Proposal (807) to South American Classification Committee



Change the English name of Discosura longicaudus


Introduction: With at least 347 species of Trochilidae, hummingbird names can be dizzying. Fortunately, there is a lot of creativity in hummingbird names, with probably more interesting and evocative names than any other family. Also fortunate is that a number of genera do have consistent and unique English names, and these help birders who may not be fluent in scientific names to understand the traits of the genus. For birders that rely on English names, linkages between genera and English names certainly help birders understand relationships between species and learn habits, field marks, calls, and habitat much more easily.


Across the 347 (Clements 2018) species of hummingbirds, there are 113 unique combinations of genus+epithet (e.g., Lesbia + Trainbearer, Phaethornis + Hermit, Glaucis + Hermit, Amazilia + Hummingbird, Amazilia + Emerald). Thirty-nine genera have English epithets unique to the genus, which makes it easy to keep track.


Several other names may be used across small numbers of genera (2-4) with all members of the genus typically known by this name (e.g.,  Hermit, Comet, Puffleg, Hillstar, Thornbill, Sheartail, and Coquette).


·      Coeligena (11) – 4 Inca and 7 Starfrontlet

·      Discosura (5) – 1 Coquette* and 4 Thorntail

·      Heliodoxa (9) – Brilliant (8) and one Jewelfront*


The remaining names are the most confusing: Emerald (all Elvira (2) and Chlorostilbon (17), plus about a third of Amazilia); Sapphire (all Chlorestes (1) and Chrysuronia (1), plus 3 Hylocharis); Woodstar (all Calliphlox, Chaetocercus, Eulidia, Microstilbon, Myrmia, Myrtis); and, of course, Hummingbird.


When an opportunity arises to resolve some of the confusion and mismatch between English name epithets and genera, we might as well take it.


Proposal: Change the English name of Discosura longicaudus from Racket-tailed Coquette to Racket-tailed Thorntail.


Rationale: Racket-tailed Coquette Discosura longicaudus is the only species in its genus not known as a Thorntail. Presumably this is because its tail has motmot-like rackets on it. This also may be a historical legacy of an older generic classification: formerly Discosura contained only a single species, longicaudus, whereas the four other species now included in Discosura were classified together in Popelairia. Therefore the differing English group names between longicaudus and the other species was less of an issue. Otherwise, longicaudus looks like other every species now included in Discosura, being largely iridescent green with a whitish rump band and elongated, narrow outer rectrices (in males).


Within its genus, all members are known as Thorntails except for longicaudus; it kind of stands out.


Wire-crested Thorntail           Discosura popelairii

Black-bellied Thorntail           Discosura langsdorffi

Coppery Thorntail                 Discosura letitiae

Green Thorntail                     Discosura conversii

Racket-tailed Coquette       Discosura longicaudus


Furthermore, the name Coquette is otherwise reserved for the genus Lophornis, all of which are known as Coquette. Although they have a range of plumages, most have crests or significant rufous on the head, throat, or tail.


Tufted Coquette                    Lophornis ornatus

Dot-eared Coquette              Lophornis gouldii

Frilled Coquette                    Lophornis magnificus

Short-crested Coquette         Lophornis brachylophus

Rufous-crested Coquette      Lophornis delattrei

Spangled Coquette               Lophornis stictolophus

Festive Coquette                   Lophornis chalybeus

Peacock Coquette                Lophornis pavoninus

Black-crested Coquette         Lophornis helenae

White-crested Coquette        Lophornis adorabilis


This case just seems like low-hanging fruit to make the names Coquette and Thorntail apply to one and only one genera. As it stands, Coquette refers to most, but not all Lophornis and Thorntail to only, but not all, Discosura.


According to Avibase, no major taxonomies use the name Racket-tailed Thorntail.


I recommend a YES vote to standardize the English names of Discosura and promote consistency in global nomenclature.


Marshall Iliff, December 2018





Comments from Stiles: “YES, eminently sensible to call longicaudus a Thorntail. However, I have a suggestion. The name "Racket-tailed Thorntail" seems redundant and a bit confusing - is its tail a racket or a thorn? (like a name such as "Blue-tailed Greentail"). My suggestion is to call the species "Racket-tipped Thorntail" - its tail is a thorn with a racket tip!”


Comments from Zimmer: “YES.  This makes perfect sense to try to get perfect correspondence between English group-names and genus names whenever we can do it without too much of a loss in stability.  I would take it a step further, and add that I think Gary’s suggested modification of changing the English name of Discosura longicaudus to the accurately descriptive “Racket-tipped Thorntail”, thereby avoiding the simultaneously contradictory and redundant “Racket-tailed Thorntail”, while getting the group-name aligned, is inspired.  So count me as a vote to get rid of “Racket-tailed Coquette”, and to replace with “Racket-tipped Thorntail”.


Comments from Areta (non-voting): “YES to the modified version proposed by Gary. Racket-tailed Thorntail is contradictory and cacophonic, while Racket-tipped Thorntail is descriptive and more pleasant to my ears and my tongue.”


Comments from Stotz: “NO.  I don’t consider the need to make English names and genera correspond in hummingbirds to be a compelling argument.  My reasons for keeping Coquette for Discosura longicaudus is that we aren’t simply replacing Coquette with Thorntail, we also have to do some additional name-changing to Racket-tipped Thorntail.  In addition, Discosura, in my view are all coquettes.  If you look at females, they are all very similar, such that distinguishing a female Discosura langsdorffi or popelairii from a female Lophornis chalybea in the field is difficult. Further all are tiny and have a distinctive bee-like flight.  If we want the English names to tell us something about the taxonomy and ecology of these birds, I would favor using Coquette for both genera.”


Comments from Schulenberg: “YES. Doug has some valid points about the general similarities of Lophornis and Discosura, and about trying too hard to align English and scientific names.  All that said, as long as we continue to recognize two genera of coquettes, and as long as each genus has a distinctive group name, I think it's a worthwhile fix to realign the one species that does not fit the pattern.  I vote Yes to the suggestion by Gary to rename  Discosura longicaudus as Racket-tipped Thorntail.”



Amendment to 807: All those in favor of the change from Racket-tailed Thorntail to Racket-tipped Thorntail, as per Gary’s suggestion above, let me know ASAP.