Proposal (485) to South American Classification Committee



Remove hyphen from “Palm-Swift” in English name of Tachornis squamata


As part of the ongoing debate generated by Gill & Wright (2006) on when to use hyphens in bird names (see Proposal 402), I found an additional case in which a hyphen misleads group membership:  the Fork-tailed Palm-Swift.”  Of the three members of Tachornis, two are called “Palm-Swift” (and T. phoenicobia of the Caribbean), whereas one is not (Pygmy Swift, T. furcata); the hyphen implies a sister relationship between phoenicobia and squamata, which is not certain, particularly because the later was long placed in the monotypic genus Reinarda.  Further, distantly related Old World species in the genus Cypsiurus are also called “Palm Swifts.”


Parkes’ (1978) the rationale for use of hyphens is to unite presumably monophyletic groups.  However, Great Blue Heron and Little Blue Heron are not hyphenated because there is no proposed group relationship between them.


To remedy this grave problem, I propose removing the second hyphen in the English name “Fork-tailed Palm-Swift.”


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 (Hyphens-Are-My-Life) Remsen, May 2011



Comments from Stiles:  “A better solution, in my opinion, would be to adopt the name Palm-Swift for all species of Tachornis, since it appears that all three species nest in palms; thus furcata would become the “Pygmy Palm-Swift”; this would also avoid confusion with the Old World Palm Swifts (Cypsiurus).”


Comments from Robbins: “NO, as I like Gary’s suggestion of adopting “palm-swift” for the Tachornis taxa.”


Additional comments from Remsen: “The problem with the above is that it is not 100% certain that they form a monophyletic group; further, addition of “Palm-“ to Pygmy Swift is a more radical change to a name that has been stable for a long time than is removing two hyphens.”


Comments from Nores:  “NO.  Although the Van’s proposal is reasonable, I agree with Gary that a better solution would be to adopt the name Palm-Swift for all species of Tachornis, since all three species nest in palms and there is some relationship between them. Moreover, this would also avoid confusion with the Old World Palm Swifts (Cypsiurus).”


Comments from Zimmer: “NO.  I like Gary’s suggestion of adopting the hyphenated group name “Palm-Swift” for all three species, even if the relationship between furcata and phoenicobia is uncertain.  If this proves not to be a monophyletic group, then the group name could be dropped from phoenicobia.  I think any damage to stability is more than offset by the gain in having a more informative name for Pygmy Swift, which will emphasize the relationship between that species and furcata.”


Comments from Stotz: “NO.  I agree with Gary that changing Pygmy Swift to Pygmy Palm-Swift and maintaining Palm-Swift as a group designation is a better way to go.”


Comments from Jaramillo:  YES.  This is more straightforward and less confusing than adopting Palm-Swift for all Tachornis. I see a deletion or addition of a hyphen as a punctuation change rather than a name change; and overall I try to avoid name changes when other options are available. Use of Palm-Swift for the Pygmy, would constitute a name change.”