Proposal (900) to South American Classification Committee


Change English name of Idiopsar brachyurus


Background: The long-established English name of Idiopsar brachyurus has been Short-tailed Finch, and this has been long known to be a misnomer and inaccurate name for the species. The vernacular name Short-tailed Finch was probably first used by Hellmayr in 1937 (from the Greek deviation brachyurus meaning short-tailed).


Discussion: It was suggested in "Range extension for Short-tailed Finch Idiopsar brachyurus in Peru with notes on its behaviour, plumage and soft-part coloration and nomenclature” (Lloyd et al. 2005), that the name was inappropriate and misleading. The proposed new name of Andean Boulder Finch was adopted in by Ridgely (2009) but not elsewhere.

We strongly consider the name Short-tailed Finch to be misleading for two main reasons. Firstly, despite its vernacular name, the species does not appear ‘short-tailed’, and tail length is not an obvious field characteristic; consequently, the vernacular name does not aid identification, particularly for those unfamiliar with Andean birds. We are aware of recent representations by various authors for stability in nomenclature, particularly when the vernacular name is well established and in widespread use. However,  it is a timely proposal, given that in January 2021 SACC voted in favor of changing a well-established English name in the same genus (Proposal (876) - change the English name of Idiopsar speculifer from White-winged Diuca-Finch to Glacier Finch. We firmly believe that a new vernacular name is required for Idiopsar brachyurus.  We prefer to highlight the species’ habitat preferences and propose the name Andean Boulder-finch. It has been known that Idiopsar brachyurus prefers highly localized microhabitat features in high-Andean grass-steppe habitats. More specifically its presence is in some way dependent on the presence of boulders. This was noted by J.V Remsen, T.A Parker III, Robert S. Ridgley and Francois Vuilleumier in Bolivia.


We propose the English name be changed to Andean Boulder Finch reflecting its distribution in the Andes and its preference for areas with boulders and talus slopes.


1. Cotinga 23 48 Range extension for Short-tailed Finch Idiopsar brachyurus in Peru with notes on its behaviour, plumage and soft-part coloration and nomenclature. Huw Lloyd, Barry Walker, Constantino Aucca Chutas and Fabrice Schmitt Cotinga 23 (2005): 48–51.

2. Field Guide to the Songbirds of South America: The Passerines By Robert S. Ridgely, Guy Tudor. University of Texas Press Austin 2009

3. Natural history notes on some poorly known Bolivian birds - J.V Remsen, T.A Parker III and Robert S. Ridgley.  Gerfaut - Giervalk 72: 77-87 January 1982


4. Field Notes on some birds from the Bolivian Andes -  F. Vuilleumier - The Ibis 111: 599-608


5. Hellmayr, C. E. (1937) Catalogue of birds of the Americas and the adjacent islands. Part X. Icteridae. Field Mus. Nat. Hist. Publ., Zool. Ser., 13: 1–228.


Barry Walker and Huw Lloyd January 2021



Note from Remsen on voting: A YES vote would be for changing the name from Short-tailed to EITHER (option A) Andean Boulder Finch OR just (option B) Boulder Finch (in consultation with Barry Walker.  If you vote YES, indicate which option is preferred.



Comments from Donsker: “My vote is YES, Option B, Boulder Finch, for Idiopsar brachyurus. It's a nice complement to Glacier Finch.”


Comments from Stiles: “YES.  I'll vote YES on this one, with a preference for Boulder Finch!”


Comments from Lane: YES to Boulder Finch. I recognize that this will cause instability, but given that we now know this species is closely related to our newly renamed Glacier Finch, it seems a reasonable time to pull off the band-aid in one tug here with this one as well. "Short-tailed" really is a useless name, as the tail is normal, it's the BILL that's disproportional, and that name doesn't really define the bird well. This one will match the habitat preference similarly to Glacier Finch, and does suit it much better in my mind.”


Comments from Schulenberg: “NO.  Boulder Finch is a great name, and if we were starting from scratch, I'd be all in favor. But we're not starting from scratch, and I'm one of those curmudgeons who generally take a dim view of trying to 'improve' bird names.  We change names when we have to - shifting taxonomy - but otherwise I prefer to leave things as they are.  So, NO on any version of changing the name.


Comments from Remsen: “YES to Boulder Finch.  As much as I hate disrupting stability on this name, my case here is based on the misleading nature of “Short-tailed”, which is already sadly enshrined in the scientific name … so repeating it in the English name would be a double endorsement that should be avoided, rather than repeating it as if it we weren’t aware it wasn’t a useful character.  As Barry and Huw pointed out in their proposal, let’s use the taxonomic change in generic boundaries to make a substantial upgrade in the English name.  Let’s show our awareness that the scientific name is misleading rather than perpetuating it.  If I was hesitant to change, the appropriateness of Boulder Finch is quite appealing, as well as a parallel to the excellent name Glacier Finch, which involved a change just as disruptive as Boulder Finch would.”


Comments from Zimmer: “YES” to “Boulder Finch”.  It is evocative, pithy, and nicely symmetrical with “Glacier Finch”.  I’m usually in favor of siding with stability too, absent a compelling reason supporting a change, but we have already disrupted one longstanding name in this genus, and it does seem as if the time is ripe for making an upgrade to the name of I. brachyurus as well.”