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):

R. 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.


Literature cited

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


Note on voting procedure from Remsen: For this round, just let me know your favorite, and the winner will then go for Y/N vote as the new names in a new 821.1.  If at this point you favor C, be sure to provide some ideas.



Note to all readers: On this and other proposals, especially those on English names, feel free to send Remsen comments for public posting, as long as they are reasonable and contribute to the issue.



Comments from Stiles: “I like Dan's option 2 best.. if voice works, especially where they are sympatric, then it should be more useful for IDs given the difficulty of seeing them in the dense vegetation they inhabit!”


Additional comments from Stiles: “Andrés Cuervo and I have recently collected specimens of griseiventris with tissue samples and (from Andrés) good vocal recordings, which might help to resolve the rufiventris-melanura situation.”


Comments from Zimmer: I like Dan’s Option B best.  I like the symmetry of having English names for the two species that are at least locally sympatric reflect the most obvious character for separating them in the field.   And, I think that the melanurus and rufiventris groups will eventually be split as well, so I don’t see the value in retaining “Long-billed” for any of the daughter species – it would only add confusion.”


Comments from Jaramillo: “B – YES, my thoughts parallel those of Kevin Zimmer. Vocal symmetry.”


Comments from Stotz: “Option B.  I like the symmetry of vocal based names.  Plus it means we are not retaining the English name of the broader R. melanurus for one of the daughter species.”


Note from Remsen: NACC decided to retain Long-billed for the much more widely distributed R. melanurus.  Comments below are subsequent to the NACC vote.


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.”