Proposal (404) to South American Classification Committee


Change English name of Scytalopus griseicollis


This proposal is to change the English name of Scytalopus griseicollis.  For a species that has been recognized formally for only 11 years, there is a broad choice of 5 names based just on published treatments.  The current SACC ‘English name is "Matorral Tapaculo":

"Matorral Tapaculo" was proposed as an English name for S. griseicollis by Krabbe & Schulenberg (1997) and was used by Krabbe & Schulenberg (2003), Restall et al. (2006) and Salaman et al. (2001, 2007, 2008).  It forms the current baseline name and is arguably the most established of the various names.

Other possible vernacular names include “Rufous-rumped Tapaculo” (Hilty 2003; Gill & Wright 2006), “Pale-bellied Tapaculo” (Asociación Bogotana de Ornitología 2000; Donegan & Avendaño-C. 2008), “Colombian Tapaculo” (the previous name for S. infasciatus) and “Cundinamarca Tapaculo” (used by Gill & Wright 2006 for S. infasciatus).  S. infasciatus is not currently recognized by SACC, following Proposal 390.

“Rufous-rumped” has only been used for a Venezuelan population, which Donegan & Avendaño-C. (2008) did not treat as part of S. griseicollis.  The two main taxonomic changes from that paper are now accepted by SACC, following proposals 389 and 390 (although SACC does not deal with subspecies).

The two geographical names are hardly informative as various other tapaculos occur both in Colombia and Cundinamarca, and S. griseicollis is not endemic to either region.  S. griseicollis is near-endemic to Colombia but also occurs in Tama in Venezuela (this population being of an undescribed subspecies described but not named by Donegan & Avendaño 2008).  There are other species or putative species of tapaculos (S. rodriguezi, S. stilesi, S. "canus"), which would better, match the name "Colombian Tapaculo" than S. griseicollis.

Use of the Spanish word “Matorral” for S. griseicollis would follow the majority of recent leading texts.  An important habitat of S. griseicollis is primary páramo and subpáramo (as opposed to scrub), making the name "matorral" somewhat misleading as suggesting that the species prefers scrub or secondary habitats, although the name is not incorrect.  Also, "Matorral" is often used to refer to habitats in other parts of the Neotropics particularly in Chile but also in Brazil.  However, the term is not frequently used in Colombia to refer the habitats where S. griseicollis is found.  Finally, "Matorral" is not a word in the English language, but a word borrowed from Spanish.  This does not preclude its use, given that there are lots of other Spanish words in English bird names, but bears note.  It is also noteworthy that so many authors have sought to establish a different name for this species, which suggests that the name "Matorral Tapaculo" is not subject to widespread support.

“Pale-bellied Tapaculo” is a good descriptive name for S. griseicollis, but is not as widely used as "Matorral Tapaculo".  The advantage of this name is that S. griseicollis is an unusually pale tapaculo meaning that it lends itself well to a morphologically based name, a rarity in this genus.


Donegan, T.M. & Avendaño-C., J.E. 2008. Notes on Tapaculos (Passeriformes: Rhinocryptidae) of the Eastern Andes of Colombia and Venezuelan Andes, with a new subspecies of Scytalopus griseicollis from Colombia.  Ornitología Colombiana 6: 24-65.


Other references mentioned are cited in that paper.

Recommendation: "Matorral Tapaculo", a Krabbe/Schulenberg name, has a deal of history behind it, but it is not inaccurate.  "Pale-bellied Tapaculo", a Stiles name, is arguably subjectively 'better', so if the proposal passes, Pale-bellied would be the proposed new name, because I do not recommend Rufous-rumped or Colombian for reasons stated above.  I have no strong view either way on vote "Pale-bellied," vs. "Matorral," but it would be helpful to stabilize the nomenclature for this species were SACC to take a form view on this point.


Thomas Donegan, August 2009



Comments from Stotz: “NO.  I think that Matorral Tapaculo seems like at perfectly good name so I can see no reason to change it.  Even if Pale-bellied Tapaculo is an appropriate name it seems like plumage-based names in Scytalopus are less preferable to habitat-based names.”

Comments from Stiles: “YES, for reasons given by Thomas.  Here, I emphasize that S. griseicollis is NOT strictly a “matorral” bird but, at least in the Bogotá region, also occurs regularly in the understory of primary or old secondary high Andean forest (one of the reasons that I had mistakenly thought that two species were involved, an argument thoroughly rebutted by Donegan & Avendaño).


Comment from Frank Gill: Please note in this discussion that the IOC changed the English name of S. griseicollis to "Matorral" aligned with SACC.”


Additional comments from Thomas Donegan: “Consistency of approach between this proposal and Proposal 407 would be welcomed.  The two proposals involve basically the same issue but votes of some committee members have surprisingly gone different ways.  In Proposal 407, the names "Campo Pipit" and "Chaco Pipit" are being argued and assumed to be misnomers even though, according to the proposal, the species in question has occurred in Campo habitat (known specimens) and winters in the Chaco.  Another name better describing the species' habitat is therefore proposed with support so far.  In this proposal 404, "Matorral" Tapaculo occurs in some habitats that, at a stretch, one could perhaps think of as akin to "Matorral". "Matorral" is more commonly used as a name for a habitat in Chile: (see Manuel Nores' comments on proposal 393 for example).  The species' principal habitat is Paramo (with Paramo Tapaculo already used by S. canus) and it is also found in secondary high-elevation growth and forest border of taller forests.  Proposals 404 and 407 both involve names on the current baseline that describe little-used or less-used habitats for a species where other (better) alternatives are available.  I don't have very strong feelings on this proposal or proposal 407.  However, consistency may be a virtue.”


Comments from Robbins: “YES.  I too had related the word “matorral” with habitat in Brazil and Chile, so given Thomas Donegan and Gary’s comments about the habitat preferences of griseicollis and the name that Gary had used earlier for this taxon apparently is appropriate, I support changing the English name to Pale-bellied Tapaculo.”


Comments from Zimmer: “YES.  I love habitat names, provided the species is unique to the habitat – otherwise, it is just misleading.  In this case, “Matorral” appears to not be particularly informative.  Like Doug, I think that plumage-based names in Scytalopus should generally be avoided, but it seems in this case as if “Pale-bellied” would be appropriate.”