Proposal (496) to South American Classification Committee
Change the English name of Pyrrhura cruentata
Effect on the SA Check-list: This proposal, if adopted, would change the English name of a species on our checklist to a previously established name. This is one of several short proposals dealing with recent changes in English names of various species of parrots and parakeets.
Background: Cory (1918) used the English name of “Red-eared Paroquet” for Pyrrhura cruentata. Meyer de Schauensee (1966, 1970, 1982), in his foundational classification of South American birds, used the English name of Ochre-marked Parakeet for Pyrrhura cruentata. I do not know if “Ochre-marked” originated with Meyer de Schauensee, but that name remained the standard during the modern era of Neotropical ornithology at least until 1990; it was still used by Gill and Wright (2006). However, virtually every other recent authority (e.g. Collar 1997, Juniper and Parr 1998, Clements 2000, Forshaw 2010) has switched to “Blue-throated” Parakeet/Conure. I’m not clear where this change originated (possibly with Sibley and Monroe 1990, which is where I first saw the name “Blue-throated” used), or why, but it seems to have taken over, and “Blue-throated Parakeet” is the name used in the Howard-Moore checklist (Dickinson 2003) that provided our base list for the SACC.
Analysis: Unlike many of the name-hijackings that have occurred among South American birds through the popular literature, the replacement of “Ochre-marked” with “Blue-throated” does not represent an improvement in the sense of replacing a poor or inappropriate name with one that is more descriptive. In this case, an established name (Ochre-marked) has been replaced with a newer name that is neither simpler, nor more descriptive, and that is actually misleading.
The name “Ochre-marked” refers to the rather large ochre-colored patch on the rear part of the auriculars of P. cruentata. This ochre patch is conspicuous, and is unique within Pyrrhura, and I would venture that it is the most obvious and diagnostic field mark of the species. Furthermore, the name is unique: no other parrot or parakeet on our list has the modifier “Ochre” or “marked” in its English name.
Cory’s name of “Red-eared” is not technically inaccurate, since the auriculars immediately behind the eyes are a burnished, brownish-red. However, that name choice was unfortunate, because not only does it not speak to the most diagnostic plumage character, but also because several other species of Pyrrhura have red ear-coverts. Indeed, the English name of “Red-eared Parakeet” is now commonly (and more accurately) applied to P. hoematotis of Venezuela.
On the other hand, “Blue-throated” is just inaccurate. The chin and throat of cruentata is green. The “blue” actually refers to a blue collar that wraps around from the nape to the upper breast. Feel free to reference any photos of cruentata on-line at WikiAves (http://www.wikiaves.com.br/) and check the throat color. Furthermore, the blue collar doesn’t always stand out well against the surrounding green throat and belly, making it even less useful as a field mark. Currently, there are 11 species of psittacids (not including cruentata) on our checklist that employ “blue” as part of the modifier of the English name (blue-crowned, blue-cheeked, blue-throated, blue-headed, blue-winged, blue-bellied, blue-and-yellow, and blue-fronted). So “Blue-throated,” in addition to being inaccurate, also invites confusion with several other species of South American psittacids. Even Forshaw (2010), while using the name “Blue-throated Conure,” has this to say about its identification:
“Unmistakable; identified by distinctive head pattern featuring brownish-red face with brownish-orange on sides of neck; upper breast and collar encircling hindneck blue…”
The “brownish-orange on sides of neck” that Forshaw refers to is the “ochre-mark”, and, rightfully, is the first field mark he mentions. Note also that he does not refer to a blue throat, but instead refers to a blue upper breast and collar.
Recommendation: I strongly recommend a “YES” vote for restoring the earlier English name of “Ochre-marked Parakeet” for Pyrrhura cruentata, not only because it would mean restoring a previously established name, but because it is both unique and more descriptive. “Red-eared Parakeet”, the earliest English name that I could find for cruentata is already in use, and was never a particularly descriptive or unique name to begin with. “Blue-throated Parakeet” fails on all counts.
I would also point out that English names of parrots in general have been in turmoil, with each new reference (e.g. Collar 1997, Juniper and Parr 1997, Forshaw 2010) introducing new names for well-known birds, many of which have not been widely adapted. And this doesn’t even include the schizoid split between the various field guides and checklists on the issue of using “Amazon” versus “Parrot” for Amazona, and “Conure” versus “Parakeet” for Pyrrhura and Aratinga. The result has been a body-punch to stability, to the extent that very few of the “new” names (some of which are actually throwbacks to Cory 1918) can really claim to be established, even if they have been used in several recent references.
CLEMENTS, J. F. 2000. Birds of the World: a checklist. Ibis Publ. Co., Temecula, California.
COLLAR, N. 1997. Family Psittacidae (parrots). Pp. 280-477 in "Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 4. Sandgrouse to cuckoos" (J. del Hoyo et al., eds.). Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
CORY, C. B. 1918. Catalogue of birds of the Americas. Field Mus. Nat. Hist. Publ., Zool. Ser., vol. 13, pt. 2, no. 1.
DICKINSON, E. C. (ed.). 2003. The Howard and Moore complete checklist of the birds of the World, Revised and enlarged 3rd Edition. Christopher Helm, London, 1040 pp.
FORSHAW, J. M. 2010. Parrots of the world. Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford.
GILL, F. B., AND M. WRIGHT. 2006. Birds of the World. Recommended English names. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton.
JUNIPER, T. AND M. PARR. 1997. Yale University Press, New Haven and London.
MEYER DE SCHAUENSEE, R. 1966. The species of birds of South America and their distribution. Livingston Publishing Co., Narberth, Pennsylvania.
MEYER DE SCHAUENSEE, R. 1970. A guide to the birds of South America. Livingston Publishing Co., Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.
MEYER DE SCHAUENSEE, R. 1982. A guide to the birds of South America, 2nd edition. Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
SIBLEY, C. G., AND B. L. MONROE, JR. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the World. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut.
Kevin J. Zimmer, September 2011
Comments from Remsen: “YES. Kevin makes great points. Another example of name ‘improvement’ run amuck. You have to wonder how and why ’Blue-throated’ was adopted by so many when Meyer de Schauensee’s name was such a good one.”
Comments from Stiles: “YES to restore “Ochre-marked” ... all of these name-changing proposals by Kevin support the old adage, “if it works, don’t fix it”!”
Comments from Robbins: “YES to restoring the distinctive Ochre-marked English name, although I would prefer Ochre-eared.”