Proposal (401) to South American Classification Committee


Remove hyphens from certain English names


As part of the ongoing debate generated by Gill & Wright (2006) on when to use hyphens in bird names, I asked Frank Gill to comb the SACC list for hyphen use that did not either (a) unite groups of putative close relatives, or (b) involve “Bird-Bird” last names, e.g., “Hawk-Eagle.”  Even Frank, who is opposed to most hyphenated “last names” recognizes the need for them in case “b”, i.e., they make it clear that one names is modifying the other, and they remove the possibility of total confusion in text that does not capitalize bird names (e.g., imagine encountering “black hawk eagle” in a string of text.


Frank’s search yielded the following names on the SACC list with what we both agree (!) are unnecessary hyphens:


Buteogallus aequinoctialis Rufous Crab-Hawk

Tachuris rubrigastra Many-colored Rush-Tyrant

Muscipipra vetula Shear-tailed Gray-Tyrant

Muscigralla brevicauda Short-tailed Field-Tyrant

Empidonomus aurantioatrocristatus Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher

Saltatricula multicolor Many-colored Chaco-Finch

Donacospiza albifrons Long-tailed Reed-Finch


None of these fit Parkes’ (1978) the rationale for use of hyphens.  For example, we do not use hyphens in names such as Great Crested Flycatcher, Great Horned Owl, Little Blue Heron, and others.


I propose that we treat these names as a block and remove the hyphens from the last names, e.g., they would become “Rufous Crab Hawk” etc.  My rationale for taking up time with such a proposal is that it makes more defensible the use of hyphens in the rest of our names.


Addendum 9-10-09:  John Boyd pointed out to me that White-headed Marsh-Tyrant (Arundinicola leucocephala) should be included in the above list, so consider it part of the package.


Literature Cited


GILL, F. B., AND M. WRIGHT.  2006.  Birds of the World. Recommended English names. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton.


PARKES, K. C.  1978.  Guide to forming and capitalizing compound names of birds in English names.  Auk 95: 324-326.



Van Remsen, July 2009



Comments from Zimmer: “YES for treating the names presented by Van as a block and removing the hyphens from the last names, for reasons stated by Van.”


Comment from Thomas Donegan: Having had the misfortune to be asked by Van to produce a previous set of hyphenation proposals (199, 214-218, 225-226), I probably know more about this topic than a sane person should and have an observation to make.  It seems there are two issues in this proposal and I am not sure if they should be conflated into one.  I agree with this proposal to remove hyphens from the names "Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher" and "Shear-tailed Gray-Tyrant". These are "Adjective-Bird" names.  However, I am not sure that the proposal as regards the other names (which are "Noun-Bird" names) should be accepted.  Van noted that the usual approach to "Bird-Bird" names is to maintain the hyphen because "Black Hawk Eagle" would be confusing.  Is it a hawk or is it an eagle?  However, the same argument would certainly apply to "Rufous Crab-Hawk" which is a variation on a theme ("Animal-Bird" not "Bird-Bird").  Is it a crab or is it a hawk?  Similarly, "Many-colored Rush-Tyrant" and "Long-tailed Reed-Finch" are "Plant-Bird" combinations.  A "Many-colored Rush" is a phrase clearly capable of its own meaning.  "Long-tailed Reed" could potentially refer to some interesting plant morphological feature.   As for the "Chaco-Finch", a "Many-colored Chaco" could be a colorful landscape so there is possibly some confusion that results from removing the hyphen there.  As for "Short-tailed Field Tyrant", there is probably no confusion in removing the hyphen but this would break the mould of retaining "Noun-Bird" names as hyphenated.  The leading authority on this, Parkes (1978), does not restrict his suggestion for hyphenation to cases of "Bird-Bird" but rather "the second component is the name of a type of bird ... and the bird in question does belong to that group" (rule II). Parkes does not refer to a requirement for there to be various species sharing the compound name for hyphenation to be required.  This of course does not provide any reason as to why the "Adjective-Bird" names should change.  However, hyphenation of Adjective-Bird names is an issue IOC and BOU take a different view on.  Also, removing hyphens from single usage "Adjective-Bird" names is consistent with other SACC treatments.  The examples cited by Van as being consistent with this proposal are all "Adjective-Bird" names (Great Crested Flycatcher, Great Horned Owl, Little Blue Heron).  He cites no Noun-Bird examples to support this proposal and I am not aware of any in the SACC list.  I wonder if this proposal might better be split up into two, one for the Noun-Bird names and one for the Adjective-Bird names?  I'd personally favour changing the names of the Slaty-Flycatcher and Gray-Tyrant but not the others.  Following this approach, Parkes (1978) probably needs a single rider: that "Adjective-Bird" compound names that are used only for one species are not hyphenated.  If the approach in the proposal were to be followed, there would be greater changes to Parkes' widely accepted model to those which have previously been accepted by the AOU.


Comments from Stiles: “YES.  I have mixed feelings on this one ... but I agree that unless there are several related birds sharing the hyphen, a case could be made for maintaining it to emphasize affinities (whether adjective-bird or noun-bird names).  If the hyphen is a one-off, it is indeed probably superfluous (and as I understand it, all of these are one-offs so a tentative YES might be most appropriate.)  Just to confuse things a bit, Crab-Hawk could be a very useful name if given to the three Buteogallus that are associated with water and do indeed eat crabs or suchlike beasties (gundlachii, anthracinus and urubitinga).”


Comments from Robbins: “YES.  After reading various comments and talking with Frank Gill at the recent A.O.U. meeting, I’m now ready to completely abandon the use of hyphens in English names.  I’m not sure if Gary’s comments about using crab-hawk for the Buteogallus species that eat crabs was tongue in cheek, but the in press MPE article by Amaral et al. demonstrates that the “crab eating” Buteogallus are not each other’s closest relatives. Yet another example of why we should abandon the idea.”


Comments from Jaramillo: “YES.  I thought about Thomas Donegan’s comments and was swayed by them, so this is a very weak yes. Part of what sways me is that the change does also have the effect of bringing SACC and IOC lists a little bit closer together and therefore aid in standardization.