Proposal (899) to South American Classification Committee


Establish English names for Catharus dryas and Catharus maculatus


Background: Based on multiple lines of evidence provided by Halley et al. (2017) Catharus dryas Spotted Nightingale-Thrush recently has been split by SACC (Proposal 865, ttps:// into two allopatric species, Central American Catharus dryas and South American Catharus maculatus. However, English names for the two split species have not yet been established. This proposal is to establish English names for these two species.


Discussion: The initial SACC proposal included the recommendation that the current English name for C. dryas (sensu lato) should be discontinued as the need to do so is “well-justified by Halley et al. (2017) because at least five other species in the genus are spotted in adult plumage (and all juveniles indeed are spotted)”. That proposal further pointed out that the name Sclater’s Nightingale-Thrush has been used for South American C. maculatus (e.g., Hellmayr 1934; HBW/Birdlife Taxonomic Checklist v. 5; IOC World Bird List v. 10.2) and that Gould’s Nightingale-thrush has been used in connection with the split Central American species, C. dryas (e.g., Ridgway 1907; HBW/Birdlife Taxonomic Checklist v. 5; IOC World Bird List v. 10.2).


However, it is becoming increasing customary within the AOS community and elsewhere to try to avoid imposing any new American or European eponyms to newly described forms and; therefore, these two English names are not desirable.


For this reason, we would recommend that the AOS Classification Committees consider other options. The species epithet for C. dryas is a toponym that translates as “oak”, which really doesn’t adequately describe its favored habitat. However, the morphonym C. maculatus, which translates as “maculated”, “spotted”, or “speckled”, is very appropriate for that species, especially amongst the other South American Catharus species, given the degree of its heavily spotted underparts. To retain a certain symmetry between the names of the two sister species we recommend that similarly constructed morphonyms be used for both of the newly split forms as follows:


Catharus dryas:

Option 1a: Yellow-throated Nightingale-Thrush

Option 1b: Yellow-breasted Nightingale-Thrush

Option 1c: Yellow-chested Nightingale-Thrush


Catharus maculatus:

Option 2a: Spot-throated Nightingale-Thrush

Option 2b: Speckle-throated Nightingale-Thrush

Option 2c: Speckled Nightingale-Thrush


The name “Yellow-breasted” or “Yellow-chested” for C. dryas is a direct translation of the vernacular Spanish name for this species, Zorzalito Pechiamarillo (Howell & Webb 1995). In the absence of an established English name, the adoption of the Spanish vernacular name would seem appropriate. However, no other Catharus thrush has a clear yellow throat, and the clear yellow throat distinguishes C. dryas from C. maculatus, which has a dark, or heavily spotted throat. The intent of using “Yellow-throated,” therefore, is to focus on the one plumage characteristic that best distinguishes C. dryas from the very similar C. maculatus, rather than attempt to describe the full extent of the yellowish underparts of this species.


Similarly, we favor the use of “Spot-throated” or “Speckle-throated” Nightingale-Thrush for C. maculatus over “Speckled” Nightingale-Thrush because it’s the heavily spotted throat that best distinguishes this species from its sister species. The alternative, Speckled Nightingale-Thrush, does not do so since both species have spotted/speckled breasts.


Catharus dryas:


Catharus maculatus:



We recommend that the committees adopt Option 1a for C. dryas and Option 2a or Option 2b for C. maculatus.




Halley, M. R., J. C Klicka, P. R. S Clee, and J. D. Weckstein. 2017. Restoring the species status of Catharus maculatus (Aves: Turdidae), a secretive Andean thrush, with a critique of the yardstick approach to species delimitation. Zootaxa 4276: 387-404.

HBW and Birdlife Taxonomic Checklist. v 5.

(Downloaded 1/10/2021). Birdlife International.

Hellmayr, C. E. 1934. Catalogue of birds of the Americas and the adjacent islands. Field Museum of Natural History, Zoological Series, 13 (7). Chicago.

Howell, S. N. G. and S. Webb. 1995. A Field Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America. Oxford University Press.

IOC World Bird List. Version 10.2.

(Downloaded 1/10/21).

Ridgway, R. 1907. The Birds of North and Middle America. Bulletin of the United States National Museum. No. 50. Part IV. Smithsonian Institution. Washington, DC.



David B. Donsker and Thomas Schulenberg. January 2021



Note on voting from Remsen: SACC 865B, the original English name part of the taxonomic proposal, did not pass (3-3).  This is our first experiment in ranked-choice voting.  Therefore, voting members should rank each option 1-2-3, 1 being the favored option.  Also, our vote on Central American C. dryas, go ahead and do the same, but this is only advisory to NACC.





Comments from Lane: “For C. maculatus, my ranking from first choice to 3rd choice of the provided names is Speckled N-T, Spot-throated N-T, Speckle-throated N-T.


“Again, I am not enamored of the names that refer to the throat here, although I understand the rationale, given that the bird is not best identified by its throat pattern within its range, and it is such a dramatically appearing bird that drawing attention to its throat seems rather strange. Really, the only use of names invoking the throat is if one is presented with a photograph or specimen without knowledge of its origin. Otherwise, it seems we are missing the forest for the trees of this birds' glory. But rather than getting too flowery, I think paralleling the scientific name and using "Speckled" is appropriate.


“For C. dryas, I would vote for Yellow-breasted or Yellow-chested over Yellow-throated, but again, "Yellow" is too blasé for the color, and it actually is more washed with orange in life (fading to yellow, then white, shortly after being prepared as a specimen). I would consider "Saffron" or "Peach"... The bird is, again, so dramatic in appearance, it seems fitting to find a name that does this justice. Hence my searching for other descriptors in my last set of comments on English names. "Glowing" or "Sunset" would better capture the image the eye receives, in my opinion, but it will be up to NACC to decide in the end.”


Comments from Steve Hilty: “Option 2a (Spot-throated Nightingale-thrush) sounds good to me.”


Comments from Schulenberg: “With regard to Catharus maculatus, I would be quite satisfied with any of these three proposed names. Ranking them actually is difficult, precisely because the differences between them are so small. Of course I originally was on the side of 'Speckle/Spot-throated', but since have come around to just 'Speckled Nightingale-Thrush': this is shorter and more to the point, and of course parallels the old 'Spotted'. as a side note, my preference would be for an unmodified 'Speckled' to be reserved for species that speckled or spotted all over (as with Speckled Rail and Speckled Tanager). but there's obviously no point now in trying to make such a distinction. (At least this thrush is speckled or spotted: I don't understand how Colius striatus came to be called Speckled Mousebird). So, to complete this exercise, I rank the options as 1) Speckled; 2) Speckle-throated; and 3) Spot-throated. again, however, any of these will do.


As for Catharus dryas, I rank 'Yellow-breasted' (1) over 'Yellow-throated' (2) because the yellow indeed extends well beyond the throat. 'Yellow-chested' (3) is a very distant third choice; 'Xxx-chested' is most often used for species in which the color of the breast contrasts with colors of the throat and belly (as with Tawny-chested Flycatcher). Substituting a more specific shade for 'Yellow' would be fine, but should be done with care; for example, the yellow of the throat and breast of this thrush doesn't seem to me to match that of, say, Saffron Finch. but maybe others see this differently, or can conjure up another shade of yellow that works better. I'm not fond of 'Apricot' either, since this is a species name that already is laden with plenty of syllables. there must be other shades of yellow that I'm not thinking of, however. I know where Dan Lane is coming from on this, but I'd still be very leery of a name like 'Glowing'. For example, in the case of Rudolf (an individual reindeer, not a taxon), it was reported that the nose was 'very shiny' and that one could even say it glows; but Rudolf's well-known moniker referred to the color of the tip of the muzzle, not to any other attribute, no matter how striking or historically important. my view is that 'Glowing' just wouldn't be sufficiently explanatory to get the job done.”


Comments from Zimmer:

1. Speckled Nightingale-thrush

2. Spot-throated Nightingale-thrush

3. Speckle-throated Nightingale-thrush


“I appreciate the previously made points that “Speckled” does not distinguish maculatus from dryas, but I would agree with Dan that taken in isolation, focusing on the spotting on the throat, when the breast is so heavily and extensively speckled, does seem bizarre.  Using “Speckled” as the sole modifier would be appropriate and pithy, although clearly not exclusive.  However, there are tons of examples of birds with appropriate but non-exclusive descriptive names, so I don’t see this as much of a problem.


“As regards C. dryas:


“My understanding is that we don’t actually have a vote on this one, as it falls strictly within the purview of NACC, so I’m not going to bother to rank the choices presented.  However, I did want to second Dan’s comments that “Yellow-throated” “Yellow-breasted” and “Yellow-chested” fail to capture the color of this bird in life.   Saffron-breasted”, as suggested by Dan, would be an improvement in my opinion, although I personally feel that “Apricot-breasted” would be even better.  I was interested to see that illustrations of “Spotted Nightingale-thrush” in HBW (and the subsequent illustrated checklist) show a bird that is only marginally yellowish below at all (more whitish than anything) – I’m guessing that these illustrations were based upon specimens that had lost their apricot color post-mortem, and that the artist had no actual field experience with these striking (in life) thrushes.  Dan alludes to this post-mortem fading in his remarks, and I would note that the somewhat orange-yellow breast color of C. dryas can also be found in some Polioptila lactea in life – another case where the color fades rapidly to white post-mortem.


“Okay, in that case here are my rankings in order, including 2 that weren’t on the official list:


1.  Apricot-breasted Nightingale-Thrush
2.  Saffron-breasted Nightingale-Thrush
3.  Yellow-breasted Nightingale-Thrush = Option 1b
4.  Yellow-chested Nightingale-Thrush = Option 1c
5.  Yellow-throated Nightingale-Thrush = Option 1a”


Comments from Hilty: “Here are my rankings:


1. Speckled Nightingale-Thrush
2. Spot-throated Nightingale-Thrush
3. Speckle-throated Nightingale-Thrush


Comments from Pearman: “1b and 1c also apply to C. maculatus though as the bird is washed yellow, so not a distinguishing feature between the species, albeit obscure. One is brighter yellow than the other. 


“Then, in maculatus, the first two options Spot-throated and Speckle-throated are at odds with the fact that the throat is unspotted. And the final option Speckled N-T is valid for both species. So, this is all very, very confusing to me.... what am I missing here. C. maculatus is a bird I see every year. I would definitely go with Hellmayr's names.”


Comments from Stiles: “As for dryas-1b>1c>1a.  I don't like "Yellow-chested” because it implies a contrast between the chest and the rest of the underparts, and "Yellow-throated” is only useful to contrast dryas with maculatus, which seems unlikely to be used given the great distance between their ranges. Not having experience with dryas (it doesn't occur in Costa Rica, but given the photos, I could well go with Saffron-breasted").


“As for maculatus, 2b>2c>2a - although were 2a to be given as "Spotted-throated", I'd place it first - it is more accurate in that there are lots of spots, not just one on its throat (and it's no longer or harder to pronounce than "Speckle(d)-throated!”


Comments from Remsen:


C. maculatus:

1. Speckled Nightingale-Thrush.  I like Dan’s point that focusing on the throat seems odd when the breast markings are so much more conspicuous.  Also, the markings on the throat are difficult to see, even in photos (see below).  Further, with allopatric taxa, noting diagnostic differences between the two is not as important to me.  Tom’s point about Speckled empirically often referring to the entire bird is good, but we have counter-examples Speckled Spinetail, Speckled Chachalaca, and Speckled Hummingbird that are speckled only ventrally

2. Speckle-throated Nightingale-Thrush (the markings on the throat indeed look more like what I would consider speckles than spots, which I think of as more rounded; see photos below)

3. Spot-throated Nightingale-Thrush

Here are screen shots of 3 C. maculatus photos from Macaulay:


By Nick Athanas (Ecuador):




By Alex Mesquita (Argentina):




By Oscar Johnson (Bolivia):