Proposal (#372) to South American Classification Committee


Modify English names of H. flammulatus, H. diops, and H. obsoletus


Effect on South American Checklist: This proposal would change the group-names in Hemitriccus from the current mix of Tody-Tyrant and Pygmy-Tyrant.


Background: Within the tody-tyrant assemblage (Tello & Bates 2007): all Oncostoma species bear the common English group-name of "Bentbill"; all Myiornis, Lophotriccus, and Atalotriccus species bear the common English group-name of "Pygmy-Tyrant"; all Poecilotriccus and Todirostrum species bear the common English name of "Tody-Flycatcher"; all 21 Hemitriccus species bear the common English group-name of "Tody-Tyrant," except for three species (H. flammulatus, H. diops, H. obsoletus) currently listed by SACC with the common English group-name of "Pygmy-Tyrant."


The name "Pygmy-Tyrant" was applied to these three Hemitriccus species, back when they were the only species in the genus Hemitriccus. Traylor (1977) merged the genus Idioptilon ("Tody-Tyrant") into Hemitriccus. The common name of "Pygmy-Tyrant" for these three Hemitriccus species could create confusion with "Pygmy-Tyrant" species in other genera (Myiornis, Lophotriccus, Atalotriccus), and it seems to be useful to have consistent names within genera in the tody-tyrant assemblage. Other SACC proposals (e.g. #334 which changed all the group-names in Poecilotriccus to Tody-Flycatcher from the current mix of Tody-Tyrant and Tody-Flycatcher) have passed to address similar problems.


As an alternative to "Pygmy-Tyrant", Ridgely & Tudor (1994) proposed to use the name of "Bamboo-Tyrant" for these three Hemitriccus species, in recognition of their use of bamboo habitat, and to resolve an apparent and separate issue that the Flammulated Pygmy-Tyrant was not more flammulated than many other tody-tyrants, but was more flammulated than H. diops and H. obsoletus. Fitzpatrick (2004) did not follow Ridgely & Tudor (1994), staying with group-names that match SACC's current nomenclature. The SACC notes (53a) say a proposal is needed regarding the "Bamboo-Tyrant" group-name.


Analysis: I see four options to resolve group-name issues within Hemitriccus:


(a) Retain current system, with three Hemitriccus species (H. flammulatus, H. diops, H. obsoletus) called "Pygmy-Tyrants," and the rest called "Tody-Tyrants."

(b) Retain current system, but change the names of 3 Hemitriccus species (H. flammulatus, H. diops, H. obsoletus) called "Pygmy-Tyrants," to "Bamboo-Tyrants" according to Ridgely & Tudor (1994).

(c) Call all Hemitriccus "Pygmy-Tyrants" as the original three Hemitriccus were called.

(d) Call all Hemitriccus "Tody-Tyrants" as 18 of 21 species are currently named.


Both options (a) and (b) are unattractive because the common names of Hemitriccus species remain inconsistent. Solution (a) is worse, however, as the three Hemitriccus species (H. flammulatus, H. diops, H. obsoletus) called "Pygmy-Tyrants" could be confused with the "Pygmy-Tyrants" of other genera (Myiornis, Lophotriccus, and Atalotriccus). Furthermore, the three Hemitriccus species (H. flammulatus, H. diops, H. obsoletus) called "Pygmy-Tyrants," are not much smaller than the other Hemitriccus species, whereas the other "Pygmy-Tyrant" genera do tend to be smaller (Myiornis, Lophotriccus, and Atalotriccus).


Although I happen to love the name "Bamboo-Tyrant" of option (b), I don't think it is a valid solution to renaming H. flammulatus under Ridgely & Tudor's (1994) reasoning. If H. flammulatus is poorly named (and I agree that flammulated is a poor descriptor), then the solution should be changing the "Flammulated" adjective in the species name for some thing else (e.g. "Bamboo" or "Guadua"), instead of the group-name for H. flammulatus as well as for H. diops and H. obsoletus. There are lots of birds with common names that are poor descriptors of their range or plumage (e.g. Tennessee and Cape May Warblers would both be more appropriately named Boreal Warbler), but we keep them anyway for the sake of stability. 


Both options (c) and (d), provide consistent common names for all species within Hemitriccus. Option (c) should perhaps have precedent as all Idioptilon "Tody-Tyrants" were merged into Hemitriccus "Pygmy-Tyrants." I think option (d) is better, however, as it requires far fewer species to have their group-name changed and also distinguishes the group-name of larger Hemitriccus species from those of smaller species in other genera.


If option (d) of this proposal passes, the following changes would occur in the SACC list:


            Flammulated Pygmy-Tyrant becomes Flammulated Tody-Tyrant

            Drab-breasted Pygmy-Tyrant becomes Drab-breasted Tody-Tyrant

            Brown-breasted Pygmy-Tyrant becomes Brown-breasted Tody-Tyrant


Recommendation: I recommend a YES vote on option (d) of this proposal. I think use of Tody-Tyrant for all of Hemitriccus makes the most sense in terms of stability and consistency of the names, while retaining some modicum of phylogenetic information within the English names.


Literature Cited:

FITZPATRICK, J. W. 2004. Family Tyrannidae (tyrant-flycatchers). Pp. 170-462 in "Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 9. Cotingas to pipits and wagtails." (J. del Hoyo et al., eds.). Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.


RIDGELY, R. S., AND G. TUDOR. 1994. The birds of South America, vol. 2. Univ. Texas Press, Austin.


ELLO, J. G., AND J. M. BATES. 2007. Molecular phylogenetics of the tody-tyrant and flatbill assemblage of tyrant flycatchers (Tyrannidae). Auk 124: 134-154.


TRAYLOR. M. A. Jr. 1977. A classification of the Tyrant Flycatchers *Tyrannidae). Bull. Mus. Comp. Zool. 148(4): 129-184.


Dan Lebbin, October 2008





Comments from Cadena: "I generally don't vote on English names, but here it might be worth noting that we know from Mario Cohn-Haft's unpublished work and by at least one paper by Tello and Bates that Hemitriccus is not monophyletic with respect to Lophotriccus, Atalotriccus, Oncostoma, and perhaps Myiornis. Wouldn't it be best to wait until the relationships among all these flycatcher genera are sorted out before we fiddle with English names? Of course, this comment applies only if somehow English names are expected to reflect relationships. If they are not, please ignore this comment."


Comments from Remsen: "NO. As noted by Daniel, I think we should wait until all the data are published on these groups because there is a fair chance that Hemitriccus will be restricted to its three original members."


Comments from Zimmer: "NO. At some point, it would be advisable to revisit this issue, because the current system is a mess. However, as both Daniel and Van point out, the taxonomic dust is far from settled within the various "triccus" flycatchers, and it seems best to wait until the generic configurations are settled before we start messing around with the English names (only to have to reverse ourselves and further muddy the waters)."


Comments from Robbins: "NO, I agree with comments made by Daniel. A more complete molecular phylogeny is needed of these small tyrants before we start making changes."


Comments from Stiles: "NO, for now. The idea is good in principle, but if Hemitriccus to be split (as seems likely), any change made now might well be temporary. Since a publication on these birds is apparently in the works, let’s wait and see how the relationships sort out, then take the appropriate action."


Comments from Schulenberg: "NO. It seems clear that Hemitriccus isn't monophyletic, so I think it's best to wait until the phylogeny is better resolved before changing English names."