Proposal (823) to South American Classification Committee


Change English name of Oceanites gracilis to White-vented Storm-Petrel


Our website states the following under Elliot’s Storm-Petrel (Oceanites gracilis):


Called "White-vented Storm-Petrel" in Meyer de Schauensee (1970), Hilty and Brown (1986), Sibley and Monroe (1990), Schulenberg et al. (2007), and elsewhere.  Proposal needed.


Background: Oceanites gracilis has historically been called Elliot’s Storm-Petrel, and more recently has been known as White-vented Storm-Petrel, as noted above.


Opinion: There is no new information here, just an opinion.  Patronyms have recently, perhaps in the last 10-20 years, been frowned upon.  On analysis, I think this is partly on the  basis of a Politically Correct (PC) sentiment.  Let’s face it most of the names memorialize what some would call “old white guys.”  But, most ornithology during the heyday of new discoveries was done by white men, that is just the way it was.  In my opinion, English Names should be diverse.  Some describing the bird’s appearance, some noting habitat or geography, and some should be patronyms.  We do need names to be memorable, not confusing, and we also need stability.  We do have to recognize that ornithology, and taxonomy in particular, is an endeavor that is steeped in history.  The history of names is clear in the Scientific Name, and authorship, and rightly so not always in the English Name.  However, I think that it is key to retain patronyms, particularly those that have been around for a long time.  And we should encourage a certain number of patronyms to highlight the people that did the work, and perhaps lead some people today to find out more about these travelers, explorers, and key figures in the history of ornithology.


         Specifically, with regards to storm-petrels, many of these species are very similar in appearance, and with further changes to taxonomy that will come, various cryptic species will be separated as species in the future.  Most of these will be again very similar to their relatives, often without any obvious features to separate these birds.  Interestingly, many storm-petrels have patronyms associated with them.  Given that storm-petrels are offshore much of the time, and many breed on multiple islands, or regions, geography does not often lends itself to naming these birds.  Oddly enough, patronyms may be the best names for many storm-petrels.


Recommendation: I suggest that Oceanites gracilis retain the patronym Elliot’s Storm-Petrel. It is an old name, with a great deal of history.  White-vented Storm-Petrel is not a great name, particularly so now that the Pincoya Storm-Petrel exists because it is even more white-vented than O. gracilis.  There are other species that are also white-vented, such as the White-bellied Storm-Petrel (Fregetta grallaria).  Therefore, I recommend a NO vote.




Carboneras, C. 1992. Family Hydrobatidae (storm-petrels). In Handbook of birds of the world (Josep del Hoyo, Andrew Elliott, and Jorgi Sargatal, Eds.). Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, vol. 1.


Del HOYO, J., AND N. J. COLLAR.  2014.  HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Vol. 1: Non-passerines. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.


Dickinson, Edward C. (Ed.). 2003. The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World. 3rd Edition. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, New Jersey, p. 78.


DICKINSON, E. C., AND J. V. REMSEN, JR. (eds.).  2013.  The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World. Vol. 1. Non-passerines.  Aves Press, Eastbourne, U.K., 461 pp.


HILTY, S. L., AND W. L. BROWN. 1986. A Guide to the Birds of Colombia. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 836 pp.


MEYER DE SCHAUENSEE, R.  1970. A guide to the birds of South America. Livingston Publishing Co., Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.


ONLEY, D., AND P. SCOFIELD.  2007.  Albatrosses, Petrels, and Shearwaters of the World.  Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 240 pp.


Ridgely, Robert S., and Paul J. Greenfield. 2001.  The birds of Ecuador: status, distribution, and taxonomy.  Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, New York.


SCHULENBERG, T. S., D. F. STOTZ, D. F. LANE, J. P. O'NEILL, AND T. A. PARKER III.  2007.  Birds of Peru. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 656 pp


SIBLEY, C. G., AND B. L. MONROE, JR.  1990.  Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut.


Alvaro Jaramillo, May 2019




Comments from Remsen:  “NO, for all the reasons mentioned by Alvaro.  I actually like patronyms because they usually honor people who have made significant contributions, and their use encourage me to learn more about the history of the discipline.”


Comments from Stiles: “NO, for the reasons given by Alvaro.”


Comments from Stotz: “YES.  I prefer descriptive names to patronyms in general, and given that White-vented has been used widely over last couple of decades, I prefer to retain White-vented Storm-Petrel.

“Just like 824, I prefer to continue to use the Meyer de Schaunsee name, which in both cases are the descriptive name rather than the patronym.  I will say that the descriptive name of White-vented Storm-Petrel has less to recommend it than the name Ringed Storm-Petrel for hornbyi.  But I really do think of Meyer de Schauensee as the standardizing basis for South American bird names.  Both of these are South American endemic breeders and I can't see a good reason for upsetting that standardization.


Comments from Zimmer: “NO” for all of the reasons given by Alvaro in the Proposal.  There’s no requirement that English names of birds need to be descriptive, but they do need to be memorable. In cases where a suitable descriptive name is available, I would generally lean toward a descriptive name.  But, in this particular case, the white vent is not always easy to see at sea, and, as Alvaro states, it is more conspicuous in Pincoya Storm-Petrel than it is in gracilis.  I, too. like patronyms, and in a group such as this one, in which plumage characters are evolutionarily conservative, I think it makes sense to retain the more memorable patronym of “Elliot’s Storm-Petrel”.


Comments from Remsen:  “I was tempted to change my vote to YES following Doug’s rationale, but “White-vented” is a Meyer de Schauensee/Eisenmann named invented because Eisenmann didn’t “believe in” patronyms.  “Elliot’s” was the name in Murphy (1936) and thus likely in many other sources before 1970.  See my more elaborate comments on SACC 824.”