Proposal (568) to South American Classification Committee


Change English names of Immaculate Antbirds


With the passing of Proposal 541, the names "Western Immaculate-Antbird" and "Andean Immaculate-Antbird" were adopted for Myrmeciza zeledoni and M. immaculata respectively.  Vernacular names were discussed in Donegan (2012) as follows:


"Although some commentators prefer new names for components of split species (e.g., Remsen et al. 2012), the name ‘Immaculate Antbird’ remains appropriate even for a split M. immaculata, being a direct translation of the species’ scientific name. Cory & Hellmayr (1924) used two uninspiring patronyms for the other group: Zeledon’s Ant-catcher for M. i. zeledoni and Berlepsch’s Ant-catcher for M. i. berlepschi. No other vernacular names appear ever to have been used. ‘Berlepsch’s Antbird’ would confuse with Stub-tailed Antbird M. berlepschi and the name berlepschi is currently replaced by macrorhyncha. However, Zeledon’s Antbird would be available.


“Because patronyms convey little information about birds to their main users— birdwatchers—possible alternative names for M. zeledoni require consideration. These antbirds do not lend themselves to plumage-based names due to their strong sexual dichromatism. No obvious plumage patterns unite both sexes and the various populations of the new species. Males are uniform black, and females uniform brown, but Uniform Antshrike (Thamnophilus unicolor) could confuse and ‘White-shouldered Antbird’ is already used for M. melanoceps. A good morphological-based name for zeledoni is therefore elusive. Similarly, there is no geographic name available to describe the region from western Ecuador to Costa Rica. Arguably the best approach is to use Western Immaculate Antbird (zeledoni) and Andean Immaculate Antbird (immaculata). They are clearly related and both have been known as Immaculate Antbirds for a long time."


In response to some calls for "Zeledon's Antbird", I further noted as follows in Proposal 541:


"… the preference for "Western Immaculate Antbird" (zeledoni) and "Andean Immaculate Antbird" (immaculata) is for two reasons. First, there are probably issues with restricting "Immaculate" to a species whose range does not coincide with the region where probably most birders have seen these (western Ecuador and Costa Rica, where zeledoni in the species sense occurs). The zeledoni group occurs to the west of immaculata. Whilst zeledoni does itself also occur in the western cordillera and slope of the Andes and achieves similar elevations to immaculata, a split immaculata is restricted to Andean slopes mostly at 800-2000 m, which is an unusual distribution for a thamnophilid antbird. (In Colombia, Parker's Antbird, Rufous-[rumped] Antwren, various Dysithamnus and [Uniform] Antshrike are others that spring to mind as truly Andean in distribution; this compares to many tens of lowland antbirds.) Secondly, this suggestion is based on a personal bias against using patronyms generally where possible."


A map showing the two species' distributions in Colombia is set out below, copied from Donegan (2012).  M. zeledoni extends further south in Ecuador to around the Chocó / Tumbes interface (subspecies macrorhyncha/berlepschi) and also north into highlands of Costa Rica (subspecies zeledoni).



<<insert graphic>>


An opportunity is now presented to adopt different names, which some committee members indicated they would prefer.  Some committee members also expressed a preference for re-naming immaculata as something else if zeledoni becomes Zeledon's.  This proposal is split into various parts as follows:


A: Change name of M. zeledoni from "Western Immaculate-Antbird" to "Zeledon's Antbird".


B: Change name of "Andean Immaculate-Antbird" to something else.  Options would include simple "Immaculate Antbird" or "Lafresnaye's Antbird". If there is any swell of support for these or another name or better idea, then this can be dealt with in a follow-up proposal or sub-proposal.


Thomas Donegan, November 2012



Comments from Remsen: “A. YES.  B.  YES.  Anything to get rid of these awkward compound names is good, in my opinion. Although patronyms are not popular, I like them when they highlight the history of ornithology, and certainly when descriptive names are of minimal or no use.”


Comments from Robbins: “Given that there are no obvious good choices, I’ll support both A & B of Donegan’s proposal.”


Comments from Stiles: “YES to A and B.  As I mentioned earlier, I like “Zeledon’s” for zeledoni since José Cástulo Zeledón was an important pioneer of Costa Rican ornithology (unlike the hapless Schiff), and I prefer “Immaculate” for immaculatus as being shorter than “Central Andean” and agreeing with the Latin name (as does zeledoni).”


Comments from Zimmer: “YES.  I like the use of compound group names for larger groups that are clearly monophyletic, but for just two constituent species, they do come off as awkward.  I also think that we cannot retain “Immaculate Antbird” for one of the daughter species, especially since, as noted by Thomas, that the taxon most familiar to birders and ornithologists (and by logical extension, the one most associated with the English name “Immaculate Antbird”) is actually zeledoni.  So, for Part A, I would vote YES to change to “Zeledon’s Antbird”.  Unlike some others on the committee, I do not have an aversion to patronyms -- no one ever said a name had to be descriptive, but it should be unique.  It may not communicate much information about the bird, but a patronym does communicate information about the history of ornithology, and can be indirectly informative regarding distribution in as much as certain ornithologists are strongly associated with certain regions (say “Skutch” and you think Costa Rica; say “Sick” and you think Brazil).  In the absence of obvious plumage-based descriptive names or geographic modifiers in this specific case, we could do much worse than to amplify the recognition of Zeledon’s work in the region by changing the English name to conform to the Latin name.  For Part B, I feel strongly that we need to change the name, but the choice of a new name is less obvious.  As much as I hate to see it go, “Immaculate Antbird” should be out for reasons already stated.  For lack of a better name, and because it would provide some nice symmetry with “Zeledon’s”, I would support Thomas’ suggestion of “Lafresnaye’s Antbird” for immaculatus. “


Comments from Schulenberg: “Compound group names are detestable (and SACC really needs to be broken of the habit of adopting such names), so changes from "xxx Immaculate-Antbird" are * highly * desirable. "Zeledon's" and "Lafresnaye's" work for me.”


Additional comments from Stiles: “I could live with "Lafresnaye's Antbird" for M. immaculata if "Immaculate" be excluded (although I suspect that English-language birders are perforce getting used to so many name changes that leaving this species as "Immaculate" would not cause too much confusion ... however, if it helps to reach a quorum, "Lafresnaye's" would be OK by me.”