Proposal (891) to South American Classification Committee



Establish the English name of Gallinago paraguaiae


With passage of Proposal 843 splitting Magellanic Snipe G. magellanica from the South American Snipe G. paraguaiae, a name is required for the latter. It is unbelievable that we have not implemented the taxonomic change because of a lack of agreement on the common name.


I suggest that we solve this by a simple majority vote.


Two competing options are apparent:


South American Snipe

-Retains validity across space and time in the scientific literature (most of which has been written on the species pertains to this taxon)

-Does not require changing field guides

-It is a truly South American species, occurring in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela and the Guianas.

-A sister relationship to Magellanic Snipe has not been tested, so the "sister species split" argument should not be employed


Paraguayan Snipe

-Requires reactivating an obsolete Hellmayr name, that has not been used in the South American literature

-The species is in no way exclusive to Paraguay, not even close to being restricted to the country

-Would make most field guides names obsolete

-Disrupts communication with most of the existing scientific literature


Recommendation: we recommend YES to South American and NO to Paraguayan.


Juan I. Areta, Mark Pearman & Paul Smith, December 2020


Note from Remsen: There is no reason to stray from our usual voting procedure on English names unless the proposal is unable to reach 2/3 majority; if it doesn’t, then we will do what we have done with other logjams, i.e. expand the voting and perhaps go to simple majority (as we did with Russet Antshrike).




Comments from Areta: “YES, for the reasons stated in the proposal. Note that Pearman & Areta (2020) have already implemented the split, using Magellanic Snipe and South American Snipe and Smith & Clay (in press) also uses the latter name for that taxon: Pearman, M. & J.I. Areta. 2020. Birds of Argentina and the South-west Atlantic. Field Guide. Helm, London. Smith, P. & R.P. Clay (in press). The Birds of Paraguay: An Annotated Checklist. British Ornithologists Club, Tring.”


Comments from Remsen: “NO. The English name “South American Snipe” should be retired forever because it has now been applied, or will be applied, to three separate species combinations:


1. andina + paraguaiae + magellanica (The original application of “South American Snipe” by Johnson & Goodall 1965; followed by HBW-del Hoyo et al. 1996)

2. paraguaiae + magellanica (Sibley & Monroe 1990; Mazar Barnett & Pearman 2001, Annotated Argentina list; Ridgely & Greenfield 2001, Birds of Ecuador; Jaramillo 2003, Birds of Chile; Hilty 2003, Birds of Venezuela; Schulenberg et al. 2007, Birds of Peru; Dickinson & Remsen 2013, Howard-Moore world list; HBW Illustrated Checklist of Birds of the World, Vol. 1, 2014; Herzog et al. 2016, Birds of Bolivia)

3. paraguaiae (Pearman and Areta 2020; ?SACC)


“Thus, perpetuating the English name “South American Snipe” results in eternal confusion as to which species treatment that name refers to.  The name “South American Snipe” needs to be retired.  Further, the restriction of “South American Snipe” to paraguaiae, as in this proposal, is the only application that does not have a long track record.


“I might be in favor of trying to overlook this problem if ‘South American’ was a really good name for G. paraguaiae sensu stricto.  If it were one of those good names that we’d really want to hold on to, like we did for example for Canary-winged Parakeet, then I might not feel so strongly.  I but ‘South American Snipe’ definitely is not one of those names, especially if restricted to G. paraguaiae.  The newly circumscribed species may occur in more South American countries than any other Gallinago, as stated in the proposal, but it still isn’t really appropriate in my opinion.  We have only three other SACC species with the English name “South American”: South American Painted-Snipe, South American Tern, and South American Leaftosser.  “South American Painted-Snipe” is appropriate because it is “the” rostratulid of the continent.  “South American Tern” has that name, I assume, because it’s the only widespread breeding Sterna of South America, but it really isn’t a good name.  “South American Leaftosser” has that name because it’s the only member of the mexicanus complex in South America, despite there being 5 other leaftosser species in South America. But it’s only a temporary placeholder name that will disappear once the mexicanus group is thoroughly studied.


“The original application of “South American Snipe” to andina + paraguaiae + magellanica by Johnson & Goodall (1965), and followed by HBW (1996), was indeed an appropriate use of “South American” because under that broad species concept, all members of the small Gallinago group collectively did occupy most of South America, and the name was an appropriate foil to “Common Snipe” of other continents.  But then Sibley & Monroe came along and split out andina but did not give the other daughter of that split, i.e. paraguaiae + magellanica, a new name but instead retained the parental name for it.  And this was followed blindly by most authors (myself included) for the next 2-3 decades.  This is the crux of the problem, and represents a good example of the rationale for why daughter species in splits should not retain a parental name.


 “With respect to a parent-daughter split and AOS guidelines for such splits, the proposal is correct in stating that the evidence is weak for a paraguaiae-magellanicus sister relationship.  However, there is no evidence against that traditional view either, and so I think it’s acceptable to consider them sisters until proven otherwise.  We haven’t used this rationale to wiggle out of the parent-daughter guideline previously unless there was real reason to question the sister relationship, so I worry that this would set a bad precedent.  To me, it comes across as special pleading.”


“As for stability, most recent literature, unfortunately, uses ‘South American’ for paraguaiae + magellanica, so restricting South American to paraguaiae represents further destabilization concerning what ‘South American Snipe’ refers to.  In fact ,it would require changing what “South American Snipe” refers to in every published reference that has ever used that name, from Johnson & Goodall through the present.  It might not require physically changing the actual printed name in any book that contains only paraguaiae sensu stricto (touted as an advantage in the proposal), but it makes every printed work that used “South American Snipe” obsolete in terms of the taxonomic meaning of that name.  The proposal claims that any solution but theirs “disrupts communication with most of the existing scientific literature” is stated from the narrow perspective that any other name for paraguaiae sensu stricto is a problem.  The opposite view, of equal validity, is that restricting it to paraguaiae sensu stricto is what disrupts communication with ALL of the existing scientific literature, except its novel use in the Pearman-Areta book.


“As stated in the proposal, ‘Paraguayan Snipe’ is a lousy name, too, but not as lousy in my opinion as ‘South American Snipe’.  Paraguayan matches the scientific species name, and unlike ‘South American’ is unambiguous with respect to the taxon to which it applies, and it also has a long history of application to paraguaiae sensu stricto, e.g. this was the name used for the taxon by Hellmayr & Conover (1948).  Note that we were willing to go with ‘Peruvian Warbling-Antbird’ for Hypocnemis peruviana because of the match with the scientific species name even though the species also occurs in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador, so application of a national toponym does not necessarily imply an endemic or near-endemic.


“If there were a truly appropriate name for the species, I think we would have hit on it already.  So, I suspect we have to choose from a list of ‘lesser evil’ names, and just live with that.  If there were a good Spanish collective name for the lowland grassy wetlands favored by paraguaiae sensu stricto, that would be my first choice, e.g. something along the lines of “Humedal/Humedales Snipe.”  NO name could be as bad as “South American Snipe”, which if endorsed would then refer to three taxonomic concepts, for which only the original one is appropriate.”


“Treating paraguaiae as a separate species from magellanica and andina is a novel treatment catalyzed by solid research that included two SACC members (Nacho and Alvaro).  Using an already confused name for this novel treatment makes no sense.  Using a unique name, however, is just common sense.”


Comments from Jaramillo: “NO to South American Snipe. Van makes the arguments clearly. There is absolutely no reason to keep South American Snipe given that it would create a confusing name. It is ok to keep a “mother” name for a “daughter” in some circumstance, but in this one it would be just plain confusing.

“The issue here is that they are all bad names. Magellanic is not a good name either, most of the distribution of that bird is not Magellanic. Most people who live in Santiago had never been to Magallanes, yet the snipe is common there and to the north of there. But I have no real concern, let it be, and it matches the scientific name. I also feel the same way about Paraguayan Snipe, not a great name but distinctive and matches the scientific name. It is not incorrect, it is just not a great name. Better than South American though.

 “Assuming that Paraguayan Snipe is not accepted – we could choose from Humedal Snipe, Grassland Snipe, Neotropical Snipe, Tropical Snipe, Pampa Snipe (Pampa may be incorrect as a pampa tends to be dry, and note that it is different from The Pampas), Pastizal Snipe, Cryptic Snipe (aren't they all). Given recent events, we could name it Maradona's Snipe, although we may avoid honorifics and yes, it is a joke. Trying to lighten the mood.


“YES to Paraguayan Snipe, but I don’t like the name either. See above names for other options.”


Comments from Schulenberg: “I guess we'll all need to settle in, because this one looks as if it could get contentious. I can't see anything that will induce me to vote for Paraguayan Snipe, paraguaiae notwithstanding. adopting this name makes about as much sense to me as Philadephia Vireo for Vireo philadelphicus or, different but similar, Magnolia Warbler for Setophaga magnolia. sure, we've learned to live with these names, but would we really choose them if we starting from scratch?


“I can live with South American Snipe. unlike Van, I don't think that confusion over what 'South American Snipe' refers to be will be an 'eternal' problem. that's partly because I assume that 10 or 20 years down the road this will be a settled issue (we'll see). beyond that, the exact same issue arises over the meaning of any particular use of the scientific name Gallinago paraguaiae, and yet we don't spend much time worrying over this prospect. 


“One thing that's not quite clear to me is just how much geographic overlap there is between magellanica and paraguaiae. they do overlap in the nonbreeding season? how narrowly or how broadly? my biggest concern over retaining the name South American comes down to the extent to which they are seasonally sympatric - the less the overlap, the less the worry.


“Apparently unlike everyone else, I'm fine with Neotropical Snipe. it does not occur throughout the Neotropics, but it is far and away the most widespread species of snipe in the Neotropics; and I don't know what's wrong with that. Neotropical is a lot more appropriate for this snipe that, say, American is for American Flamingo, Orinoco is for Orinoco Goose, etc.


“So a No on Paraguayan. I'm reluctant to vote Yes on South American until the distributions are clarified (and my apologies if I overlooked anything about this in Miller et al. 2020, or in the SACC proposals). And I encourage the overs voting on this to give Neotropical at least a moment's thought; or to come up with an alternative that they're willing to defend with a little vigor.”


Comments from Lane: “I am in the same boat as Tom here. I'm not fond of ‘Paraguayan Snipe’ for G. paraguaiae, and though I could live reasonably well with South American Snipe for it, I think Neotropical seems a pretty reasonable fit. There are no other snipe regularly occurring (certainly, not breeding!) in the true Neotropics (if you consider "tropical" in the elevational as well as the latitudinal context), so it circumscribes the bird well enough... and if we want a distinctive name to separate the daughter species from the parent species, this is the best I can come up with. So, my vote is for Neotropical Snipe unless someone can come up with something better still.”


Additional comments from Remsen: “Concerning ‘Neotropical’, in my view this is worse than ‘South American’ in terms of being descriptive.  The Neotropics is the formal name for the biogeographic region that extends from the lowlands of tropical Mexico to Patagonia and includes the highest Andes as well as tropical lowlands; it also includes the Caribbean.  The only other species in the Western Hemisphere with such a name is Neotropic Cormorant, for which the English name is fairly appropriate – it can indeed occur almost anywhere in the biogeographic region and is one of the only species I can think of for which the name is actually pretty good (at least before its ongoing conquest of the southern Nearctic region).  I might vote for it over South American, just because it would provide our new classification of that group with a new name for paraguaiae (rather than perpetuate perhaps the most taxonomically confusing and inappropriate English names ever endorsed by SACC!)


Here's a screen shot of eBird’s Neotropic Cormorant map – note that many of the US records are wandering individuals:



And here is the same for the snipe, with crude outlines: yellow for paraguaiae and red for magellanica.




Comments from Stiles: “NO. I agree that S.A. Snipe should be sunk - it causes confusion with virtually all previous literature, especially field guides that don't mention subspecies; Nobody much likes Paraguayan Snipe either - all it has going for it is that it matches the Latin name. So: Marsh Snipe? Or broadening it a bit, Marshland Snipe if this could also imply wet pastures? Wetland Snipe seems too broad - at least, the Ramsar definition of wetlands includes everything from rivers, lakes and mangroves to puddles.”


Additional comments from Schulenberg: “Please put me down as NO on both Paraguayan and South American -- counting on resolution on a Spanish-based English name, perhaps 'Humedal”.


Comments from Lane: “Put me down as "NO" for South American Snipe.”


Comments from Zimmer: “ “NO on “South American Snipe” for all of the reasons laid out by Van.  NO also on “Paraguayan Snipe” (although I would still choose this over “South American”.  I’m not wild about “Neotropic Snipe” either (but would consider it an improvement over both of the formally proposed alternatives).  I would prefer a name that reflected the habitat distinctions – either “Marshland Snipe” or a Spanish-derived equivalent.”