent attempts to create a new name (see below), "Black Vulture" is used for Aegypius monachus in what was, for four decades, the classic European bird book (the Peterson et al. guide in its multiple editions). "Black Vulture" is also used in the current incumbent of that title, the excellent Svensson et al. HarperCollins guide, the multi-volume Snow & Perrins Birds of the Western Palearctic (the leading academic text) as well as many other field guides and other publications dealing with the region.


3. Houston (1994) in Handbook of the Birds of the World and some other recent authors have adopted the "American" prefix for C. atratus and "Eurasian Black Vulture" for A. monachus.


4. There are several precedents for a change of this nature. For the two species known as "Robin", "American Robin" (Turdus) and "European Robin" (Erithacus) were adopted by the relevant committees. Similarly, for "Brown Flycatcher" (Cnipodectes subbrunneus/Muscicapa dauurica), "Brownish Flycatcher" or "Brownish Twistwing" and "Asian Brown Flycatcher" were adopted as names. In each case, both homonyms were given a new English name. AOU have also adopted "American Swallow-tailed Kite" for similar reasons.


Arguments against adopting the "American" prefix:


1. Almost all Neotropical and North American publications over the past 50 years at least use simple "Black Vulture" for Coragyps.


2. Aegypius monachus is not very black. Dickinson (2003), IOC (2006) and BirdLife International (2004) have sought to avoid confusion by using a new name, "Cinereous Vulture" for Aegypius monachus. BOU have bizarrely opted for "Monk Vulture". Either treatment could be regarded as making "Black Vulture" available again for Coragyps atratus (although see above on Robins and Brown Flycatchers).


3. The addition of such prefixes makes Coragyps atratus and Aegypius monachus seem like sister species, which they are not. Having said that, no-one seems to mind about American / European Robin and Great / Little Blue Heron on these grounds.


Recommendation: Mixed feelings. On one hand, very recent use of "Cinereous Vulture" for Aegypius monachus and BOU's bizarre recommendation of "Monk Vulture" mean that if committee members are strongly resistant to change, SACC could plausibly play a hard-nosed waiting game with "Black Vulture" and hope that the novel names become more widely adopted on the other side of the Atlantic over the long term. On the other hand, the name "Black Vulture" can cause real confusion, given its use for another species. Adding a simple, inane modifier does away with such confusion once and for all.


Thomas Donegan, January 2007





Comments from Remsen: NO. As long as alternative names available for the Old World bird, let's stick with current name for our bird, which is one of the most widespread and conspicuous bird species from the southern USA to Argentina.


Comments from Stiles: "NO. While I see the point of Thomas's argument, I think that this case is a bit different from that of Melanodera. "Black Vulture" is solidly entrenched in the New World literature and it is the "blackest" vulture, so the name is appropriate; given the availability of the more appropriate "cinereous" for A. monachus, I suspect that the confusion of European birders will be only momentary and temporary ... so at the risk of having my hard nose bloodied by baffled British birders, I vote to stay with Black Vulture!"


Comments from Zimmer: "NO", for reasons expressed by other committee members. Also, as Thomas Donegan points out, the addition of the modifiers "American" and "Eurasian" does have the unintended consequence of suggesting sister-species status."


Comments from Nores [not an official vote on English names]: "NO. Yo no creo que haya que ponerle un prefijo a Coragyps para diferenciarlo de la especie del viejo mundo, porque como Donegan señala sería ponerlos como "sister species". Lo que si pienso que habría que separarlos de alguna manera porque no debería haber dos aves con el mismo nombre. El hecho de llamarlos a todos "vulture" está de alguna manera indicando un parentesco que no existe. Yo trataría de buscarles otro nombre para las especies americanas. Por ejemplo: "scavenger".


Comments from Robbins: "NO, I find Donegan's reasons for *not* changing the name to be more compelling than those for a change."


Comments from Jaramillo: "NO - Changing the name of such a common and widespread bird is counterproductive. This is about as entrenched as an English Name gets. The two "Black Vultures" are not even closely related, that is a good reason for not using the American/Eurasian modifiers."