Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Birds and Angels: Messing With English Names

The stated purpose of the newly-released Birds of the world: recommended English names, authored by Frank Gill and Mintern Wright on behalf of the International Ornithological Congress (IOC), is to standardize the recommended English names of every extant bird species in the world. In the introduction, Gill and Wright outline the seven organizing principals and four procedures agreed to by IOC's international committee of experts selected to work on this daunting task. They then describe the 10 basic rules that governed the committee's "selection and spelling of names." They also outline the nine rules used to address "problems of spelling," followed by more detailed discussions of five major issues that had to be addressed: (1) capitalization, (2) patronyms and accents, (3) British versus American spellings, (4) geographical nouns versus adjectives, and (5) compound names.

This volume has already been the subject of a detailed review by Rick Wright of Aimophila Adventures. My purpose here is to simply compare the IOC's recommended names for species that occur in the United States (including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands), with those currently recognized by the AOU Check-list (as revised). I've found 121 species for which the respective names differ. In the following list, AOU-recognized names are followed by the IOC's recommended names (with new names bolded and introduced species indicated with asterisks):

(A) Delete hyphen from common group name (51 species) - Personally, I see nothing wrong with hyphenated group names, and find this to be the most confusing of the changes adopted by the IOC. My biggest problem is with the change of Storm-Petrel to Storm Petrel, resulting in all of the Storm Petrels of the family Hydrobatidae being lumped with the Petrels of the family Procellariidae. If the group name for the Prairie-Chickens is now Prairie Chicken, why is the group name for the Storm-Petrels not Storm Petrel; or, alternatively, why not spell the group name as Storm-petrel (in accordance with rule 5.B.4), the lowercase letter after the hyphen indicating that they are not members of the Petrel family:
  • Beardless-Tyrannulet, Northern = Northern Beardless Tyrannulet
  • Black-Hawk, Common = Common Black Hawk
  • Collared-Dove, Eurasian = Eurasian Collared Dove*
  • Forest-Falcon, Collared = Collared Forest Falcon
  • Golden-Plover, American = American Golden Plover
  • Golden-Plover, Pacific = Pacific Golden Plover
  • Grasshopper-Warbler, Middendorff’s = Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler
  • Ground-Dove, Common = Common Ground Dove
  • Ground-Dove, Ruddy = Ruddy Ground Dove
  • House-Martin, Common = Common House Martin
  • Lizard-Cuckoo, Puerto Rican = Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo
  • Night-Heron, Black-crowned = Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Night-Heron, Yellow-crowned = Yellow-crowned Night Heron
  • Palm-Swift, Antillean = Antillean Palm Swift
  • Pond-Heron, Chinese = Chinese Pond Heron
  • Prairie-Chicken, Greater = Greater Prairie Chicken
  • Prairie-Chicken, Lesser = Lesser Prairie Chicken
  • Pygmy-Owl, Ferruginous = Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
  • Pygmy-Owl, Northern = Northern Pygmy Owl
  • Reef-Heron, Western = Western Reef Heron
  • Rosy-Finch, Black = Black Rosy Finch
  • Rosy-Finch, Brown-capped = Brown-capped Rosy Finch
  • Rosy-Finch, Gray-crowned = Gray-crowned Rosy Finch
  • Sage-Grouse, Greater = Sage Grouse
  • Sand-Plover, Greater = Greater Sand Plover
  • Sand-Plover, Lesser = Lesser Sand Plover
  • Scops-Owl, Oriental = Oriental Scops Owl
  • Screech-Owl, Eastern = Eastern Screech Owl
  • Screech-Owl, Puerto Rican = Puerto Rican Screech Owl
  • Screech-Owl, Western = Western Screech Owl
  • Screech-Owl, Whiskered = Whiskered Screech Owl
  • Scrub-Jay, Florida = Florida Scrub Jay
  • Scrub-Jay, Island = Islands Scrub Jay
  • Scrub-Jay, Western = Western Scrub Jay
  • Sea-Eagle, Steller’s = Steller’s Sea Eagle
  • Storm-Petrel, Ashy = Ashy Storm Petrel
  • Storm-Petrel, Band-rumped = Band-rumped Storm Petrel
  • Storm-Petrel, Black = Black Storm Petrel
  • Storm-Petrel, Black-bellied = Black-bellied Storm Petrel
  • Storm-Petrel, Fork-tailed = Fork-tailed Storm Petrel
  • Storm-Petrel, Leach’s = Leach’s Storm Petrel
  • Storm-Petrel, Least = Least Storm Petrel
  • Storm-Petrel, Matsudaira’s = Matsudaira’s Storm Petrel
  • Storm-Petrel, Tristram’s = Tristram’s Storm Petrel
  • Storm-Petrel, Wedge-rumped = Wedge-rumped Storm Petrel
  • Storm-Petrel, White-faced = White-faced Storm Petrel
  • Storm-Petrel, White-bellied = White-bellied Storm Petrel
  • Storm-Petrel, Wilson’s = Wilson’s Storm Petrel
  • Turtle-Dove, Oriental = Oriental Turtle Dove
  • Whistling-Duck, Black-bellied = Black-bellied Whistling Duck
  • Whistling-Duck, Fulvous = Fulvous Whistling Duck
  • Whistling-Duck, West Indian = West Indian Whistling Duck
  • (B) Add hyphen to group name (1 species) - Given the desire of the IOC committee to minimize the use of hyphens in group names, it's unclear to me why this change was deemed necessary:
  • Cordonbleu, Red-cheeked = Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu*
  • (C) Add modifier (13 species) - I doubt that U.S. birders will be quick to adopt such lengthy appelations as American White Ibis, American Cliff Swallow, and American Yellow Warbler:
  • Bunting, Pallas’s = Pallas’s Reed Bunting
  • Bunting, Reed = Common Reed Bunting
  • Bushtit = American Bushtit
  • Caracara, Crested = Northern Crested Caracara
  • Duck, Spot-billed = Indian Spot-billed Duck
  • Flycatcher, Tufted = Northern Tufted Flycatcher
  • Grosbeak, Yellow = Mexican Yellow Grosbeak
  • Gull, Black-headed = Common Black-headed Gull
  • Ibis, White = American White Ibis
  • Stonechat = Eurasian Stonechat
  • Swallow, Cliff = American Cliff Swallow
  • Swift, Black = American Black Swift
  • Warbler, Yellow = American Yellow Warbler
  • (D) Delete all or part of modifier (4 species) - The latter two recommendations will no doubt be welcome news to U.S. birders, and the AOU would be well-advised to adopt them quickly:
  • Curlew, Far Eastern = Eastern Curlew
  • Pauraque, Common = Pauraque
  • Sparrow, Nelson’s Sharp-tailed = Nelson’s Sparrow
  • Sparrow, Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed = Saltmarsh Sparrow
  • (E) Change modifer (27 species) - Perhaps the strangest of the recommendations coming from the IOC is the "executive decision" to rename the White Tern on grounds that it is a "truly bland generic name . . . for one of the world's most endearing seabirds." So now we have Angel Tern, a so-called "improvement" that I find no more descriptive of the species than White Tern:
  • Bishop, Orange = Northern Red Bishop*
  • Crossbill, White-winged = Two-barred Crossbill
  • Flamingo, Greater = American Flamingo
  • Grebe, Eared = Black-necked Grebe
  • Greenfinch, Oriental = Grey-faced Greenfinch
  • Gull, Belcher’s = Band-tailed Gull
  • Hawk, Gray = Gray-lined Hawk
  • Kestrel, Eurasian = Common Kestrel
  • Loon, Arctic = Black-throated Loon
  • Loon, Common = Great Northern Loon
  • Munia, Tricolored = Black-headed Munia*
  • Noddy, Blue-gray = Blue Noddy
  • Peafowl, Common = Indian Peafowl*
  • Pheasant, Ring-necked = Common Pheasant*
  • Pigeon, Rock = Common Pigeon*
  • Pipit, American = Buff-bellied Pipit
  • Plover, Black-bellied = Gray Plover
  • Raven, Common = Northern Raven
  • Redpoll, Hoary = Arctic Redpoll
  • Scoter, Black = American Scoter
  • Shearwater, Greater = Great Shearwater
  • Shrike, Northern = Great Gray Shrike
  • Tern, Gray-backed = Spectacled Tern
  • Tern, Great Crested = Swift Tern
  • Tern, White = Angel Tern
  • Warbler, Elfin-woods = Elfin Woods Warbler
  • Warbler, Golden-crowned = Stripe-crowned Warbler
  • (F) Change group name and modifier (8 species) - Will we ever find a universally agreed-upon name for the Hawk Owl? Roughleg certainly rolls off the tongue more easily than Rouch-legged Hawk (and will probably be endorsed by hawkwatchers), but seems pretty radical to me. I would hate to lose such a colorful name as Gray Frog-Hawk. And Sand Martin for Bank Swallow? I'm not sure than any of these recommendations will be endorsed anytime soon by American birders:
  • Dovekie = Little Auk
  • Frog-Hawk, Gray = Chinese Sparrowhawk
  • Goose, Hawaiian = Nene
  • Hawk, Rough-legged = Roughleg
  • Lark, Sky = Eurasian Skylark
  • Mannikin, Bronze = Scaly-breasted Munia*
  • Owl, Northern Hawk = Northern Hawk-Owl
  • Swallow, Bank = Sand Martin
  • (G) Change group name (11 species):
  • Brant = Brant Goose
  • Chukar = Chukar Partridge*
  • Cormorant, Pelagic = Pelagic Shag
  • Cormorant, Red-faced = Red-faced Shag
  • Duck, Falcated = Falcated Teal
  • Hummingbird, Blue-throated = Blue-throated Mountaingem
  • Hummingbird, Lucifer = Lucifer Sheartail
  • Jaeger, Pomarine = Pomarine Skua
  • Parrot, Red-crowned = Red-crowned Amazon
  • Petrel, Bermuda = Cahow
  • Redstart, Painted = Painted Whitestart
  • Robin, Clay-colored = Clay-colored Thrush
  • (H) AOU species not recognized (2 species) - The cut-off date for accepting newly-recognized species to the IOC list was December 31, 2004, so expect to see these species recognized in the next addition:
  • Grouse, Dusky = Blue Grouse (part)
  • Grouse, Sooty = Blue Grouse (part)
  • (I) New species recognized (3 species) - Surprisingly (to me, at least) Mexican Duck is resurrected as a full species! Also, given that Northern Pygmy-Owl and Brewer's Sparrow are confined to North America, I'm puzzled as to why the IOC committee would adopt changes that have not yet been endorsed by the AOU Check-list Committee:
  • Mallard (part) = Mexican Duck
  • Pygmy-Owl, Northern (part) = Mountain Pygmy Owl
  • Sparrow, Brewer's (part) = Timberline Sparrow
  • (J) British versus American spelling (~25 species) - The IOC recommends the use of Grey over Gray "because far more taxa have traditionally used that spelling." This would affect about 25 species in the U.S., including such common species as Gray Flycatcher, Gray Kingbird, Gray Vireo, Gray Jay, and Gray Catbird. Fortunately, North Americans won't be placed in a position of having to make that hard choice, as "The committee decided to encourage each author and publisher to select whatever spelling of these words [Grey versus Gray] is deemed appropriate (since that would undoubtedly happen anyway)." Thank goodness!

    Ultimately, the sucess of this 15-year effort by the IOC will be measured by the willingness of birders, checklist committees, conservation biologists, conservation organizations, government agencies, government officials, ornithologists, philanthropists, and publishers—all of whom are recognized as “stakeholders”—to endorse and adopt the many recommended name changes; and that may be a hard sell. It will be especially interesting to follow the responses of the AOU and the American Birding Association to these recommended name changes.


    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    My favorites of the moment are the "Ground Cuckoos," "Ground Doves," etc., names apparently modeled on "Ground Beef."
    Thanks for the careful collation!
    Rick Wright

    September 01, 2006 2:24 PM  
    Blogger John L. Trapp said...

    That's a wonderful analogy, Rick. I just added two species that I missed the first time around: Eurasian Collared Dove (nee Collared-Dove) and Red-crowned Amazon (nee Parrot).

    September 01, 2006 2:41 PM  
    Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

    The hyphen in words like "Night-Heron" and "Beardless-Tyrannulet" is incorrect in standard English punctuation. "Night" and "Beardless" are adjectives modifying the simple nouns "Heron" and "Tyrannulet." It is a Heron of the Night, it is not a compound creature that is half Heron and half Night. So the hyphen belongs in "Tit-Babbler" but not in "Scrub-Jay." The hyphen in "Red-headed" does belong there, because here it is functioning as a compound adjective and makes it clear that we are talking about a wodpecker with a red head, not a red woodpecker with a head ("Red-headed Woodpecker" versus "Red Headed Woodpecker," i.e. "Red, Headed, Woodpecker." This is the difference between a Great-crested Grebe and a Great Crested Grebe.

    At least this is the argument based on standard useage...

    It could be gotten around by compounding the noun German-style: Nightheron, Grounddove; but not Beardlesstyrannulet, please!

    September 01, 2006 2:43 PM  
    Blogger John B. said...

    Is there any explanation for the added modifiers in (C)? Are they getting split from other populations elsewhere?

    I also find some decisions in (E) rather strange, since they go from a descriptive or colorful name to a prosaic one, like Black Scoter -> American Scoter. Those sort of changes are going to take a long time to sink in.

    September 01, 2006 3:20 PM  
    Blogger John L. Trapp said...

    John said, Is there any explanation for the added modifiers in (C)? Are they getting split from other populations elsewhere?

    In a word, no. In most cases, these modifiers are needed to distinguish between two or more species with the same or similar names. For example, to distinguish our White Ibis from the Australian White Ibis; our Cliff Swallow from the Red Sea, Red-throated, and South African cliff swallows; our and Yellow Warbler from the Dark-capped, Mountain, and Papyrus yellow warblers (all Old World warblers); at least that's the explanation given in Gill and Wright (2006).

    I also find some decisions in (E) rather strange, since they go from a descriptive or colorful name to a prosaic one, like Black Scoter -> American Scoter.

    In the specific case of Black Scoter, this represents the elevation of the American race to a full species (americana, with the English name of merican Scoter). The Eurasian race (now species, deglandi), meanwhile, retains the English name of Black Scoter.

    September 01, 2006 3:46 PM  
    Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

    Poetry has never seemed to matter much before. Most of us old farts are still smarting a little over losing our Louisiana Heron, though we did get our Baltimore Oriole back at least. This'll be our third name for that scoter, having already gone from Common Scoter to Black Scoter. Remember the Common Great American Bicentennial Egret, from back in the days that it felt like the English name for that bird was in a constant state of flux? The American Buff-bellied Water Pipit is getting as bad, if not worse; but at least that one is motivated in part by confusing taxonomy, not just arbitrary tweeks.

    Now that Americans are more familiar with the rude connotations of "Shag," I can't imagine we'll ever give up our Cormorants. At least we're past the days of risking the surrender of our Loons to the terribly prosaic "Diver" monicker. Now if we can only find some reason to split the old- and new-world Podiceps nigricollis before we lose our Eared Grebes.

    Hooray for their showing sense on the Sharp-tailed Sparrows, though! If the AOU only takes two of these suggestions, those should be it.

    September 01, 2006 4:33 PM  

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