Proposals (#373 + 374) to South American Classification Committee


Recognise existence of two vernacular names for entrenched US / UK controversies, "Skua/Jaeger", "Moorhen/Gallinule" and "Sand Martin/Bank Swallow"


Summary: This set of proposals would result in there being two SACC English names for widespread species with a range in both the US and Europe/UK/Asia where entrenched and confusing usage exists for both. It also first gives a chance to consider adopting an old world name that has not previously been subject to a proposal.

Proposal 373: Change vernacular names of Stercorarius pomarinus, parasiticus and longicaudus from "Jaeger" to "Skua" (and "Parasitic" to "Arctic" for parasiticus)

Proposal 374A: Stercorarius pomarinus, parasiticus and longicaudus: Add alternative vernacular name "Skua" to existing English name

Proposal 374C: Gallinula chloropus: Add alternative vernacular name "Common Moorhen" to existing English name

Proposal 374B: Riparia riparia: Add alternative vernacular name "Sand Martin" to existing English name,

The second set of proposals would result in "Common Gallinule" becoming "Common Gallinule / Moorhen", "Bank Swallow" becoming "Bank Swallow / Sand Martin" and "XXX Jaeger" becoming "XXX Jaeger / Skua".

Discussion re Proposal 373: A choice between Moorhen and Gallinule was the subject of Proposal 335. A choice between Sand Martin and Bank Swallow was the subject of Proposal 46. A one-sided debate on the brilliance of the North American name (that SACC committee members are most familiar with) and the faults of the BOU name ensued in each case. I have added some comments at the end of each of those proposals disputing some of the committee members' assertions and also setting out some reasons why the BOU name is not so bad but do not propose to repeat those comments here.

This Skua proposal is made for the sake of completeness, but recommended for rejection and with no expectation of any success. Both names "Jaeger" and "Skua" have a great deal of historical momentum on different sides of the Atlantic. As a pre-emptor to assertions by committee meetings of why the name "Jaeger" is so fantastic, it is of note that all these birds are now regarded as Stercorarius, so having two "generic" English names for the group is somewhat splitting hairs. Having said that, the only relevant consideration is that there are two entrenched names in different major English speaking birding cultures. As all committee members voting on English names are North Americans, and given that the IOC also followed the AOU's approach, I look forward to unanimous rejection of this proposal. However, can I please encourage decorum on the rationale for doing so? The point is only raised for completeness.

Discussion re Proposal YYY: It is appropriate for AOU's NACC to adopt, encourage and advocate prevailing U.S. vernacular names. However, for South America, the all-American SACC committee presides over a predominantly non-English speaking region where Europeans and (perhaps to a lesser extent) Asians and Africans more familiar with the alternate names enjoy birding and ornithological study in the same way that North Americans do. (I'm not aware if there are a third set of alternative Falklands, British Guianan, Belizean or Lesser Antillean names for any South American birds, but that would be a separate matter and proposal.) It would therefore be appropriate to recognise the existence of two entrenched names for South America in the few cases where there is genuine irreconcilability.

Recognition of the existence of two entrenched names is a sensible approach for a region outside of the AOU's 'home' territory. We adopted the approach of recognising two entrenched English names in the 2008 Colombian checklist, in one of very few deviations from SACC taxonomy and vernacular nomenclature. Several major field guides covering the Neotropics, many of them authored by North Americans, also adopt this approach.

There are other UK/English differences in more mundane or minor matters such as spelling, hyphenation, whether Hydrobatidae are Storm-Petrels or just Petrels, Great (White) Egret and usage of inane "Common", "Northern" or "Eurasian" modifiers. Also, the two proposals on Whitestarts appeared to have had some nationalistic undertones. I have also excluded (American) Black Vulture from this proposal - as the considerations relevant to that name were considered in Proposal 259 and are somewhat distinct. None of the examples mentioned in this paragraph have the capability to confuse European birders and ornithologists in their first trips to the Americas, or to infuriate them if required to adopt such names in a scientific publication, in the way that the names subject to this proposal all do.

This proposal clearly involves different considerations from English name debates where one chooses between two modifiers in cases where a recent improved name has been proposed. I am not advocating that SACC should adopt two names in such instances. South American names and South American birding are at a more embryonic stage than the names subject to this proposal. It is therefore right for SACC (and other checklist authorities) to plump for a name and for the community to self-enforce stability around that chosen name in such cases. However, there is so much history behind the three names subject to this proposal that such an approach is likely never going to be capable of being enforced.

Recommendation: In conclusion, the SACC must choose whether its policy is to roll out North American vernacular names to South America or to acknowledge the existence of two entrenched names in neutral territory. I would recommend a "NO" vote on Proposal 373 (Change all remaining Jaegers to Skuas) and a "YES" vote on Proposal 374 (Recognise two names for controversies) - but am an optimist.


Thomas Donegan, October 2008.



Comments from Remsen:

373: "NO, for reasons stated in the proposal. Even though they are currently classified as congeners, we have numerous cases of different "last" names within a genus, from widespread genera such as Anas and Calidris to regionally endemic genera such as Coeligena."

374: "NO. Adding alternative names is a slippery slope. More broadly, the need for adding a second name so as to not "confuse birders" because species have different names in different regions, the rallying cry for English name globalizers, is incredibly weak. Claims that regional differences in English names are somehow an impediment to ornithology are without substance. Birders and ornithologists have been observing and studying skuas and jaegers, for example, for more than a century without any actual slowdown that I am aware of due to the name differences. In fact, many birders enjoy and appreciate the name differences as colorful cultural differences without letting it detract from their birding experience or their ability to identify species correctly. That a British birder would somehow be bamboozled by their Sand Martin being known as Bank Swallow when they crossed hemispheres is really quite silly. More generally, that people are incapacitated by having to know two or more names for the same thing is plainly false, as vividly documented by none other than US Postal Service personnel, who somehow manage to send my letters to the correct country whether I use "Britain", "Great Britain," or "United Kingdom." But returning to the issue at hand ... the premise that having to know multiple vernacular names is actually harmful requires documentation."

Comments from Zimmer:

374. "NO. I think we should have a standardized name and stick with it, rather than presenting alternative names for some species but not others."

Comments from Stiles:

373. "NO. Here, I agree with Van - I see no problem with a few transatlantic differences in English names, especially well-established ones and when a genus includes some rather different-looking species, I see no problem with different English names either."

374. "NO. Given that the names are well entrenched on their respective soils, I’d say let them be do we want to confuse half of the people all of the time or half of the time? In transatlantic terms, such a waffle does nobody much good."

Comments from Jaramillo:


373. “NO – too well entrenched, and there really is no problem understanding each other across the pond. I often work with European birders on pelagic trips -- there is no issue of confusion here at all.”


374. “NO – alternative names are problematic as you can always dig up alternative names, therefore you can never give even treatment. Also it ends up being confusing, making the list look cluttered, and eventually decreasing usability.”