Proposal (821) to South American Classification Committee
English names within Ramphocaenus melanurus complex
With the passage of Proposal 790A to separate Ramphocaenus sticturus from the remainder of R. melanurus, the complete implementation requires agreement on English names. In 790, I suggested the following names for the post-split species, assuming that the parent R. melanurus was split into three species:
R. sticturus—Chattering Gnatwren
R. melanurus—Trilling Gnatwren
R. rufiventris—Northern Gnatwren
However, the splitting out of R. rufiventris did not pass in the SACC vote, so we have only R. melanurus and R. sticturus, and need English names for the two. Given that R. melanurus still pretty much occupies its full distribution and overlaps with R. sticturus, it may be fair to retain the current English name for the former species as Long-billed Gnatwren (to be changed should evidence suggest that the R. rufiventris group deserves separation, at which time, the distribution of the daughter species will each be a large portion of the former parent species’ range). That then leaves us to come up with a name for R. sticturus. The only English name to have been previously suggested for the taxon was Cory’s “Mato Grosso Straight-billed Gnatwren” (all members of Ramphocaenus were some sort of “Straight-billed Gnatwren”). I think we can discard this name because A) it is ridiculously compounded, and B) the presently defined R. sticturus, including western Amazonian obscurus (which had not been named by the time Cory suggested names) means that “Mato Grosso” doesn’t really cover the bird’s distribution well at all.
In my experience, one first detects a Ramphocaenus by voice in nearly all encounters, and voice is the first, and easiest, character available to separate the two species in the genus; thus it seems useful to use a voice-based descriptor for a name of R. sticturus. So I again suggest Chattering Gnatwren as the choice for R. sticturus.
Thus, here are the options for English names of Ramphocaenus as I see them:
A) My preferred suggestions here:
R. melanurus – Long-billed Gnatwren
R. sticturus – Chattering Gnatwren
B) The “balanced option” to highlight voice as a major identification character (and in line with the original name suggestions I made in Proposal 790):
melanurus – Trilling Gnatwren
R. sticturus – Chattering Gnatwren
C) Alternatives not suggested above? Perhaps “Black-tailed” and “Spot-tailed” gnatwrens to be in line with scientific names? Or something else again?
Recommendation: Honestly, I think option A is the least disruptive, and most highlighting, set of English names. Option B has its benefits if we do not want to retain “Long-billed” for either of the daughters of the split, but if R. melanurus will be split again with respect to R. rufiventris, we may want to save “Trilling” for that taxonomic change. I see C to be the least informative, and think that it is time we stop making English names all about visual characters when nearly any Neotropical birder worth their salt must realize that voice plays a huge part in distinguishing taxa, and indeed in determining taxonomy! I really think more voice-highlighting names will make birders more aware of this important set of identification characters.
Cory, C. B. 1924. Catalogue of birds of the Americas, part III: Pteroptochidae-Conopophagidae-Formicariidae. Field Museum of Natural History Zoological Publication Series 223, vol. XIII.
Dan Lane 1 May 2019
Additional comments from Jaramillo: “I am pretty flexible on this. I will revert to Long-billed if this is a less problematic name.”
Additional comments from Stiles: “I'm OK with Long-billed which I actually like better.”