Proposal (701) to South American Classification Committee


Choose English names for splits from Nystalus striolatus



Background:  With passage of Proposal #679, recognizing Nystalus obamai (Whitney et al. 2013) as a species distinct from Nystalus striolatus, we now need to settle on English names for the two species resulting from this split.


To recap:  Whitney et al. (2013) described a new taxon in the Striolated Puffbird (Nystalus striolatus) complex from west of the rio Madeira.  Nystalus striolatus (sensu lato) was already known to occur throughout this region, but prior to Whitney et al. (2013), the vocal and genetic differentiation of this population relative to populations of Striolated Puffbird east of the Madeira had gone unnoticed.  Nystalus striolatus was already considered to include two named subspecies: nominate striolatus from the Madeira-Tapajós interfluvium, and N. s. torridus, from east of the Tapajós and south of the Amazon.  Based upon data presented in Whitney et al. (2013), the authors recommended that each of the three taxa in the complex (obamai, striolatus, torridus) be treated as separate species, with the suggested English names of Western Striolated-Puffbird (obamai), Natterer’s Striolated-Puffbird (striolatus), and Eastern Striolated-Puffbird (torridus).


SACC considered the recommendation of three-species treatment in Proposal #617, but the consensus was that the case for species-recognition was insufficient for torridus, but stronger for obamai, and that obamai needed to be dealt with separately.  Subsequently, that proposal (#679) passed, so that we now are left with two species-level taxa in the complex:  a monotypic Nystalus obamai, and a polytypic N. striolatus (with striolatus and torridus as recognized subspecies), each of which now requires an English name.


New Information:  There isn’t any.  In general, when a widespread species is “split” we have opted to confer novel names on each of the resulting “new” species, retaining the old name (in this case = Striolated Puffbird) only when referring to the various splits collectively.  We have made exceptions in the case of (mostly) 2-way splits, when one population has a much broader range and is much more familiar to the vast majority of birders and ornithologists relative to the other.  That scenario does not apply in the present case, given that the distribution of obamai is geographically more extensive than that of either of the other two taxa.


So, with that in mind, we need to come up with an English name for N. obamai, and another one for N. striolatus/torridus.  I see four ways we can go:


A)   Stick with the English names suggested by Whitney et al (2013), which involve retaining “Striolated Puffbird” as a hyphenated group-name, with the modifiers of “Western” and “Eastern” for obamai and striolatus/torridus respectively.

B)   For those opposed to the idea of hyphenated group-names, we could grant novel names based on some descriptive character that defines each species.  Unfortunately, there are no diagnostic plumage characters on which to hang our collective hats.  We could try something to describe the diagnostic vocal differences, such as “Stuttering Puffbird” (obamai) versus “Whistling Puffbird” (striolatus/torridus).  Both species have similar whistled songs (like a slow “wolf whistle”), as does the Chocó endemic Barred Puffbird (N. radiatus).  The primary difference is that obamai has a prelude of several stuttered notes leading into the song.

C)  Confer novel names based upon geography.  Unfortunately, the ranges of both constituent species are so broad as to render attempts at finding appropriate, yet more precise geographic modifiers difficult.  Using the geographic modifiers of “Western” and “Eastern” suggested by Whitney et al. (2013) without using the hyphenated group-name, would result in names that are not only boring, but inane in my opinion.  Those modifiers make perfect sense when combined with the group-name, but as stand-alone modifiers, they are worse than useless.

D)  Confer novel names that don’t attempt to be symmetrical.  Whitney et al. (2013) suggested “Natterer’s” as a modifier for nominate striolatus, and we could go with that for the combined striolatus/torridus (= Natterer’s Puffbird).  Lacking an obvious candidate for a patronym for obamai (unless calling it “Obama’s Puffbird” is considered obvious), we could go with a descriptive approach, and use “Stuttering Puffbird”.


Recommendation:  I don’t have strong feelings about this, because I see advantages and disadvantages to sub-proposals A, B & D.  I do feel strongly that sub-proposal C deserves a “NO” vote.  Looking at the other choices, here is how I perceive the pluses and minuses:


Sub-proposal A):  Use “Western Striolated-Puffbird” for obamai and “Eastern Striolated-Puffbird” for striolatus/torridus.  On the plus side, the names make perfect sense geographically, they are symmetrical with respect to one another, they are the basically the same names suggested by Whitney et al. (2013) [adjusted to pertain to two species instead of three], they retain something of the nomenclatural history of the complex, they reference plumage characters that can be seen in the field, and, by using the hyphenated group-name, they reflect the close relationship of the two presumed sister-species.  On the minus side, for those that are bothered by such things, they are clunkier, pretty boring, and involve the dreaded hyphenated group-name.  [One potential downside to using the group-name in this instance, is that the “Striolated-Puffbird” group seems, based upon vocal and plumage characters, to be sister to Barred Puffbird.  I think, on strictly technical grounds, we would be okay in using a hyphenated group-name for a subset of the larger group, assuming that obamai and striolatus/torridus are all more closely related to one another than any of them are to radiatus.  However, it is pretty clear to me that radiatus and the striolatus-group are part of a larger, still closely related group, and as such, it may not be so desirable to employ a group-name that doesn’t involve radiatus. “Barred Striolated-Puffbird” is nonsensical, so a more inclusive group-name would have to be something along the lines of “Whistling-Puffbird”, which would immediately render the geographic modifier of “Western” as applied to obamai, inappropriate.  Suddenly sorry that I brought this up…]


Sub-proposal B):  Use “Stuttering Puffbird” for obamai, and “Whistling Puffbird” for striolatus/torridus.  On the plus side, the names are novel, they reflect diagnostic vocal differences, they are symmetrical with respect to one another, and they are shorter (and avoid the hyphenated group-name).  On the negative side, they are less informative in the sense that they don’t convey relatedness, nor do they say anything about geographic distribution or what the birds look like.  Also, as noted above, the name “Whistling Puffbird” is no more appropriate for striolatus/torridus, than it is for either obamai or radiatus.


Sub-Proposal D):  Use “Stuttering Puffbird” for obamai, and “Natterer’s Puffbird” for striolatus/torridus.  On the plus side, the names are novel, appropriate for different reasons, and shorter (avoiding the hyphenated group-name).  They also circumvent the problem (if, indeed, it is one) of applying “Whistling” to striolatus/torridus, when obamai and radiatus are also whistlers.  On the minus side, they are not symmetrical with respect to one another, and hence, are even less informative than the names suggested in Sub-proposal B.


When all is said and done, my personal recommendation is for a YES on Sub-proposal A, and a “NO” on the others.  Boring and clunky as employing the hyphenated group-name may be, this path still seems to provide the most symmetrical and informative names to the constituent species, which seems pretty important given that most of us consider them as a representing a somewhat borderline case of species versus subspecies.  They also have the advantages of retaining the nomenclatural history of the complex, and, in conjuring a plumage character that people can actually see in the field.



As structured, Proposal 701 requires a YES on one of the Sub-proposals and a NO vote on each of the others.  If no one option receives the required number of votes, then I guess we’ll have to follow up with a second vote confined to the top two choices.  If you find none of the above options to your liking, then vote “NO” on all four options, and be prepared to suggest an alternative.


Literature Cited:


Whitney, B.M., V.Q. Piacentini, F. Schunck, A. Aleixo, B.R.S. Souza, L.F. Silveira, and M.A. Rêgo. 2013. A name for Striolated Puffbird west of the Rio Madeira with revision of the Nystalus striolatus (Aves: Bucconidae) complex. Pages 240–244 in J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, and D.A. Christie, editors, Handbook of the birds of the world. Special volume: new species and global index. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.


Kevin J. Zimmer, February 2016





Comments from Remsen: YES on A, NO on the others for the reasons Kevin outlines.  I don’t mind compound names for the reasons outlined by Whitney and Hilty in other proposals.  I thing the voice-oriented names over-emphasize the vocal differences, which are subtle.”


Comments from Stiles: “Once again, considering the “user-friendly” aspect, I agree with Kevin that A is the best alternative under the circumstances.”


Comments from Jaramillo: “B – YES. NO on all other options. Given that we are inventing new names here, I prefer names that are shorter, memorable, and informative in the field. With that perspective in mind, the B option is the best for me.”


Comments from Robbins: “YES for B, no for the others.  I agree entirely with Alvaro’s sentiments; moreover, going this route may preclude English name issues down the road for reasons stated by Kevin in his sub-proposal A.”