Proposal (909) to South American Classification Committee



Change the spelling of Aphrastura masafuerae to Aphrastura masafucrae



BACKGROUND: The Masafuera Rayadito was described as Synallaxis Masafucrae by Philippi & Landbeck (1866). Note the “c” instead of the “e” in the specific epithet clearly based on the type locality Masafuera Island (now known as Alejandro Selkirk Island), maybe a typographical error also repeated elsewhere in the text (“Insel Masafucra”). Subsequent authorities immediately recognized the error and used S. masafuerae or Aphrastura masafuera. Even Philippi himself used S. Masafuerae in subsequent publications (e.g. Philippi 1868:253). Note that The Code would not allow for such corrections of original spellings now but The Code did not exist then and it was common for systematists to correct perceived errors in original spellings.


NEW INFORMATION: Dickinson and Christidis (2014) resurrected the spelling masafucrae, along with many other old spellings, based on the argument that the principle of prevailing usage is too ambiguous to be of any practical use in nomenclature. Therefore, skipping the articles that stipulate preservation of subsequent spellings based on prevailing usage, they turned to the principle of priority as the basis for proposing changes in spelling for several names. Some other global lists followed suit but the masafucrae spelling has not permeated the ornithological literature yet.


ANALYSIS. The resurrection of the spelling masafucrae contravenes Art. 33.3.1 of The Code that states that:


when an incorrect subsequent spelling is in prevailing usage and is attributed to the publication of the original spelling, the subsequent spelling and attribution are to be preserved and the spelling is deemed to be a correct original spelling.”


The spelling masafuerae has been in nearly universal usage for more than a century and, when attributed, it is attributed to the original publication thus fulfilling the condition of Art. 33.31. Only the recent illegitimate action by Dickinson and Christidis in resurrecting masafucrae disrupted the long history of stability of the name. The argument that the criteria for prevailing usage are somewhat ambiguous is respectable opinion, but articles pertaining to the preservation of spelling in prevailing usage such as 33.3.1 cannot just be ignored.


RECOMMENDATION: I recommend NO on this proposal.





Dickinson, E. C., and L. Christidis 2014. The Howard and Moore complete checklist of the birds of the world. 4th edition. Volume 2. Aves Press.

Philippi, R. A. & L. Landbeck.1866 Beiträge zur Fauna Chiles. Archiv für Naturgeschichte 32(1):121-132.

Philippi, R. A. 1868. Catálogo de las aves chilenas existentes en el Museo Nacional de Santiago.  Anales de la Universidad de Chile 31(2):241-335.



Santiago Claramunt, March 2021




Comments from Bonaccorso: “NO. I also think Aphrastura masafuerae should prevail.”


Comments from Remsen: “Vitor has my vote on this, but I have a strong opinion:  masafuerae” has been in use in all major references on Chilean, South American, and world birds, other than Dickinson & Christidis 2014), as far back as I can go in my now highly pruned library:


Cory & Hellmayr 1925

Peters 1951

Meyer de Schauensee 1966, 1970

Johnson & Goodall 1967 (Birds of Chile)

Sibley & Monroe (1990)

Ridgely & Tudor (1994)

HBW (2003)

Jaramillo 2003 (Bird of Chile)

HBW & BLI 2016 (Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World)

IOC list 11.1


…. And I predict also in the 3 previous volumes of the Howard-Moore list


“So, it this isn’t “prevailing usage”, then there needs to be a new definition of it.  What possible benefit is there of preserving a typo in the OD from 155 years ago, corrected almost immediately by the author himself?  The Code was established by scientists whose main concern was stability, and for that reason they wisely added provisions for prevailing usage.  Strict obedience to priority may provide recreational opportunities for scholarly inclined hobbyists, but it should not require any science background to see the importance of stability and prevailing usage in scientific literature.”


Comments from Stiles: “Definitely NO on this as you note, if consistent use for over a century and the correction to this by the author 2 yrs. later don't constitute "prevailing usage", someone is confused or suffers from amnesia.”


Comments from Areta: “NO. I am in general in favor of retaining original spellings, but in this case the reference is so obscure and the intention to name the bird is so obviously aiming at masafuerae, that I feel it is one of this cases in which bringing a name from among the dead makes no service to anyone. This is a case in which, despite my reservations and the lack of an appropriate definition of prevailing usage in The Code, I feel that the vastly prevailing (by any definition!) usage of masafuerae, the original intention of Phillippi and Landbeck and the name of the island, all favor putting masafucrae aside and keeping masafuerae.”


Comments from Stiles: “NO. This is an exact parallel to the schulzi-schulzii problem. Given that the describer corrected the mistake (certainly a typographical error) and referred to this in the process makes masafuerae available and it undoubtedly has long been the current usage.”


Comments from Robbins: “For reasons pointed out by Santiago, I vote NO for changing the spelling of specific epithet of the Aphrastura.”


Comments from Pacheco: “NO. A didactic case. An evident typographical error and a robust prevailing use of more than a century support the vote.”


Comments from Jaramillo: “NO - masafuerae is correct, and has been in use for ages.”


Comments from Zimmer: “NO. Clearly a case of a typographical error, corrected almost immediately by the describer, and now in continuous, universal use for over a century. ‘Prevailing usage’ as well as common sense should dictate the preservation of the epithet masafuerae.”


Comments from Lane: “NO, clearly this was an error corrected shortly thereafter and has been adopted under the corrected form ever since.”


Comments from Piacentini: “NO.  Just to reinforce SACC's decision to keep the spelling masafuera instead of the clear copyist error masafucrae. Despite Santiago's arguments based on prevailing usage, I must add that in the first time I read the spelling "masafucrae", I immediately recognized the typographical error. Therefore, at least I could perceive the error from the "original publication itself, without recourse to any external source of information", which is precisely the text of art. 32.5.1 that defines spellings that MUST be corrected (and I bet many other native Latin language speakers, or at least some hundreds or thousands of Chilean* researchers could perceive it as well). As such, I defend that there is no option to adopt any spelling other than "masafuerae" for this iconic bird species.”