Proposal (499) to South American Classification Committee
Effect on the SA Check-list: This proposal seeks to establish an English name for a recently described species of parrot that is already recognized on our checklist.
Background: With the passage of Proposal #149, the SACC recognized the then newly described species Pionopsitta aurantiocephala (since transferred to genus Pyrilia) from Brazil (Gaban-Lima et al 2002). The authors of that paper did not assign an English name to aurantiocephala. In Proposal #149, I suggested the English name of “Bald Parrot,” which had already found some traction in the birding/ornithological community at that time. This suggested name did not appear to invoke any controversy among the SACC committee members (although one member did approvingly note that the suggested name was both “grotesque and off-putting”!), and it was subsequently used for aurantiocephala in our list. However, we have never formally voted on an English name, and we need to do so.
Gill and Wright (2006) adopted the English name of “Bald Parrot”, but Forshaw (2010) went with “Orange-headed Parrot”. Either name describes the adult of the species well (adults with naked, orange head); neither applies to juveniles, which have the head feathered and green. Adults are remarkable both for having the entire head bare, and for having the entire head orange. Some would argue that the use of “Bald Parrot” for aurantiocephala is deceptive because its sister species, P. vulturina also has a bare head. I would counter that aurantiocephala has an even more extensively bare head; vulturina has a feathered nape. I also think that the name “Bald Parrot” is more exotic and therefore memorable, and there is also the issue of the symmetry it provides with the English name of its sister, Vulturine Parrot, which also alludes to the mostly naked head of that species.
Although the orange color of the head may be the first thing about aurantiocephala that grabs your attention, the bizarre appearance of the naked head is the truly memorable mark given the opportunity for closer inspection. After all, there are other parrots with mostly yellow heads or orange-and-yellow heads, but only vulturina and aurantiocephala have naked heads.
Recommendation: I recommend a YES vote on formalizing “Bald Parrot” (already in provisional use on our checklist) as the English name for Pyrilia aurantiocephala.
FORSHAW, J. M. 2010. Parrots of the world. Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford.
GABAN-LIMA, R., M. A. RAPOSO, AND E. HÖFLING. 2002. Description of a new species of Pionopsitta (Aves: Psittacidae) endemic to Brazil. Auk 119: 815-819.
GILL, F. B., AND M. WRIGHT. 2006. Birds of the World. Recommended English names. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton.
Kevin J. Zimmer, September 2011
Comments from Stiles: “YES – ‘Bald’ is certainly evocative and appropriate.”
Comments from Robbins: “NO. Why not call it Bare-headed. In part, I’m influenced by such misnomers as Bald Eagle, which of course isn’t Bald. Secondly, aurantiocephala is not entirely bald, it is limited to the head. Lets get it right now.”
Comments from Remsen: “NO. I like Mark’s alternative. I’d at least like to see further discussion – as Mark noted, now is the time to get it right.”
Comments from Jaramillo: “YES – I think we are being awfully picky on what constitutes being “bald”. This parrot is about as bald as a parrot gets, “Bare-headed” sounds dull and is not memorable. Since my powers of recall are getting scarcer every day, I would rather have a memorable name with some issues rather than a perfectly correct name that I will forget. “