Proposal (517) to South American Classification Committee



Establish English names for Sporophila bouvreuil and Sporophila pileata



With the passage of Proposal #502, Sporophila pileata is now considered a distinct species from S. bouvreuil. In all recent literature, the species is known as the Capped Seedeater, although now both putative species share the distinctive black cap, meaning that novel names or historical names must be used, as discussed below.


Analysis of names (suggested by Rob Clay, Alvaro Jaramillo and Arne Lesterhuis [1 & 2], Mark Pearman and Nacho Areta [3 & 4]; one of the historical names by Hellmayr)


1)   Distribution-based: Southern Capped (pileata) vs. Northern Capped (bouvreuil)


Pros- Indicates the genetic relationship between the two taxonomic groups, and recalls the previously named Capped Seedeater.

Cons- They are not the only seedeaters with a cap; nigrorufa also has a black cap, cinnamomea has a grey cap. They are not the northernmost or southernmost Sporophila species; instead one just occurs to the north, or essentially to the north and east of the other. These names are also long and cumbersome.


2)   Cap/pileum-based: Pileated (pileata) vs. Capped (bouvreuil)


Pros- Pileated reflects the scientific name of pileata, and Capped retains the current name of bouvreuil.

Cons- The two names have the same meaning, and there are other Sporophila species with a cap (see above). The names miss the opportunity to give more information.


3)   Color-based: Pearly-bellied (pileata) and Copper (bouvreuil)


Pros- The names align with those of other Sporophila using colors, which is traditional in the genus. We tried to make them as accurate and memorable as possible by not using simple color names. “bellied” could have been replaced by breasted, but bellied generally implies that the entire underparts are of that color. There was no need to use a modifier for bouvreuil because it is almost entirely copper-colored. 

Cons- Nothing in particular. Note that Hellmayr (1938) used Pinkish Seedeater for S. bouvreuil, but that this species is not pinkish at all.


4)   Taxonomist-based: Natterer’s (pileata) and Müller’s (bouvreuil)


Pros- Hellmayr (1938) used Natterer’s Seedeater for pileata because it was discovered by Natterer (among several astonishing discoveries) and described by Sclater (1864), who acknowledged Natterer’s contribution even in the title of his paper. By the same token, Müller’s Seedeater can be applied to bouvreuil, because he was the first one to attach a name to the species.

Cons- Color-based names would be more useful in the field.



We recommend a YES vote to use Pearly-bellied Seedeater Sporophila pileata, and Copper Seedeater Sporophila bouvreuil.



HELLMAYR CE (1938) Catalogue of Birds of the Americas and adjacent islands. Part XI. Field Museum of Natural History Publications 430, Zoology Series, Vol. XIII.


SCLATER PL (1864) Descriptions of seven new species of birds discovered by the late Dr. John Natterer in Brazil. Proceedings of the Scientific Meetings of the Zoological Society of London: 605–611.


Nacho Areta and Mark Pearman, February 2012


Note from Remsen: A YES vote endorses Nacho and Mark’s recommendation (Pearly-bellied and Copper), whereas a NO vote indicates preference of one of the other options above.



Comments from Jaramillo: “YES. Pearly-bellied and Copper sound great, unique and they are helpful in the field!”


Comments from Stotz: “YES, not so much because I am dazzled by the accuracy and beauty of those names, but more in the spirit of the approaching election season, as the least of the evils.  Northern vs. Southern Capped would be more attractive if these were fairly distinct species not closely related to all the other little Sporophila and if you really wanted to set them apart from the other Sporophila.  Would we hyphenate these names Southern Capped-Seedeater and Northern Capped-Seedeater as a monophyletic unit? I don't like Pileated and Capped in large part because I think when we split a widespread species, in general we should be coin a new name for the remnant unless the split is very lopsided (split of Hispaniolan Crossbill from White-winged for example) or the old common name goes with the different scientific name (Winter Wren is an example of that).  I am not generally in favor of English names being patronyms, so don't like Natterer's and Muller's Seedeaters.  If we vote No on this, I would probably go for Natterer's and Muller's, but would be open to arguments for Pileated and Capped.”


Comments from Zimmer: “YES and NO.  Sorry to muck this up, but I would vote “YES” in making pileata the “Pearly-bellied Seedeater”, but would prefer “Cinnamon Seedeater” over “Copper Seedeater” for bouvreuil.  I think “Cinnamon” is a much more accurate description of the color of this bird.  To me, “Copper” implies a much darker, more saturated color, more along the lines of Sporophila cinnamomea, which carries the English name of “Chestnut Seedeater”.  If you go to the Brazilian website WikiAves and search under Sporophila bouvreuil, you will find more than 20 pages of photos of bouvreuil and pileata, and I would argue that there is not a single example of a bird that even approaches the color of copper.  Now, it is unfortunate that the species epithet of Chestnut Seedeater is cinnamomea, and some would probably argue that we shouldn’t have an English name of “Cinnamon Seedeater” for a species other than S. cinnamomea.  I don’t personally think that is a major problem, but if it is, then I would favor “Tawny” or even “Buffy” as a modifier over “Copper”.  I do think that these descriptive names are better than going with “Northern Capped” and “Southern Capped”, “Capped” and “Pileated”, or the proposed patronyms, for reasons already elaborated in the proposal and by other committee members.”


Additional comments from Pearman: “Both Copper Seedeater and Coppery Seedeater would be grammatically correct, i.e. as an adjective (as mentioned by Gary) or as a noun to mean the copper color; see or any online dictionary.


“Usage in other bird names is fairly even e.g. Coppery Emerald, Coppery Metaltail, Coppery Thorntail vs. Copper Sunbird and Copper Pheasant.  There may be others that I couldn't recall or find, and there are of course numerous hyphenated names using bother Copper and Coppery, which is irrelevant.  


“Using Coppery would mean an extra syllable.


“I say keep it concise and simple with Copper Seedeater, unless there is some specific reason or something that can be gained by using Coppery.”


Additional comments from Areta: “I agree with Mark's arguments. The problem with other 'rusty' names is that they have been used either in general or in other species of Sporophila and would represent a wicked use of the same color names for differently colored birds (e.g., Buffy-fronted Seedeater, Tawny-bellied, etc.). Using Tawny Seedeater will cause confusion with the 'uruguaya' form of S. hypoxantha.  Rufous seedeater sounds like a misnomer (I wouldn't call this bird rufous).  Cinnamon would cause confusion with cinnamomea, as already pointed out by Mark and Kevin, was it not for this reason, I may be supportive of using this name, but having a Cinnamon Seedeater for a Sporophila other than cinnamomea seems odd.  I do not agree in that copper indicates a dark color (i.e., similar to chestnut) in comparison to cinnamon. I think Copper is the best available option, given the historical constraints that one must face when dealing with stability of names.”


Additional comments from Pearman: “I understand that the situation with S. bouvreuil (“Copper Seedeater”) is different since it has been questioned more than once. From my point of view, Copper Seedeater (a name actually coined by Nacho who has studied more than a few Sporophila) is still a valuable name. Without going down the road of writing another proposal, which I think someone else could now write, if needed, my main points would be:


“1. Cinnamon Seedeater could be easily confused with Sporophila cinnamomea and I suspect that its usage would create instability and confusion.

“2. Copper Seedeater (if not Coppery Seedeater as suggested by Gary Stiles) does closely approach the main coloration of the bird and, most importantly, is a memorable and evocative name, whereas cinnamon, chestnut, tawny, rufous have been used countless times in bird names and have become mundane. The main theme of these novel names was to be accurate but also memorable at the same time.”