Proposal (94) to South American Classification Committee


Change of English name of Herpsilochmus pileatus

The history of H. pileatus is complicated and this species historically encompassed other taxa such as atricapillus and motacilloides. As long as atricapillus was considered a subspecies of pileatus, the species was called Black-capped Antwren (e.g. Meyer de Schauensee 1966, 1970).  Davis and O'Neill (1986) proposed that atricapillus and pileatus be considered distinct species based on distributional and habitat considerations.


Accepting that two species were involved and maintaining the name of Black-capped Antwren for H. atricapillus, Ridgely and Tudor (1994) coined the name Pileated Antwren for H. pileatus, based on its scientific name.  Whitney et al. (2000) showed that three species were involved and that the distribution and habitat distinctions between atricapillus and pileatus assumed by Davis an O'Neill were confounded by a third species.


Whitney et al. (2000) also showed that the range of H. pileatus was limited to coastal, sandy-soil forests in the state of Bahia, Brazil. They felt that basing the English name on the scientific name of H. pileatus was confusing and recommended Bahia Antwren.


Because H. pileatus has over many decades been applied to other taxa ranging from Peru south to Argentina and north through much of southern Brazil, and because the name is found throughout the literature, the English name of Pileated Antwren could be taken as pertaining to populations considerably apart from the range of pileatus.  The name of Bahia Antwren is appropriate because of the extremely small range of H. pileatus, limited to that state.



I propose that the name of H. pileatus be changed to Bahia Antwren.



Davis, T. J., and J. P. O'Neill.  1986.  A new species of antwren (Formicariidae: Herpsilochmus) from Peru, with comments on the systematics of other members of the genus.  Wilson Bulletin 98:337-352.

Meyer de Schauensee, R. 1966. The species of birds of South America and their distribution.  Livingston Publishing Company, Narberth, Pennsylvania.

Meyer de Schauensee, R. 1970. A guide to the birds of South America. Livingston Publishing Company, Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.

Ridgely, R. S., and G. Tudor. 1994. The birds of South America vol. 2: the suboscine passerines. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Whitney, B. M., J. F. Pacheco, D. R. C. Buzzetti, and R. Parrini.  2000.  Systematic revision and biogeography of the Herpsilochmus pileatus complex, with description of a new species from northeastern Brazil.  Auk 117: 869-891.


Mort Isler, January 2004




Comments from Remsen: "With neither name having much of a history, it's a contest, and I like 'Bahia' for the reasoning provided by Mort. In fact, if I had picked up on that suggestion from the original Whitney et al. (2000) paper, our baseline list would almost certainly have used it as well."


Comments from Stiles: "YES, see above comments [in Prop. 92] regarding toponyms."


Comments from Zimmer: "YES. For reasons outlined by Mort. The taxonomic history of this group is too confused to stick with a name that at one time or another has applied to various combinations of what are now recognized as multiple species. "Bahia Antwren" adequately captures the restricted range of true pileatus."


Comments from Schulenberg: "NO. I am leery of changing the English names of birds absent a clear and compelling need to do so, such as when necessitated by a taxonomic revision. In the present case, there have been not one but two revisions in recent years. So, some name changes are called for.


“But in my view, Ridgely and Tudor adequately addressed this issue when they coined "Pileated Antwren" for nominate pileatus. "Pileated" is not an unknown name in South American birds (Pileated Finch, Coryphospingus pileatus). And although seniority doesn't count for much, in the case of name that has only a few years usage behind it, still there is that consideration.


“I don't understand the suggestion that a new name is required to prevent "confusion". Most of the literature records of birds in this complex come from sources that use scientific names, not English names. But when we revise a taxonomy, we don't worry that changes will "confuse" people, we just do it and expect our audience to follow along. So, I think our community has ample experience in tracking such changes, and easily can head off any pitfalls on this score. In any event, with respect to English names, most records of the former "Herpsilochmus pileatus Black-capped Antwren" pertain to what we now call Herpsilochmus atricapillus Black-capped Antwren, so anyone trying to follow the revisions using English names should not be left too far behind.


“In any event, if reducing confusion is the goal, then matching "pileatus" and "Pileated" seems to me to be the best route. What easier way is there to remember what the English name is for nominate pileatus?


“Finally, I admit to being a crank about this one, in part to protest the name of another species. I don't understand why HBW authors adopt "Ancient Antwren", to me one of the least justifiable names coined in recent memory, and yet find "Pileated Antwren" so problematic that it must be changed. You would have a hard time convincing me that Herpsilochmus pileatus would be the logical starting point for name substitutions in this genus."


Comments from Nores: "YES. Al considerar H. pileatus atricapillus como especie y describir a sellowi como nueva especie, el rango de pileatus queda restringido al Estado de Bahia y por lo tanto resulta apropiado el nombre."


Comments from Jaramillo: "YES. I do think that enough confusion is caused by pileatus/Pileated that Bahia Antwren is the way to go. I think that while Tom makes a good point, the people that can follow the history of taxonomic decisions and keep from getting confused with the usage of Scientific names that have changed or flip-flopped are typical scientists. In other words, these are professionals who deal with these issues, and therefore it is something they actively keep up on. English names are out there for the general public, and therefore we have to assume that these folks are not generally keeping up with the intricacies of name changes, taxonomy and whatever historical precedence may exist. As such the issue of reducing confusion with English names is important, in fact this is one of the reasons that name stability is important. On the other hand, while a good taxonomic sleuth would have no trouble matching up when pileatus was pertaining to atricapillus and so forth, the average person gets lost in the shuffle. So, linking Pileated to pileatus could cause confusion for these folks that do not realize that pileatus has included atricapillus in the past. Un-liking pileatus from Pileated and giving a new and geographically relevant name would seem to decrease potential confusion by the 'consumers' of these English names we are creating. I should point out that changing a name just because a new name is better or more informative is not what I am getting at, but to change the name because the old one is confusing or misleading is a different issue."