Proposal (905) to South American Classification Committee



Establish new English name for Shrike-like Cotinga (Laniisoma elegans)



Here’s our current footnote, which sums up the situation, with a tangent on “Shrike-like”:


7a. Called "Elegant Mourner" in Ridgely & Tudor (1994) and Snow (2004a), and “Laniisoma” in Dickinson & Christidis (2014).  Called “Andean Laniisoma” in Ridgely & Greenfield (2001) and “Andean Mourner” in Hilty (2003); both authors treated the taxon in their country books as a separate species from nominate elegans of SE Brazil (see Note 7).  Del Hoyo & Collar (2016), who also treated them as separate species, called them “Andean Mourner” and “Elegant Mourner” respectively.  Although considered by Snow (1982) and Ridgely & Greenfield (2001) "not in the slightest shrike-like," its bill shape and body size is roughly similar to that of many shrikes (Laniidae), as reflected in the genus name.  Now that it is no longer a true cotinga, however, SACC proposal needed to change English name.


There is no question that a new name is a good idea.  The species is unequivocally not a cotinga, as confirmed most recently by Harvey et al. (2020, Science), who confirmed earlier genetic analyses showing is as sister to Laniocera.  Because “cotinga” is not a morphotype, it should be restricted to the taxonomic Cotingidae as much as possible, and continuing to call it “Cotinga” is misleading.


Of tangential interest is that the genera Laniisoma (“shrike body”) and Laniocera (“shrike bill”) would end up being sister genera, given that their close relationship was a big surprise and that they resided in separate families until recently.


We currently treat the Andean and SE Brazilian taxa as conspecific, so that has to be kept in mind when choosing a new name.  Therefore, if we went with [Something] Mourner, if we revised species limits, then Elegant Mourner might be the name of the SE Brazil form for historical continuity even though neither is more “elegant” than the other, and retaining “Elegant” for one of the daughters when that was used for at least a decade to refer to the broad concept would go against AOS (NACC) guidelines and our informal SOP.


Also, because of the instability over the last three decades, I would say that if anyone has nifty novel name suggestions, let’s hear them.


In the first version of this proposal, I had a slight lean towards just plain “Laniisoma”.  Laniisoma is not a difficult name to pronounce and learn, and both roots are familiar to most bird people, and it also maintains a slight link to the former “Shrike-like” part of the name.  This bird is pretty unique, and it obviously did not recall a Laniocera Mourner to anyone until the relatively recent morphological studies (Prum and Lanyon) and multiple genetic studies exposed the relationship; so, I was slightly in favor of a unique name for the bird, whether the genus is monotypic or is eventually treated as consisting of two species.


However, Dan Lane had an immediate response that caused me to revise my views and at least reword the proposal.  Dan pointed out that “the voices of Laniisoma and Laniocera are strikingly similar, as are the juvenile plumages, as well as the caterpillar-mimicking nestling stage. Thus, the two genera are considerably more similar than the adult plumages alone would suggest. I think it would be wise to use this same group name in this case to solidify this relationship between the two genera for birders not otherwise familiar with the phylogenetic relationships of the group.”


Therefore, for starters, let’s see what happens if the proposal is to rename it “Laniisoma”.  Thus, a NO vote would be for something besides Laniisoma, and please discuss possibilities, presumably Mourner.  If Laniisoma is rejected, that will also give us some time and space (below) for discussing a new name.



<<I cannot get rid of the above line>>



Del HOYO, J., AND N. J. COLLAR.  2016.  HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Vol. 2: Passerines. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

DICKINSON, E. C., AND L. CHRISTIDIS (eds.).  2014.  The Howard and Moore complete checklist of the birds of the World. Vol. 2. Passerines.  Aves Press, Eastbourne, U.K., 752 pp.

HILTY, S. L. 2003. Birds of Venezuela, 2nd ed. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 878 pp.

RIDGELY, R. S., AND P. J. GREENFIELD.  2001. The Birds of Ecuador. Vol. I. Status, Distribution, and Taxonomy. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 848 pp.

RIDGELY, R. S., AND G. TUDOR.  1994. The birds of South America, Vol. 2. University Texas Press, Austin.

SNOW, D. W.  2004a. Family Cotingidae (cotingas). Pp. 32-108 in "Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 9.  Cotingas to Pipits and Wagtails." (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliot, and D. A. Christie, eds.).  Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.



Van Remsen, February 2021




Comments from Lane: “NO. [see comments from Lane inserted by Remsen above].


“I would say that something like ‘Yellow-bellied Mourner’ or ‘Green-backed Mourner’ would be good name for the species as we define it now, and should SACC split Andean and Atlantic Forest forms, they can be renamed (‘Andean Mourner’ and ‘Atlantic Mourner’ would be obvious options should this pass).”


Comments from Whitney: “YES. A few years ago, when the article illustrating the caterpillar-like juv. plumages of these birds came out, I got to thinking differently about them, and noticed the same vocal similarity mentioned by Dan.  I also recalled seeing a specimen of Laniisoma at Harvard in late-juv. plumage that had big orange spots on the wing coverts, another similarity.  So, when I saw the high-def tree of Harvey et al., I cracked a big smile — it all makes sense!.


“I would prefer to call them something like Brazilian Laniisoma and Andean Laniisoma (if SACC eventually splits them; just Laniisoma if not), and just plain Laniocera.  I really don’t get the idea of “mourner”, and it’s been in long usage for other birds.”


Comments from Schulenberg: “NO to Laniisoma. I think in general it's a bad idea to fall back on genus names as the English name. some work out well enough (junco or phainopepla), so I'm not pushing for a hard and fast rule, just suggesting that this practice be avoided whenever possible. in this case, for example, 'Laniisoma' is meaningless to anyone who doesn't already know the scientific name - which is to say, to anyone who doesn't need an English name anyway. 'Mourner' doesn't categorize the species as readily as do names such as 'duck' or 'sparrow', but it's still a lot better than 'Laniisoma'. The second reason to avoid using the genus name is the genus can change out from under you. 'Hemispingus' is the worst case scenario in this regard, but even at a less drastic level, this is something that happens time and again (e.g. Yellow-green Chlorospingus 'Chlorospingus' flavovirens). That's not going to be a problem in this case, of course. but with that issue in mind, SACC is better off getting in the habit of not straying into this trap to begin with. I'd be happy with 'Mourner' as the group name, will have to think a little more about species names.”


Comments from Hilty: “I just managed (I think) to argue HBW out of "mourner" and to use the old name Shrike-like Cotinga, just because it was an older established name. But that was undoubtedly a mistake—and if I hadn't been so rushed I would have probably given this more thought.  I should have, at least, kept what I used in my Venezuela book—Andean Laniisoma. The name "Shrike-like Cotinga" really is rather pathetic on all accounts and mourner doesn't seem so great either (more below).


“Laniisoma is probably better than "Shrike-like" (ok, it sounds more sophisticated, or pompous), and can easily be modified as Andean and Brazilian as necessary. . . . however all we have done is discard an English name, and replace it with a "latinized (Greek) name" that means the same thing. Still, Laniisoma is more memorable.


“To me this bird doesn't seem very "mourner-like," or at least the voice doesn't bring to mind anything mournful. Seems to me a bird this distinctive in appearance deserves more imagination (like maybe a Greek god (or goddess) of the forest, etc.


“So, just for fun, some alternatives below: (Spanish themes; Greek, Roman etc), and with that thin high sibilant whistle, and a penchant for remaining hidden (at least in my experience) maybe there are other more interesting alternatives to "mourner." 


For Foothill (below) also read Andean, or Brazilian, or whatever else comes to mind)


Foothill Silbador  or Foothill Silba (Spanish)

Foothill Silvano (Spanish)

Occult Laniisoma

Foothill Dryad (Greek)

Foothill Oread (=Ore-ad) (Greek)

Foothill Silvanus (Roman)

Foothill Feronia (Roman)


Comments from Stiles: “YES. I like using Laniisoma as the E name for the genus (if considered monotypic, no further modified is needed; if split, Andean and Atlantic would do).


“However, having said this, I also agree that Laniocera would be a good choice for the E name of that genus. It goes nicely with Laniisoma, the alliteration suggestive of the sister relationship. This also eliminates the use of Mourner for the genus (which I suspect was bestowed simply because the two commonest species show a strong superficial resemblance to the corresponding species of Rhytipterna, which is now known not to be closely related (I’d also suggest that the modifier here be changed from Speckled to Rufous. The speckling is not very noticeable (but does denote the difference from R. holerythra.


Additional comments from Lane: “Just reading through the comments on this and I feel obliged to respond to a few. I can understand that some folks would like to eliminate a false bond between the Rhytipterna and Laniocera mourners, but I will point out that these two groups have a fascinating parallel biogeography of plumage coloration (shared again with a pair of lowland Lipaugus) that suggests the potential of some sort of mimicry ring (the mechanism of which is beyond my ken), and I suspect that may have played a role in the association of them as related in days of yore. They are fairly similar in size and shape, and could be mistaken for one another in the field with a poor look. So again, this seems to link them even if they are not closely related. In this way "mourner" could relate to a morphotype.


“But more importantly to me, if either of these genera actually EARNS the name "mourner" I'd say it's Laniocera! Of the three Rhytipterna, the only one that strikes me as sounding even remotely mournful is R. holerythra. The other two have little about their vocalizations that sounds sad or minor key at all.



“On the other hand, both Laniocera sound about the same (as does Laniisoma) with a very minor key song that sounds like a squeaky wheel barrow axel that's about to lose its wheel, and often just becomes slower paced and sadder sounding as the song progresses.


“I have no idea if it matters to members of this committee that the English names actually have valid meaning or not (heaven knows a lot of widely accepted English names don't!) but if we want to argue about which group of birds an English name should be restricted to, I think it should be based on some logic that is obvious to other users of the name and language. Restricting "mourner" to Rhytipterna doesn't seem logical if we actually want to honor the meaning of the word. In fact, if we want to restrict the name, we should restrict it to Laniocera instead. That, of course, would create more upheaval than I think any of us would like, so I want to make clear that is *not* what I am advocating. What I am advocating is using some sort of common sense when applying English names here. The restriction of "mourner" to Rhytipterna doesn't seem to fit common sense to me. I also agree with Tom that using an English word, when available, rather than falling back on a scientific name is preferable. Mourner can be considered a morphotype here. As such, I think all three genera, Rhytipterna, Laniocera, and Laniisoma can bear it equally well, and I see no reason to toss that option out simply because they are not all related.”


“One last thing: if we were to follow Gary's lead and change not only Laniisoma's English name, but also that of Laniocera, we are destabilizing THREE species' names rather than one. That seems counterproductive given the SACC policy of minimal English name destabilization.”


Additional comments from Hilty: “YES. I am fine with Laniisoma. I would vote for that.”


Comments from Josh Beck: I disagree with restricting Mourner to Rhytipterna. As Dan points out, it's the least mournful of the three genera. I really dislike using Laniisoma and Laniocera as common names. Many people who know anything about the Laniisoma will know that name, sure, but it is not informative for the vast majority of users - very, very few birders will know (or perhaps care) what the name means. Many will already know Speckled and Cinereous Mourner and changing their names to Laniocera is less informative, less intuitive, and disruptive. Meanwhile, calling Laniisoma a Mourner highlights a link that many will not have previously been familiar with. Having Rhytipterna as Mourners also isn't too off-putting and it is a long-established name for those birds as well. English name stability ought to have more priority here.


“In the pursuit of English name stability, I would favor Elegant Mourner or Shrike-like Mourner for the combined species. Both are already in use (along with, at least four other names: Andean and Brazilian Laniisoma, Shrike-like Cotinga, and Elegant Cotinga). It seems wholly unnecessary to coin a 7th (or greater?) novel English name for a species that is likely to split and change names again.”


Comments from Stiles: “This could be summed up as chaos so far. I am less than thrilled with considering “mourner” as a morphotype, but Dan has a good argument for keeping it in regard  to the “look-alike” appearances of the two most frequently mentioned two species of Rhytipterna and the two Laniocera (even though only one species - or in fact, one subspecies of Rhytipterna holerythra - really sounds mournful. However, to recognize this it might imply coining a new E-name for Rhytipterna as well, most likely using the Latin name, which seems like overkill for stability: hence, I will go along with Mourner for Rhytipterna and Laniocera. However, I would draw the line here: Laniocera in no way either looks like the two Mourners or sounds in particularly “mournful” to me, so I will stay with Laniisoma for the E-name of this genus.”


Comments from Donsker: “I would vote NO for Laniisoma as a part of the new English name.


“The exciting aspect of the new knowledge that we have learned about this species is its close relationship to Laniocera, not only genetically but also for the vocal similarities and strikingly similar juvenile plumages shared by these forms that have been mentioned by Dan and Bret. Linking these two forms with similar English names that emphasize their relationship is just too compelling to ignore.


“In that regard, I believe that “mourner” would be the best name achieve this goal. “Mourner” is well-known and well-established for Laniocera.  Fortunately, “mourner” has a solid history of use for Laniisoma as well. So no newly coined names are necessary, in my opinion.  I am totally in line with  the arguments to retain “mourner” that have already been discussed by Tom, Dan and Josh. 


“As for the specific names. I would prefer the well-known Elegant Mourner for the unsplit species. Should the species be split, then Brazilian Mourner and Andean Mourner would suffice for the two resultant species (although I would prefer to retain Elegant Mourner for the better known nominate species, if possible).”


Comments from Jaramillo: “NO. Boy it gets messy at times. But I think the way to go on this is to use Mourner.”


Comments from Zimmer: “A reluctant “NO” to Laniisoma.  I’ve gone back and forth on this a bunch of times, which is probably the best excuse I can muster for being the last one to vote.  On the one hand, I feel that Laniisoma is such a distinctive beast from Laniocera (parallels in voice and ontogeny of the distinctive juvenile plumages aside) and from Rhytipterna, that I feel as we shouldn’t obscure that degree of distinction by referring to it as yet another “mourner”.  But, as different people, including Dan and Tom, have stated, the use of Laniisoma as an English name doesn’t really have much meaning, nor is it informative in any real way about the bird.  Actually, I’m pretty taken with one of Steve Hilty’s suggestions of using the novel and evocative name of “Dryad”, given that the ventriloquial voice and elusive nature of the bird make it seem much like some forest spirit.  But, since that suggestion hasn’t gained any traction with anyone else, I find myself coming around to going with “Elegant Mourner” for Laniisoma elegans after all, and, if we end up splitting the nominate subspecies from the Andean birds, then I would favor “Brazilian Mourner” for the former, and “Andean Mourner” for the latter.  Dan’s objection to reserving “Mourner” for Rhytipterna is spot-on, as is his observation that Laniocera has the most mournful voice of any of the 3 genera.  And, it is worth pointing out, the Rhynchocyclus, Ramphotrigon and Tolmomyias are all reasonably distinct from one another, and yet they are all commonly referred to as “flatbills”.”