Proposal (913) to South American Classification Committee



Establish English names for Saltator coerulescens species splits


In proposal 879, SACC voted to split Saltator coerulescens three ways, resulting in the following species:


1. “Middle American” Saltator grandis (including also vigorsii, plumbiceps, yucatanensis, hesperis, brevicaudus) - distribution ranges from central Mexico to westernmost Panama.


2. “Caribbean” Saltator olivascens (including also plumbeus and brewsteri) – distribution is centered on the Caribbean slope of northern South America, ranging from easternmost Panama to northeastern Brazil. Notably, though, the core of the range and where most birders encounter the bird is the Caribbean slope of northern Colombia and Venezuela, and on Trinidad.


3. “Amazonian” Saltator coerulescens (including also azarae, mutus, and superciliaris) – distribution is cis-Andean, throughout the Amazon basin and continuing west and south through western Brazil and into the southern cone as far as central Argentina.


In terms of precedence for names, I was able to find:


Hellmayr (1938):

S. c. grandis (Lichtenstein, 1830) - Lichtenstein's Saltator

S. c. olivascens (Cabanis, 1849) - Olivascent Saltator

S. c. coerulescens (Vieillot, 1817) - Grayish Saltator


AOU Checklist of North American Birds:

S. (c.) grandis (W. Deppe, 1830) - Middle American Saltator


eBird/Clements/BotW, Birdlife/HBW, and a few other sources (EcoRegistros and some other websites that pick up their names from Clements or Birdlife/HBW) have applied “Middle American,” “Caribbean,” and “Amazonian” as names in the recent past.


The comments for English names in the original proposal showed good support for naming S. grandis as Cinnamon-bellied Saltator. It can be generally judged to have the most richly colored underparts of the three resultant species (although southernmost S coerulescens (sensu stricto) is fairly richly colored underneath as well. The name is evocative, descriptive, and seems easy to remember. On the other hand, Middle American Saltator has a little bit of recent precedent and is also an excellent name that instantly and accurately locates the bird for users of English names.


Opinions were nowhere near as unified for S. c. olivascens and coerulescens (sensu stricto).


S. olivascens was the species that received the greatest number of nominations for name choices, and I have pared it down to the two most supported options from the original proposal and from further comments solicited from others. The (slightly) most-supported option was Olivaceous Saltator. This aligns with the scientific name and is a perfectly adequate name and easy to remember. Caribbean was the other reasonably well supported, if more contentious name. The argument for Caribbean over Olivaceous would be that, even if the bird is not bio-geographically truly Caribbean, it is located on the Caribbean slope of northern South America, and the name does help locate the bird despite the minor inaccuracy. It may invite confusion with Lesser Antillean Saltator, although that bird is far less frequently observed (about 1/10th as many observations in eBird, roughly judged). Essentially, it could be argued that Caribbean tells you more about the bird than Olivaceous (in a genus where most species could be called olivaceous), despite not being perfectly accurate. Personally, as a user of English names, I prefer Caribbean to Olivaceous as it conveys more information, but I think Olivaceous is also a good, if less informative, option.


S. coerulescens (sensu stricto) also had little consensus. Although the bird is entirely cis-Andean, Amazonian seems a poor choice as there are more observations of this bird in non-Amazonian areas of S America than in the Amazon proper. Grayish and Gray should be clearly avoided to avoid confusion with S coerulescens (sensu lato). Based upon the comments on the original proposal and that I solicited in the meanwhile, the most supported options were Blue-gray and Leaden. Blue-gray reflects the scientific name and is perhaps more evocative than Leaden. It does describe pretty well the color of northern birds (azarae particularly) but is less accurate for the abundant and widespread (and more frequently seen) birds further south. Leaden is arguably a more accurate descriptor of the color overall, if a pretty boring choice. One minor problem with Leaden is that S. o. plumbeus is a ssp. of S. olivascens. Neither name stands out to me as preferable or a particularly excellent choice, but it is hard to choose a name for a widespread species with a heterogeneous appearance. A third option if neither of the first two is palatable is South American Saltator, to recognize the wide distribution. The species occurs in at least 8 countries and its range encompasses more than half of the South American continent. (Southern Saltator would be less appealing because Green-winged and Thick-billed are both more southerly species).




PART A: English name for S. grandis

Option 1: Cinnamon-bellied Saltator

Option 2: Middle American Saltator


PART B: English name for S. olivascens

Option 1: Olivaceous Saltator

Option 2: Caribbean Saltator

Option 3: Olive-gray Saltator [see Gary Stiles comment below]


PART C: English name for S. coerulescens

Option 1: Blue-gray Saltator

Option 2: Leaden Saltator

Option 3: South American Saltator

Option 4: Bluish-gray Saltator [see Gary Stiles comment below]



Josh Beck, June 2021





Comments from Don Roberson: “My preferences are:


“PART A: English name for S. grandis

Option 1: Cinnamon-bellied Saltator


“PART B: English name for S. olivascens

Option 1: Olivaceous Saltator

“PART C: English name for S. coerulescens

Option 1: Blue-gray Saltator

“My overall thought is that geographic names are not very helpful in this situation. There are 15 species called Saltator currently, and these occur in all three geographic areas for which an English name is offered, so the English name, standing alone, does not inform any new observer that is not the only saltator present.  This is different than, for example, the split of Red-billed Hornbill Tockus erythrorhynchus in Africa into 5 species; there, geographic names were appended before the parental name — e.g., Northern Red-billed Hornbill Tockus erythrorhynchus, Tanzanian Red-billed Hornbill Tockus ruahae, Western Red-billed Hornbill Tockus kempi, etc — and provided context.  Those turned out to the useful but quite lengthy English names, in context.”


“I like the set of 3 descriptive plumage names as “reasonably” useful in the field, plus Olivaceous and Blue-gray adjectives correlate well with the scientific name, and thus are not only short and moderately memorable, but they provide a teachable opening to learning the scientific names.”


Comments from Steve Hilty: “My first choices:


A. Option 2: Saltator grandis - Middle American Saltator

B. Option 3: S. olivaceus - Caribbean Saltator

C. [Option 4]: S. coerulescens- Amazonian Saltator


“The comments (in the proposal) regarding "Amazonian" not being appropriate because of its distribution really miss the mark. Look at the range of this form in, e.g. Ridgely & Tudor's Field Guide to the Songbirds of South America: about 85% of its range is in or very near Amazonia.  And, I wouldn't chose "South American" because there are at least eight or nine other "saltators" that occur in South America, so this name is really a poor choice.  Finally the various color shading choices are weak or unhelpful because in all three forms the dominant color is "gray."  In my experience, nothing obviously jumps out in distinguishing this particular one (coerulescens) from the others in the field, except that it is mainly Amazonian in distribution, and its vocalizations are very different. "Amazonian" seems a logical and uncomplicated choice.


“I know SACC dislikes longer names but personally I'd keep the word "Grayish" in all three forms to link them together–something that would be helpful in a future historic context (especially for future observers/workers who will not be SACC members and likely not privy to all these little taxonomic twists and turns).  Nevertheless, I know this is unlikely to gain traction with SACC, so I'd stick with the three shorter names above.”


Comments from Stiles:


Saltator grandior- Option 1: Cinnamon-bellied Saltator. Middle American Saltator makes sense if one limits one's horizon to the coerulescens group, but there are several other saltators in Middle America, so to someone first seeing saltators in this region and not aware of the split, it could only cause confusion.


Saltator olivascens- Option 3: as it stands, Olivaceous has the same problem, because most saltators are more or less olivaceous, and Caribbean really doesn't fit well with the distribution. So (at the risk of causing a bout of hair-tearing), I would propose Olive-gray Saltator. It is not far off from the Latin name, and it preserves a connection with the unsplit name of Grayish without repeating it verbatim. Hopefully, a reasonable compromise.


Saltator coerulescens- Option 4I agree that South American is not particularly helpful because there are plenty of them; Amazonian is better, although someone from much of Brazil or Argentina might not agree; Leaden is a better descriptor but if ssp. plumbeus is in olivascens, it could cause unwonted confusion. Blue-gray suggests a slightly brighter color to me, but here again, a compromise solution could be Bluish-gray: it describes the color a bit more subtly, and it pairs up nicely with Olive-gray in contrasting these two species. 


Comments from Donsker: “My votes are for the following, essentially for the same reasons already stated by Don”


“PART A: English name for S. grandis:

Option 1: Cinnamon-bellied Saltator

“PART B: English name for S. olivascens:

Option 1: Olivaceous Saltator

“PART C: English name for S. coerulescens:

Option 1: Blue-gray Saltator


“The geographic terms offered in the proposal work perfectly fine as additional modifiers of "Gray Saltator" or "Grayish Saltator", but not particularly well as stand-alone adjectives.”


Comments from Schulenberg:


“Saltator grandis
Option 1: Cinnamon-bellied Saltator

Saltator olivascens
Option 1: Olivaceous Saltator

Saltator coerulescens

Option1: Blue-gray Saltator “


Comments from Josh Beck: Still a messy proposal with more new options popping up. I agree with almost everyone's comments and reasoning - further showing that there are not great/clear choices for most of these. I do disagree with retaining Grayish, or the use of Amazonian Saltator for coerulescens.


“For grandis, both are good names. Given the myriad of suggestions for names that are literally 50 shades of gray and that few people seem to prefer the same option, I increasingly prefer Caribbean Saltator for olivascens. It is not perfectly accurate, but it does locate the bird on the Caribbean slope of S America, and tells you something about it. Olivaceous Saltator tells you almost nothing about the bird. 12 of the 16 Saltator species are basically olivaceous in coloration, so I prefer a not perfectly accurate but much more informative name to a dull and uninformative name. For coerulescens I don't have much preference between Amazonian, South American, Blue-gray or Bluish-gray, but I guess Blue-gray/Bluish-gray are a bit less dull than Olivaceous, and I feel like Amazonian is inaccurate for too many English name users. Seeing a "Caribbean Saltator" in N Colombia and N Venezuela seems less egregious than seeing an "Amazonian Saltator" in Uruguay or central Argentina.”

PART A: English name for S. grandis
Option 1: Cinnamon-bellied Saltator


PART B: English name for S. olivascens
Option 2: Caribbean Saltator


PART C: English name for S. coerulescens
Option 1: Blue-gray Saltator (or Bluish-gray Saltator, also works well)


Comments from Jaramillo:


PART A: English name for S. grandis:

Option 1: Cinnamon-bellied Saltator


PART B: English name for S. olivascens:

Option 1: Olivaceous Saltator


PART C: English name for S. coerulescens:
Option 1: Blue-gray Saltator”


Comments from Marshall Iliff: “I end up comfortable with the color-based options, since geographic monikers are either clunky or imprecise. I think folks will adjust to these just fine over time and as others have pointed out, Olivaceous and Blue Gray have a nice connection to the scientific names.


Saltator grandis
Option 1: Cinnamon-bellied Saltator

Saltator olivascens

Option 1: Olivaceous Saltator

Saltator coerulescens

Option1: Blue-gray Saltator 


As David mentioned earlier, I think Caribbean Saltator invites unnecessary confusion with Lesser Antillean Saltator, which is the most "Caribbean" of the saltators...”


Comments from Remsen:


“A. Saltator grandis:
Option 1: Cinnamon-bellied Saltator (good name – draws attention to field character. Although “cinnamon” might be a little over-the-top for the color from what I can tell from photos, I can’t come up with a better color except for perhaps tawny.

B. Saltator olivascens
Option 3: Olive-gray Saltator (I like Gary’s idea of adding the “gray” part because it retains the connection to Grayish and thus helps us remember that connection.  Further, from photos and illustration, the plumage appears to me to be more gray than olivaceous – yes, it’s more olivaceous than others in the group but it’s not a particularly olivaceous bird.  When I think of Olivaceous, I think of Olivaceous Piha, Olivaceous Piculet, Olivaceous Schiffornis, Olivaceous Flatbill, and Olivaceous Elaenia, all of which I think have more generous dosages of greenish, although the predominantly gray Olivaceous Thornbill provides a counter-example.  This might seem picky, but as long as we have to create a new name, let’s make it the best one possible.  Caribbean Saltator doesn’t work for me; although technically ok, birds that are called Caribbean Something are strictly insular.)

C. Saltator coerulescens

Option 4: Bluish-gray Saltator (I like Gary’s tweak on this one because it de-emphasizes the blue.  When I think of Blue-gray Something, I think of Blue-gray Tanager and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, for which the “blue” makes better sense.  Not once in the hundreds of times that I’ve seen Grayish Saltator in Amazonia  did “blue” cross my mind.  Although Steve has a good point on Amazonian and the species’ range, species with that sort of name should be endemic to the region, in my subjective opinion.)


Additional comments from Josh Beck: For the Saltators I think Olive-Gray and Bluish-Gray are ok. Agreed Cinnamon-bellied isn‘t 100% cinnamon but it’s a more memorable name than olivaceous, bluish-gray, etc, so I think it is a good name. Personally I care more about memorable or „good“ names than absolutely accurate, actually. For Olivaceous- agree it is more Gray than Olivaceous, so a good compromise. I still don’t care particularly for Blue-Gray or Bluish-Gray for cis-Andean birds, they are too variable and I have never thought of any of them as being slightly blue. But for lack of Inspiration/better options, Bluish-gray is the best of the lot?”


Additional comments from Stiles: “You might add that the Latin name coerulescens translates directly to bluish, not blue!


Additional comments from Don Roberson: “I’m fine with tweaks of Blue-gray to Bluish-gray, and Olivaceous to Olive-gray” [now his first choice].


Comments from Zimmer: “My votes (first choices) would be as follows:


Part A: S. grandis: Cinnamon-bellied Saltator.  I agree that the color of the underparts is something short of cinnamon, and “Tawny-bellied might be more accurate, but that isn’t one of the choices.


Part B: S. olivascens: Olive-gray Saltator. I really prefer Gary’s suggested modification over “Olivaceous”. It’s more descriptively accurate, distinguishes olivascens from the other more strongly olive-toned members of the genus, and, it preserves the connection with Saltator coerulescens sensu lato.


Part C: S. coerulescens: Bluish-gray Saltator. Again, I really prefer Gary’s suggested modification over “Blue-gray” which does imply, at least to me, a more strongly blue-toned appearance.”


Additional comments from Donsker: “I think that Gary’s newly proposed English names are perfectly fine names. So, please change my vote to:


S. grandis. Cinnamon-belled Saltator; S. olivascens Olive-gray Saltator; S. coerulescens: Bluish-gray Saltator.



Comments from Stiles: “Just to make my votes official:


S. grandior: YES to Cinnamon-bellied Saltator

S. olivascens: YES to Olive-gray Saltator

S. coerulescens: YES to Bluish-gray Saltator”



Additional comments from Remsen: YES to Cinnamon-bellied Saltator.  Dan Lane took photos of the belly next to Ridgway’s color swatches and …. “cinnamon” is just fine: