Proposal (834.2) to South American Classification Committee


Establish English names for Xiphorhynchus atlanticus


Proposal 834.1 stalled with Ceara Woodcreeper getting a majority but not a 2/3 majority.  That was long ago, when Areta wasn’t voting on English names and before Lane was on the committee.  This iteration will expand to include our technical advisors with an interest in English names, and we will go with a simple majority.


Option 1.  Ceara Woodcreeper (lead 3-2 among official voters and was favored by others who commented)

Option 2.  Potiguara Woodcreeper (Pacheco’s suggestion that seemed to be the only other name with strong support.


Van Remsen, January 2021




Comments from Remsen: Option 2.  As outlined by Fernando in 834.1, the range of this species corresponds fairly well to the former area occupied by the Potiguara people.  In contrast, Ceara may be the type locality but it is at the periphery of the species range and is thus misleading.  If Ceara was anywhere close to the heart of the range of the species, I would vote for it.  Further, the majority of users of English names care little about where the type locality was.  There may be a precedent for the same name for a species (Ceara Gnatcatcher) with a similar distribution, but I see no reason to make the same “mistake” twice.  As for Potiguara, I like the idea of using that sort of name for educational purposes; that few have heard of the Potiguara is in my opinion, an argument for, not against its adoption.  I regard this as a rare opportunity to create a colorful, educational, honorific name, vs. use of what I would consider a somewhat unimaginative and slightly misleading name.”


Comments from Donsker: “For the record, I'd favor Ceara Woodcreeper, largely because it parallels the use of the same modifier as in Ceara Gnateater. Both of these species have similar distributions in northeast Brazil. Granted, the ranges of both species don't extend into the drier habitat that is characteristic of most of Ceará, but rather to their habitat in the remnants of Atlantic forest in the northeast sector of that state.  Further, I suspect that most birders, Brazilian or non-Brazilian, will most likely first encounter both species in Ceará, specifically in the Serra de Baturité.


“Potiguara Woodcreeper would be my close second choice.”


Comments from Areta: “I vote for Ceara Woodcreeper. Seems the easiest choice, and Ceará is often understood to go beyond the state when applied to bird names. I would like to see a new species being called potiguarensis or potiguara, but I prefer to skip usage of Potiguara for the woodcreeper.”






Proposal (834.1) to South American Classification Committee



Establish English names for Xiphorhynchus atlanticus and X. fuscus (2)


With the rejection of “Nordeste” in 834.0 below, of the many suggestions, Ceara Woodcreeper is definitely the name with the most favorable responses in the Comments, despite Ceará being somewhat peripheral to the species range.  Clearly, as in many such cases, there is no obvious “best” name.


So, let’s make this a proposal to adopt “Ceara Woodcreeper” as the name for X. atlanticus.  YES is in favor of Ceara.  NO is in favor of something else, e.g. Potiguara, Pernambuco, Paraiba, Transfranciscan, or Cory’s.  Nordeste has already been voted down.




Comments from Remsen:  NO.  Ceara is somewhat misleading as to the species’ core distribution.  But more importantly, I like Fernando’s suggestion of Potiguara Woodcreeper better, upon which no one has commented.  I did not know anything about the Potiguara people until I read the link provided by Fernando.  Their distribution conforms nicely to the range of the species, and the name is educational as well as honorific.  I learned something, and adoption of a name like this will increase awareness.  It’s also colorful, original, and memorable.”


Comments from Claramunt: “I would suggest to voting members to reconsider Nordeste Woodcreeper. The “Nordeste” is a well-known region in Brazil, known as such internationally. It also coincides with the Nordeste of the entire continent, so accurate at that scale too. I don’t think anybody would be confused in the sense of thinking that the bird can be found in a particular country's northeastern region. Think about how many “Northern Xxxx” exist already. Many countries don’t even call their northeastern region “Nordeste:” it is called “la frontera” in Uruguay because it coincides with the border with Brazil, in Peru it's Loreto, because it coincides with that Region, Chile is unidimensional (haha), doesn’t have a northeast (; )). Restricting the reference to a particular Brazilian State does not make sense to me either


“Regarding Potiguara, I would be cautious and maybe contact Potiguara leaders to make sure they are OK with this. Is “Potiguara” their preferred name for themselves? Is an association with a Woodcreeper OK with them? Are we discriminating other regional indigenous groups?”


Comments from Stiles: “YES. Here, I disagree with Santiago’s comments above.. and maintain my preference for Ceará Woodcreeper. After all, this is a proposal for English (not Portuguese) names, the chief users of which will not be Brazilians but visiting birders - and to these, Nordeste probably doesn't immediately indicate a specific region in Brazil, whereas if they have a decent map of Brazil they could locate the state in question; Nordeste would be fine as a common name for Brazilians, as could be Potiguara if they had anthropological leanings - but it would mean nothing to an English-speaking visitor!”


Additional comments from Remsen: “Concerning Santiago’s and Gary’s sets of comments above, I was a strong proponent of Gustavo-Natalia-Jeremy’s original proposal for all the reasons outlined by Santiago, and never really understood the strong negative reaction to Nordeste for those same reasons.  As for Gary’s point on the name meaning nothing to English-speaking visitors, my response is … wouldn’t they be interested in learning something new, something Brazilian, on their visit there?  What’s wrong with a little education?  In my experience, most people like colorful, local names and enjoy learning them (as long as moderately pronounceable).  How about a little spice and local color?

“As for the frequent comment that English names should consist of English words, I say balderdash!  We incorporate words from other languages into English routinely – this is just Standard Operating Procedure for the evolution of all languages.  Further, use of Nordeste doesn’t suggest making “nordeste” an English dictionary word per se, only as part of an English name, for which the rules differ.  For formal names, we don’t have to use words from the English dictionary!  Most of the names of the states of the USA, just for one example, aren’t English words per se but rather derivations from other languages; that they have become widely adopted as English names has actually caused them to be adopted subsequently as formal English dictionary words, e.g. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio, Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Florida, Colorado, Montana, Utah, and on and on.  Objections to using Nordeste or Potiguara in names would be the equivalent of objecting to Colorado, for instance, because it is a Spanish word and the state thus should have been named Red One.  (And oh by the way, Ceará isn’t really an English word anyway, and with its accent dropped as it would be for an English name, becomes less pronounceable than either Nordeste or Potiguara.”


Comments from Pearman: “YES.


The Potiguara people appear to cover a very much larger area e.g. far down into Bahia, than the range of this species yet I can foresee that 90% or more of English speaking users of the name will not be able to correctly pronounce Potiguara Woodcreeper without prior knowledge of Portuguese.  It should be pronounced "Po chi gwarra", but you can't just hope that birders will call it that.  It was a good idea, but if you have an English name that people pronounce in different ways with the majority pronouncing it incorrectly, then that puts me off the name to start with.


“I would steer clear of Nordeste Woodcreeper for all the reasons already mentioned, and we also refer to the Nordeste in Argentina; not mentioned by Claramunt.


“Hence, I vote YES to Ceara Woodcreeper for other reasons already mentioned. It is the most informative name for the average birder,  identifies the type locality and the region where the bird occurs, is relatively easy to pronounce and is already in use for Ceara Gnateater.”


“And..... Nordeste Woodcreeper would be the toughest name to pronounce in Portuguese, given that it is the Portuguese version that has been suggested..... so that would be... "Nordgestchi" approximately.”


Comments from Whitney: “YES.  I will echo Mark’s comments here, but I call attention to the fact that we have Portuguese (or Tupí/Guaraní) names for several birds that the vast majority of English-speakers never pronounce “correctly”, such as Jacana, Aracari, Graveteiro.  This is no big deal, just as it’s no big deal that many people pronounce words like “research” or “display” (as nouns or verbs) with accents on either syllable.  Everyone understands what they’re saying perfectly well.  Also,  few people will pronounce Ceará correctly, either, so get ready for that.


Additional comments from Remsen: “On correct pronunciation, there’s no way to legislate it.  In North America, for example, NO one really knows how to pronounces Botteri’s Sparrow correctly (born Yugoslavia, lived in Mexico, name looks Italian); at least three different versions of Sabine’s Gull are in circulation; no one seems to respond to what is apparently the fact that Bachman pronounced his name BACK-mun, not BOCK-mun; I still hear CRAY-vur-EYE’s Murrelet despite a decades-old facetious letter to Birding that I penned pointing out that he was Italian and that my Italian expert confirmed it should be pronounced Cra-VAIR-ee; and it’s taken decades for everyone to stop pronouncing Vaux’s as if it were French.  What I meant in my comment on pronunciation is that for English-speakers, there are some complex combinations of letters that are difficult to pronounce; but Potiguara, Nordeste, and Ceará do not represent that problem, even if they don’t get it quite right.  And if they don’t get it quite right, as Bret noted, this does not impede communication.  For example, Spanish- and Portuguese-first-speakers often mispronounce established English names but are instantly forgiven because English-firsters appreciate their effort.  Finally, I think a lot of people like learning the correct pronunciation as well as the derivation – I know I’m not the only one who enjoys learning new stuff.”


Comments from Pacheco: “The official region “Nordeste” occupies about one and a half million square kilometers of northeastern Brazil. Its most representative ecosystem is a semi-arid region known as “Caatinga”, which takes up 54% of its area.  Because of this, there is a strong association in Brazil between the word Nordeste and the xeric Caatinga.


“In Portuguese, we call Xiphocolaptes falcirostris the "arapaçu-do-nordeste" (arapaçu = woodcreeper) precisely because it occurs in this large inland part of the Northeast region, a mix of caatinga and dry forests.


Xiphorhynchus atlanticus occurs only in very fragmented Atlantic Forest of the extreme Northeast. Originally, this ecosystem occupied about 11% of the “Nordeste”, especially the southeastern portion of this region.


“By proposing the name Potiguara, I did not suggest a link with the culture of this indigenous ethnic group, but only with its ancestral territory of occupation (16th century, see map). Currently, due to conflicts and migrations, this ethnic people is dispersed to 37 locations, including areas quite distant from its original territory, such as Bahia and Rio de Janeiro. Today there is no unified leadership.”




Additional comments from Claramunt: “Given Fernando's comments, I retract my suggestion. "Nordeste" is already taken by a different species (although in Portuguese).  If the Portuguese name of atlanticus were “Potiguara arapacu”, then I think it would be nice to have both English and Portuguese (and Spanish, why not) common names coordinated.  Otherwise, Ceara is already being used, and it is not an arbitrary locations but the type locality.”


Comments from Schulenberg: “YES. I'm happy to stick with Ceara. In terms of ranked choice voting (not the way SACC currently does this, but worth considering), I'd put this as Ceara > Nordeste > Potiguara > Atlantic (the latter not a formal SACC option, but put in play by HBW/BirdLife).”


Comments from Jaramillo: “NO. Put me down for Potiguara. Memorable and unique”





Proposal (834.0) to South American Classification Committee



Establish English names for Xiphorhynchus atlanticus and X. fuscus


Proposal 809, to recognize Xiphorhynchus atlanticus as a species, was passed but not implemented for lack of an English name.  It remains to be decided whether the English name of Lesser Woodcreeper for X. fuscus should be maintained or replaced by a new name.


Part A. Adopt Nordeste Woodcreeper for Xiphorhynchus atlanticus


The range of the new species is restricted to northeastern Brazil, north of the Rio São Francisco, in the states of Piauí, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Sergipe, and Paraíba. This area is practically congruent with the region known widely in Brazil as the ‘nordeste’ (‘northeast’).  We suggest Nordeste Woodcreeper as an appropriate English name.  We prefer this name to Atlantic Woodcreeper, adopted by the HBW, which is simply a translation of the scientific species name. Xiphorhynchus atlanticus is no more ‘Atlantic’ than X. fuscus.


Part B. Maintain Lesser Woodcreeper for Xiphorhynchus fuscus.


We see no reason to change the English name of X. fuscus, the species from which X. atlanticus was split.



We recommend a YES vote for Part A to endorse the name Nordeste Woodcreeper for Xiphorhynchus atlanticus. We recommend a YES vote to Part B to retain the English name of Lesser Woodcreeper for Xiphorhynchus fuscus.


We ask committee members who vote NO to either part to suggest an acceptable name. We will then put forward a new proposal, incorporating the suggestions.


Gustavo S. Cabanne, Natalia García and Jeremy Minns, May 2019





Comments from Remsen:  “A. YES I like the idea of using the Brazilian Portuguese name Nordeste for the region.  It’s a Brazilian endemic, so to me that the name of a Brazilian region name has much appeal (assuming that Nordeste would be the USA equivalent of “the Northeast” and widely understood to refer to a specific region and requiring no specific geographic reference point.  Brazilian input on this point needed.

Nordeste may not be perfect, but certainly vastly superior to “Atlantic Woodcreeper”, which to most implies a marine bird.  The only species on the SACC list called “Atlantic” Something is Atlantic Petrel, and the only species that I can think of on the NACC list is Atlantic Puffin.  Although the match of Atlantic with atlanticus makes sense, atlanticus somehow has a different connotation, to me, in the scientific name, perhaps due to widespread use of Atlantic Forest as a region (as in the title of Cabanne et al.’s paper on this group), but not as an English bird name.  Further, it is fuscus, not atlanticus, that is the widespread species in the vast majority of the Atlantic Forest region, i.e. atlanticus is not a particularly appropriate scientific name.  We unfortunately have several established English names of “Pacific” landbirds (Parrotlet, Elaenia, Flatbill, and Antwren), but that doesn’t mean that I like them.  Perhaps just because I’m just used to them, and because Pacific slope with respect to the Andes is part of biogeographical terminology, they don’t annoy me as much as “Atlantic Something” for a landbird.

“B. YES.  The reason to find a new name for this species is that our guidelines, as well as those of most formal bodies that standardize English names, is that daughter species’ names should differ from the parental species’ English name to prevent eternal confusion.  The reason that this is a guideline, not a rule, is that splits often involve one widespread, familiar form that has a long-established name and one or more peripheral isolates, i.e., an asymmetrical distribution in terms of range size and application of the parental name.  I think that argument applies reasonably well here.  As can be seen in Cabanne et al. (2014; Fig. 1), X. fuscus s.s. extends from E Paraguay, NE Argentina, and SE Brazil and far north as Bahia, whereas atlanticus is restricted to a relatively tiny area in Ceará, Paraíba, Alagoas, etc.).”


Comments from Pearman: “If Nordeste had been (as stated) an exclusive Brazilian word then I would have better understood the proposal.  Unfortunately it's also a Spanish word, spelt exactly the same, that is used in all of Latin America.  It means "northeast". Noreste means the same but is interchangeable with Nordeste.”


Comments from Stiles: “YES for retaining Lesser Woodcreeper as the name for X. fuscus, but NO for using Nordeste as the name for atlanticus, for the reasons given by Mark Pearman. To a Colombian, “nordeste” implies the llanos of Vichada; for a Bolivian, the Yungas; for a Peruvian, the Amazonian lowlands of Loreto – etc. For an English speaker using a field guide and not familiar with the Brazilian usage, it implies somewhere like French Guiana. The important point is that atlanticus does have a very restricted distribution in northeastern Brazil, including several small departments there. I note that the type locality is in the department of Ceará, which is among the largest and most central of these departments: Hence, I propose Ceara Woodcreeper for atlanticus: this name would direct anyone with a good map of Brazil to the restricted region of occurrence of atlanticus.


Comments from Schulenberg: “A. NO.  Nordeste/Noreste are not English, and otherwise are not helpful, for the reasons already discussed. Gary's suggestion of Ceara is great, I'll vote for that.


Additional comments from Remsen: “I recognize that no name is going to be perfect, but …. Ceará might be the type locality, but looking at the range map in Cabanne et al., it seems peripheral to the species’ range; again, input sought on this.  Also, concerning Tom’s objection to Nordeste/Noreste, we have plenty of English bird names that refer to localities or regions that won’t show up in an English dictionary; the name Nordeste refers to a region, not a direction.”


Comments from Mark Pearman: Regarding the atlanticus E-name debate, note also that tenuirostris/ brevirostris also occur entirely (or almost entirely) within Nordeste do Brasil, meaning that both fuscus and atlanticus occur in the Nordeste. This is another important reason why this name is inappropriate.


“A geographical name does seem the way to go, and usually Alagoas and Pernambuco have often been used for birds restricted to this general area. Ceara reflects the type locality of atlanticus, and nobody complains about the name Ceara Gnateater which also ranges chiefly through Pernambuco-Alagoas. Therefore, Ceara Woodcreeper seems to be a logical and useful name.”


Comments from Jeremy Minns: The species occurs north of the Rio São Francisco, so why not “Transfranciscan Woodcreeper”? On the lines of Transalpine/Cisalpine Gaul.”


Comments from Zimmer: “YES” for retaining Lesser Woodcreeper as the name for X. fuscus, for reasons nicely spelled out by Van.  I would add that retaining the pre-split English name for the more familiar and geographically widespread daughter species (in this case, fuscus) is made even more defensible to my thinking, if we are sure to use a geographic modifier for the English name of the more range-restricted daughter species (in this case, atlanticus).  “NO” for using “Nordeste” for atlanticus, for reasons given by Mark Pearman, Gary Stiles, and Tom Schulenberg.  I very much favor a geographic modifier in the English name, and from a strictly Brazilian perspective, “Nordeste” would probably be fine. But, with apologies to Jeremy, “Transfranciscan Woodcreeper”, although more accurate, strikes me as a real mouthful, particularly if one is tasked with calling it out in a hurry to a group of birders!  As Van pointed out, Ceará is actually at the periphery of the overall distribution of X. atlanticus.  The bulk of the range of atlanticus lies within the defined Pernambuco Center of endemism, so, I am tempted to suggest the name of “Pernambuco Woodcreeper” for atlanticus, so as not to restrict the geographic modifier to any one state, but to have it apply to a recognized center of endemism.  However, as Mark Pearman points out, “Ceará” does reflect the type locality of atlanticus, and therefore, is informative to a point, and not inaccurate (and there is the precedent of Ceará Gnateater).  Also, in thinking ahead, I firmly believe that the subspecies taunayi of Dendrocincla fuliginosa is worthy of elevation to distinct species status, and, unlike X. atlanticus, its entire distribution is confined to Alagoas & Pernambuco, and therefore, wholly within the Pernambuco Center of Endemism.  So, “Pernambuco Woodcreeper” would be a better English name for D. f. taunayi if and when it is split.  For that reason, I’m inclined to throw my support to “Ceará Woodcreeper” as the English name for X. atlanticus.”


Comments from Pacheco: “For a woodcreeper endemic to Northeast of Brazil, there are few good options left, as Pernambuco, Ceará or Nordeste.  All of these sound to me uninformative or are already being used for some other.


“My suggestion (given that it was described from Ceará) is to link with the historical ethnicity (also a Tupi trunk language!) that inhabited the northeast coast at the time of the discovery of Brazil: "Potiguara Woodcreeper".


For more information of this ethnicity see:


Comments from Liam Hughes: “At the risk of providing too many options, here are a couple of other suggestions for X. atlanticus. Paraiba Woodcreeper- Although not restricted to Paraiba, the state is at the center of the species' range, and as far as I know Paraiba is not being used in any other bird name, so it should be memorable. Apart from this, for those inclined to use patronyms, Cory's Woodcreeper could be used, after the describer of the species.”


Comment from Gustavo Cabanne: “Cory's Woodcreeper sounds to be the best.  Paraiba Woodcreeper does not seem to be very informative, because it is not very easy to describe the center of the species' range.


Comments from Jaramillo: “Part A. – NO do not use Nordeste Woodcreeper for X. atlanticus, for various reasons noted regarding this word as being uninformative, to a region as most countries in South America have a Nordeste region. I appreciate Zimmer’s thought process and leads me to also suggest that Ceará Woodcreeper works. However, I assume that we would not use the accent, as that definitely is not English.

“Part B. – YES maintain Lesser Woodcreeper for X. fuscus.”


Comments from Stotz: “NO. Ceara Woodcreeper seems to make the most sense to me. B. YES”