Proposal (747) to South American Classification Committee


Proposal for English names for recently split Darwin’s finches


The passing of both parts of Proposal 676 requires we decide on English Names for these species.


1)   Geospiza difficilis has now been separated into three species. One of them is restricted to a single island, the other two are found on two or more islands.

G. acutirostris Ridgway; found on Genovesa.

G. difficilis Sharpe; found on Pinta, Fernandina, and Santiago.

G. septentrionalis Rothschild and Hartert; found on Wolf and Darwin.


I propose the following names for these species:


A. Geospiza acutirostris – As it is found only on one island, Genovesa (formerly Tower), I suggest Genovesa Ground-Finch

B. Geospiza difficilis – this is the most widespread, and the nominate for the former Sharp-beaked Ground-Finch. I think it is valid to let it remain as the Sharp-beaked Ground-Finch. It does have a straight culmen, and the bill qualifies as “sharp,” although English Names need not be so exact!

C. Geospiza septentrionalis – Some populations of this species are well known to feed at certain times on blood of nesting boobies. This behavior is unusual to say the least for a passerine. Although not all populations and perhaps not all individuals do it, the memorable Vampire Ground-Finch seems more than adequate. It is a great name! Vampire Finch has been used in the past, but I think we would need to use the Ground-Finch moniker.


2)   Geospiza conirostris has now been separated into two species. Both are single island endemics.

G. conirostris – EspaĖola Island.

G. propinqua – Genovesa Island.


I propose the following names for these species:

D. Geospiza conirostrisEspaĖola Ground-Finch, this is appropriate as it within the ground-finch clade, and is only found on EspaĖola Island. Perhaps there is a more creative and memorable name, but I think that naming it for bill size would be more confusing.

E. Geospiza propinqua – This form is sister to the Common Cactus-Finch, although a single island endemic, I think that leaving it as the Large Cactus-Finch is adequate. Genovesa Cactus-Finch would be equally valid, but given we may now have a Genovesa Ground-Finch, it seems more confusing than useful to have a second Genovesa XXX-Finch.


Alvaro Jaramillo, March 2017




Comments from Stiles:

"1A: YES.  Its most distinctive feature is that it is a one-island endemic.

“1B: YES.  Although an alternative might have to be a new name, I think that for this particular group, given the lack of distinctive plumages or names not related to which island they inhabit if only one, finding a different name might be “difficilis”.

“1C: YES.  Certainly distinctive even if not all populations do it!

“2D: YES.  As a single-island endemic, seems a logical choice.

“2E: Here, I prefer “Genovesa Cactus-Finch” as a one-island member of its cactus-finch clade: it also seems worth calling attention to the fact that Genovesa has endemic members of these two clades!"


Comments from Zimmer: “I find all of Alvaro’s proposed names for the various splits reasonable, and the proposed name for Geospiza septentrionalis is inspired (if he hadn’t suggested it, I would have)!  So, YES on the following:  Genovesa Ground-Finch for the Genovesa-endemic G. acutirostris; Sharp-beaked Ground-Finch for G. difficilis (most common and widespread of the three taxa that formerly shared that name); Vampire Ground-Finch for G. septentrionalis (immediately vaulting it into the short list for coolest bird names ever); EspaĖola Ground-Finch for G. conirostris; and Large Cactus-Finch for G. propinqua.”


Comments from Stotz:


“B. YES. I would prefer to change Sharp-billed Ground-Finch, as we usually do for daughter species, but I have had trouble coming up with a reasonable alternative.  My two thoughts are Cone-billed Ground-Finch, which a less accurate name than Sharp-billed, and Difficult Ground-Finch, which is mostly a joke.



“E. YES.  Again, I would prefer a new name, but Genovesa Cactus-Finch is likely confusing with Genovesa Ground-Finch that we just voted for.  Large Cactus-Finch is a distinctive name among the Darwin's Finches, so maintaining it is useful.”


Comments from Remsen: “YES, except NO to E.  I would say that ANY name is preferable for propinqua OTHER THAN the same English name used for broadly defined conirostris.  That perpetual confusion would be worse, in my opinion, than Genovesa Cactus-Finch, which although potentially confusing nonetheless (1) provides novel names for daughter species, and (2) parallels existing problems with Large Cactus-Finch and Large Ground-Finch, i.e. we’re already accustomed to dealing with a similar problem but now it is less problematic because it’s all within Genovesa.”


Comments from Schulenberg: “I am a solid Yes on parts A-D (English names for G. acutirostris, G. difficilis, G. septentrionalis, and G. conirostris). Note that we are getting out ahead of other lists (IOC, HBW/BirdLife) with respect to conirostris, as they have adopted Espanola but retained Cactus-Finch as the group name, rather than switching to Ground-Finch as Alvaro suggests.


“I am reluctant to accept Large Cactus-Finch for G. propinqua, however, and so vote No on this. For one thing, IOC and HBW/BirdLife are ahead of us, and already have adopted Genovesa Cactus-Finch for propinqua. Splits often are confusing enough as it is, and I think we would need a really good reason to split from the pack. The potential for confusion between Genovesa Ground-Finch and Genovesa Cactus-Finch doesn't seem that great to me. If we're worried about confusion, however, Large could be even worse. For one thing we would be retaining the old English name but pairing it with a different scientific name, which is one potential source of confusion. And then there already is a Large finch on Genovesa, Large Ground-Finch G. magnirostris. That puts us right back to the kind of name overlap that Alvaro was trying to avoid; so why not just throw in towel and follow everyone else in adopting Genovesa Cactus-Finch?"


Additional comments from Jaramillo: “Changing my vote to Genovesa Cactus-Finch, thanks for pointing out some issues I had not fully thought about.”


Additional comments from Stotz: “I went back and forth on this when I originally voted.  At one point. I had gone for Genovesa Cactus Finch.  So, I am willing to go with Genovesa Cactus Finch at this point.”


Note from Remsen:  It seems clear that there is no need to formally submit a new 747E, and I will move forward with Genovesa Cactus-Finch as the SACC-endorsed name.  Thanks, Alvaro, for tackling this difficult problem with this proposal.”