Birder's Guide

DEC 2018

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 41 of 43

Cassia Crossbill. Photo © Craig Benkman 40 onbirders—I know a few—are always amused to learn not only that birds have official names, but that there are committees dedicated to mak- ing certain those names abide by the rules. Their amusement turns to horror when I show them the rules, codified in the more than 300 printed pages of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (hereaf- ter ICZN), and commented and interpreted in the more than 70 annual volumes so far of the Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature. Names are important, and the guidelines governing their creation and use matter. Certain of those guidelines, though, es - pecially those purporting to regulate the "proper" formation of names derived from the Greek or the Latin, reek of anachro- nism in our age, when for nearly all of us the classical languages are not just dead but long buried. Nevertheless, the rules are the rules, and until the most obnoxious of them are re- pealed, ornithologists naming their birds must learn to play by them. And if not, their names must be corrected—pedantic as the correction may seem. In 2017, the American Ornithological Society's (AOS) North American Classifica- tion Committee recognized the Cassia Crossbill as a full species, based on that taxon's genetic distinctness and reproduc - tive isolation from other members of the genus Loxia (Chesser et al. 2017). The original description had assigned the newly recognized species the scientific epithet sinesciuris, "without squirrels", "because it occurs in an area without tree squirrels, and the absence of tree squirrels [has been] key to its evolution" (Benkman et al. 2009): a clever and welcome incorporation of evo - lutionary ecology into the otherwise often dusty practice of ornithological naming. The epithet sinesciuris, however, is not available as a valid scientific name under the ICZN. Article 11 of the ICZN requires that ev - ery species name that is a "Latin or latinized word must be, or be treated as, an adjective or participle in the nominative singular… or a noun in the nominative singular stand- ing in apposition to the generic name…or a noun in the genitive case…or an adjective used as a substantive in the genitive case…" (International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature 2000). (Emphasis added; the ellipses here mark the deletion of ex- amples provided in the text of the code.) It is impossible to argue that sinesciuris could be parsed as an adjective, participle, or noun in the nominative singular, or that it is an adjective or noun in the genitive. Instead, it is, as the authors of the name themselves affirm (Benkman et al. 2009), a prepositional phrase, whether it is writ- ten as two words or (barbarously) as one, a grammatical structure not among those designated by the ICZN as the only ones available for use as species names. Therefore, the name Loxia sinesci- uris is invalid and must be replaced with a name properly available under the ICZN. We offer Loxia sciurinimica, in which sciurinimica—while every bit as contrived as the name originally proposed by Benkman et al.—is correctly formed so as to be pars- able as a noun or as an adjective in the nominative case, agreeing in number and gender with the genus name Loxia. Meaning "unfriendly Rick Wright Bloomfield, New Jersey Must the Cassia Crossbill Be Renamed? N to the squirrel", this name is not only for- mally available under the ICZN, but it also seeks to preserve the ecological information meant, haplessly, to have been conveyed in the invalid epithet sinesciuris. The publication of this note is expressly intended as a nomenclatural act. At the same time, however, we hope that the AOS committee will publish a timely and summary rejection of the technical ob- jections raised here, and affirm its excep- tional recognition of the name offered by Benkman and his coauthors in spite of that name's incorrect formation. Such an action may require the submission of a proposal to the ICZN and the exercise, in accordance with Article 81 of the ICZN, of the commis - sion's plenary power to "conserve…or give a specified precedence to, or make avail- able any name" notwithstanding the re- quirements normally in force (ICZN 2000). Failing such a publication by the AOS com- mittee or the international commission, the scientific name of the Cassia Crossbill must be changed to sciurinimica. No one really wants that. Names, unlike words, can take whatever form the namer desires; it's simply a bonus if the name car- ries actual information, as "sinesciuris" does (and as "sciurinimica" would). Standards of validity based on the rules and categories of languages that virtually no one now reads or writes are merely punctilious, interfering with the intentions of innocent authors and imposing grammatical "order" where none is needed. But the rules are the rules. Works Cited Benkman, C., et al. 2009. A new species of the red crossbill (Fringillidae: Loxia) from Idaho. Condor 111: 169–176. re p o s i to r y. u w yo. e d u / c g i / v i e wco nte nt. c g i ? a r t i c l e = 1001&context=zoology_facpub Chesser, R. T., et al. 2017. Fifty-eighth supplement to the American Ornithological Society's Check-list of North American Birds. Auk 134: 751–773. International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. 2000. International code of zoological nomenclature. 4th ed., English text. Birder's Guide to Listing & Taxonomy | December 2018

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Birder's Guide - DEC 2018