Proposal (498) to South American Classification Committee
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) applied the name of “Blue-fronted Parrot” to the nominate subspecies of Amazona aestiva, using the English name of “Yellow-winged Parrot” for the subspecies A. a. xanthopteryx. Meyer de Schauensee (1966, 1970, 1982), in his foundational classification of South American birds, used the English name of Turquoise-fronted Parrot for Amazona aestiva. I do not know if that marked the first use of “Turquoise-fronted,” 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-fronted” Parrot/Amazon. I’m not clear where the switch back to Cory’s original name originated (possibly with Sibley and Monroe 1990), or why, but it seems to have taken over, and “Blue-fronted Parrot” 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 “Turquoise-fronted” with “Blue-fronted” 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 (Turquoise-fronted) has been replaced with a much older name that is neither simpler, nor more descriptive, and that is arguably misleading.
The name “Turquoise-fronted Parrot” refers to the color of the forehead (and, to a lesser extent, the foreface). Different observers will perceive colors in different ways, but none of the many aestiva that I have seen had the forehead truly blue. Instead, all of the adults at least, appear to have the forehead and foreface distinctly bluish-green or greenish-blue (immature birds are usually just green on the forehead). Numerous on-line dictionaries define the color turquoise as being like that of the semi-precious stone of the same name, and go on to describe this color variously as “bluish-green, sky-blue, greenish-blue, or greenish-gray”. Feel free to reference any photos of aestiva on-line at WikiAves (http://www.wikiaves.com.br/) to check forehead color. I would argue that the modifier “turquoise” is more accurately descriptive than is the modifier “blue” in describing the forehead color of aestiva.
Furthermore, the use of the modifier “turquoise” is unique among South American psittacids to Amazona aestiva, making the name Turquoise-fronted Parrot not only more accurately descriptive, but also more memorable. Conversely, there are 11 species of psittacids (not including aestiva) 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), and in most of these (including aestiva), “blue” modifies some part of the head, face or throat, which only serves to make the names potentially more confusing.
The argument can be made that “Blue-fronted Parrot” is a more established name than “Turquoise-fronted Parrot”, since it dates back at least to Cory (1918). However given the miniscule number of ornithologists or birders dealing with Amazona aestiva prior to Meyer de Schauensee (1966, 1970), I think it is fair to say that “Turquoise-fronted Parrot” was actually the more familiar name of the two, prior to the recent attempts to resurrect the older name.
Recommendation: I recommend a “YES” vote for restoring the Meyer de Schauensee English name of “Turquoise-fronted Parrot” for Amazona aestiva. This is a case where a perfectly good, memorable and descriptive name was replaced by a name that is less accurately descriptive and more likely to cause confusion due to its similarity to the names of several other species of parrots, parakeets and parrotlets.
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.
CORY, C. B. 1918. Catalogue of birds of the Americas. Field Mus. Nat. Hist. Publ., Zool. Ser., vol. 13, pt. 2, no. 1.
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.
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. Meyer de Schauensee’s name was a better one with a long history, and there was no reason to change it.”
Comments from Stiles: “YES. All of these name-changing proposals by Kevin support the old adage, “if it works, don’t fix it”!”