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cgeoff 8/02/2010 13:58

Proposed Revision to HK List

Dear All,

Those of you who follow these issues will know that the HK List as it currently stands is somewhat out of date in terms of the taxonomy and nomenclature of a number of species. The Records Committee has for some time been considering what to do about this, and in particular which of the alternative lists available should be followed. The three most widely-respected appear to be the lists produced by Howard and Moore, the IOC and Clements; the IOC List, however, closely matches the Howard and Moore list.

It appears to us that the IOC/Howard & Moore list is the most respected internationally, and is also most relevant to the birds of this part of the world. Consequently, we are considering revising the HK List in accordance with this.

Before doing this though, we would like to invite the opinions of members regarding this change, in order that we can take these into consideration during deliberations at the next meeting. A link to the List is provided below:

[url=http://www.hkbws.org.hk/BBS/birdrecord/hklistioclist.pdf]Click Here[/url]

If you have any comments, please post them here before the end of February.

In the file, brown indicates that any change is driven by a name change, while green indicates any change is driven by taxonomic treatment.

Please note that Chinese names are not covered by these lists, though obviously some changes will need to be made to these once an updated HK List is adopted.


Geoff Carey

HKBWS WY 9/02/2010 10:08

Please note that the above file has been revised at 10am 9 Feb 2010.

gary 9/02/2010 14:22

Just a quick look and would have query on 2 things.

1. Why there is a gap in sp. no. 222, supposing left from Rose-ringed Parakeet?

2. Why Grey-cheeked Fulvetta, Azure-winged Magpie and House Crow are not on list?   


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cgeoff 9/02/2010 14:41

Thanks, Gary. The answers are:

1. Oversight. Should be Rose-ringed Parakeet, for which English and scientific names are the same.

2. These species are Category E. So far, we have only prepared the main A-D list, on the basis that what happens to Category E species is not so relevant. We will do Category E when we have more time.


HFCheung 9/02/2010 14:46

First, I hope the most of the species names in final list will be stable for a sufficient period of time.  Say, at least 10 years.  

Second, I hope there are close similarity with the most recent field guides in the area.  Having a totally different set of names create a lot of difficulties in referencing other field guides.  

Third, I hope the new names should be more systematic.  If there are needs to change a common name, that should be based on a sound systematic reasons.  For example, "Red-flanked Bluetail" is a common name which does not convey much message about its classification.  "Orange-flanked Bush Robin" is probably more systematic.

In addition, I want to call for a group of birdwatchers to discuss the Chinese name for the new list.  Please nominate yourselves if you are interested.

HF Cheung

cgeoff 9/02/2010 15:28

Thanks, Ho Fai.

HK bird names have broadly remained the same for some time now; certainly there have been very few changes since the publication of the Avifauna. I agree stability in this respect is good, but we have to balance that against keeping up with taxonomic changes in particular. Our intent is to follow a well-researched and respected World List, in order that we in HK can keep up with latest, scientifically-accepted developments. Consequently, if the IOC amends taxonomic treatment and publishes this, we will too.

I don't believe this will result in many changes, certainly not at vernacular name level. However, I don't think there is much to be gained from not keeping up with developments simply to remain 'stable'.

We are planning to review the English names, although I personally hope we follow the IOC List as much as possible. The Bluetail/Bush Robin issue is something we will consider for this and other species.

Finally, I certainly welcome your input on Chinese names. As soon as the taxonomic approach has been agreed, I'll let you know.


wgeoff 10/02/2010 08:31

I think we should be pragmatic here, in particular respecting our own historical decisions unless they are seen to be obviously out-of-date by more than one authority.

For instance, on taxonomy. We may accept the IOC taxonomy for thrushes but does this approach mean we have to return Heuglin's Gull to being a subspecies of either Herring Gull or Lesser Black-backed Gull, which I think is what following IOC would mean? Do other authorities agree with this?

Some of the IOC names are horrendous (e.g. Swift Tern for Greater Crested Tern) and I hope we will avoid these. As others have suggested, I think we should retain our historical names unless there is a good reason to change or the alternate name is already well established. Perhaps on the question of names, where it is not so important to be taxonomically correct, we should give members a vote.

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cgeoff 10/02/2010 10:52

Thanks for your comments, Geoff.

With regard to taxonomy, I think we need to tread carefully. This list is based on peer-reviewed, published research, and no matter what we personally may think about the taxonomic status of a particular species occurring in HK, if we haven't done the research and published the results, then our case is less strong.

Obviously, this list does involve some amount of personal interpretation by the compilers of species limits and assessment of the strength of particular taxonomic arguments. With regard to Heuglin's Gull, I realise that Olsen and Larsson, for example, treat this as a full species; however, they are not taxonomists, and are basing this on morphological characters, which is but one element of those generally considered (vocalisations, DNA and habitat preferences being others). Given that, broadly speaking, there is a gradual change in certain morphological characters and moult strategies in large gulls from Heuglin's east to Vega, there is at least some argument for treating them as fewer species rather than more.

As for Swift Tern, what's wrong with that name? I say this not to get into a debate about the name of this species, but just to highlight the fact that one man's feast is another man's poison. When it comes to certain names, it really is simply a matter of personal preference. I fully accept that there may be regional and/or historical reasons why a particular name might be better suited for use in Hong Kong, but for many others there is not. As a related point, on the issue of Red-flanked Bluetail and Orange-flanked Bush Robin, it may be that in favouring the latter, a person is not aware of the huge cultural preference for the name Bluetail that developed in the formative years of mass birding in Europe, when this species was a very rare and charismatic waif from the East !

So, the English name issue is one that is both complex and emotional. My own personal view (and I assure you this is not shared by all my colleagues on the RC), is that to cut through all of this we should simply adopt the IOC List wholesale. However, one reason why we have posted it here is to get feedback on these issues. If you have strong feelings about particular names, please let us know.


kmike 10/02/2010 10:53

I like Geoff's idea of a vote, or something like it on certain bird names.  We may even set a world first by inviting members to be actively involved in the process rather than leaving it to a committee  and since these are vernacular names - i.e. used by the birders - its seems an enterprising step to take.

How about a  Society event when the scientists who favour uniformity an structure( Orange-flanked Bush Robin, Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler, White-capped Water Redstart) debate against the romantics (Red-flanked Bluetail, Mountain Bush Warbler, Riverchat), and the modernists (Chinese Egret, Little Grebe) take on the traditionalists (Swinhoe's Egret, Dabchick), with the issue being decided by a vote from the floor?

We could even film it and put the debate on the Web to allow more people to vote.

Mike K

wgeoff 10/02/2010 11:52

Whilst there may be benefits in adopting an individual body’s approach wholesale, I’m not sure this outweighs the disadvantages.

On the question of taxonomy, it seems even experts disagree, so unless IOC has some overwhelming advantage over the others, I’m not sure the benefit of employing their taxonomy without question. This particularly applies to undoing past decisions of the Committee. Any such changes need to be explained carefully to members on a taxonomic basis, otherwise it may be seen as a retrograde step. Perhaps it would be better to say ‘We will normally adopt the taxonomic status used by IOC, but reserve the right to decide for ourselves in certain cases’. I appreciate you may consider this a fudge, but I think it’s better than making retrograde decisions.

On the question of names, if it really is ‘simply a matter of personal preference’, I suggest we allow members to choose between two or three names selected by the Committee. If necessary, a very brief note can be made recommending each option, or at a meeting as Mike suggests. But let the members decide. I am quite happy to call a ‘Greater Crested Tern’ a ‘Swift Tern’ if that is what members decide. I put my faith in the commonsense of our membership.

I should add, I think it is a commendable move for the Committee to ask member’s opinions before taking a decision on this. I have now made my last comment and leave it to others to make theirs.

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cgeoff 10/02/2010 16:03

I shudder at the thought of a meeting to decide on the names of the 498 species on the HK List. Even if just 20 of these proved controversial, based on my previous experience of thinking about and discussing English names, it would simply result in people expressing fairly entrenched positions with little common agreement. And the result for those 20 species? Probably 10 species whose names an individual is not too happy with, and 10 that are acceptable. Which is more or less what we would get by adopting the IOC list as it is now.

Does this also mean that for each species we add to the HK List there has to be a poll to decide the English name? What about Chinese names? Shouldn't there also be a similar democratic process? My point is that we need to be careful about making what should be a fairly straightforward process into something cumbersome and bureaucratic.

In terms of taxonomy, the RC believes that the Howard & Moore list, on which the IOC list is based, is sufficiently forward-thinking but also sufficiently grounded in research-driven taxonomic positions. It also displays real knowledge about Oriental birds, and for these reasons we do believe it has an advantage over others.

If we look at the revised list, we can see that it does not lump any species currently on the HK List, and it adds only two: Naumann's Thrush and Dusky Thrush are split, as are 'Western' and 'Eastern' Water Rails, into Water Rail and Brown-cheeked Rail. So, in actual fact, there is very little difference taxonomically.

Sure we can say that we will follow IOC except in certain cases, but realistically, what can most of us say apart from "I think it's a different species because it looks different"? Is this sufficient to gainsay research work carried out by scientists whose peer-reviewed publication supports a particular taxonomic approach? They won't get it right all the time, but they are more likely to than we are.


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kmike 11/02/2010 15:05

I fully agree that we need to select a list as a guiding principle, and the suggestion of the IOC/Howard and Moore list sounds fine to me.

Actually I see a debate on the issue of names as something fun and educational. Many members do not have the experience of the long discussions that have followed adoption of new names and lists which have occurred in the UK  and it would give spice to a debate if it actually led to a name being retained or changed.  It would be an interesting way to explore the different elements within birding - the discoverers, the scientific accuracy, an intro to DNA, the different species concepts, and the principles behind nomenclature and taxonomy.

If we are to accept a measure flexibility then there must be a mechanism. What other alternatives could we have?  Just the records committee on its own? Accepting the chosen list wholesale?

How about this:

1) People identify names they would like to change (with reasons stated very briefly) on the BBS, and others have a chance to disagree (also with brief reasons)
2) A list of names for discussion is compiled (Records Committee reserves the right to review the list)
3) A venue for a debate is booked
4) There is a short timed debate - say 5 minutes for each side with a well-informed Chairman adjudicating and asessing the validiity of the argument, and a fixed time for comment/questions from the floor (also five minutes)
5) Those present vote on each controversial new name.
6) The results are published on the website
7) The Records Committee reserves the right to reverse the decision if it has consensus that there is a compelling reason.

here's my list of names I'd like to adopt that differ from the new list:

1) Swinhoe's Egret from Chinese Egret (to honour Swinhoe, it occurs beyond China, breeding and wintering)
2) Brown Waterhen from Brown Bush hen (Its a waterbird, and same genus as WB Waterhen)
3) Pacific Swift (nothing wrong with this name, other swifts have forked tails)
4) Chinese Bulbul from Light-vented Bulbul (unhelpful scientific name appropriate to any species of bulbul)
5) Whipcrack Bush Warbler from Brown-flanked Bush Warbler (diagnostic song)
6) Goodson's Leaf Warbler from Hartert's Leaf Warbler (reflects scientific name, no value in change)
7) Streaked Grass Babbler from Rufous-rumped Grassbird (already a grassbird of a different genus, rump not distinctive)
8) Silky Starling from Red-billed Starling (reflects scientific name, accurate plumage feature, other starling have red bills)

Even if its just informal discussion I'd welcome others to give their views.

Mike K

cgeoff 12/02/2010 05:18

Certainly I don't want to arrogate the right of deciding English bird names to the Records Committee - far from it. However, I'm also wary of it going to what I believe will be a small number of people (in HK) who happen to care whether [i]Sturnus sericeus [/i]is called Red-billed or Silky Starling. I think we need to remember that for the vast majority of birders in HK, the vernacular names are Chinese, and the English name is probably of little real interest.

While I applaud any attempts at inclusiveness, my feeling that very few people would actually be sufficiently bothered to attend a meeting to discuss and/or vote on these things. Indeed, the number of people who get to decide a name in these circumstances may be as undemocratically small as it would be if it was the Records Committee deciding! If there are other people out there who are sufficiently concerned to contribute to this debate, please take part. Are you happy to accept the IOC List of English names, warts and all, for the sake of consistency? Or is it important to you that certain changes are adopted?

My feeling is that, ultimately, the English name is not that important. If Mike calls [i]Sturnus sericeus [/i]Silky Starling and I call it Red-billed, so what? We both understand each other. What its English name is in the HKBR or the Bulletin is not as important as what its scientific name is. I am more concerned about the taxonomy. For these reasons, I am happy to leave names to a respected, international body that makes a serious attempt at a rational taxonomic and nomenclatural system.


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sdavid 12/02/2010 08:56

My personnal thoughts are to adopt one list wholesale, for consistency and if people still want to refer to Cuckoo-pheasants or Wren-warblers then that's their choice.  In my relatively short time in Hong Kong, I've only known  [i]Sturnus sericeus[/i] as Red-billed Starling, so I'm not particularly fussed what it's called formally.I do enjoy the etymology and history also associated though with bird names, and these aspects will never go away for those that are interested.

I think I'll skip the formal debate though, that looks like bloody hard work if you ask me!

The IOC list is up to date taxonomically and appears to work well for this part of the world.

That said, I will still be using spadgers, kessies, peewits and sea pies in my own everyday terminology though!

tmichael 13/02/2010 10:15

"Are you happy to accept the IOC List of English names, warts and all, for the sake of consistency?"

Yes - please do, for the various reasons Geoff C. has put forward, which I must say I am in complete agreement with him on.

Mike Turnbull

kmike 13/02/2010 12:35

It would be good to hear from other members of the Records Committee who do not believe we should slavishly follow the IOC list.

One more question:

If we do accept the IOC list what scope is there for HKBWS to raise its views on the names to IOC - especially where the names are confusing or unhelpful.


Mike K

gary 13/02/2010 14:00

For my understanding, common name is commonly used name, once you adopt it in significant publication, most people would follow.  Scientific name, taxonomic and nomenclature system is the business of real scientific, not for general birdwatcher’s knowledge. What left for birdwatcher is to decide following which system or which hypothesis. If Record Committee has sufficient reason to support your decision, please go ahead.

However, I would like to raise a concern on the consistency on the use of common name of which Geoff C may have underestimated the importance.
Nowadays, HKBWS’s bird list is more or less the “official” bird list for Hong Kong, including Hong Kong government. Remember a few years ago a Daurian Starling infected with H5N1? If you search <Birds of HK and South China>, you can’t find the bird because it was named Purple-backed Starling.   But the name “Daurian Starling” have been widely adopted in newspaper locally or even internationally.

Further, most of the environmental education material that involve bird name would also follow HKBWS’s list. I foresee that the adoption of the name “Light-vented Bulbul” would cause headache for the staff in say HK Wetland Park or WWFHK.

More, Hong Kong Government, or mainly AFCD, always announce proudly that Hong Kong has more than 480 bird species. Where does the list come from? Definitely from HKBWS, or more precisely HKBWS’s Record Committee. If today RC revises the bird list to make it over 500, the government would love to follow.   

All I want to say is the decision made by RC could affect many parties and people.  If RC makes a decision on the naming, please HKBWS follows it in every publication you involved as far as possible.  Meanwhile, RC should also stick to the standard as far as possible. Having experienced three important publications namely, <bird of HK>, <Avifauna> and <Photo Guide> that were published within 8 years in last decade but using different naming system, the English common name we use today is still far from common.

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cgeoff 13/02/2010 15:06

Thanks, Gary for your contribution. You do have a point, and I accept I may have underestimated the influence of changing bird names. I was not aware the Avifauna and the Photo Guide used different names. I just assumed that the Photo Guide, as an official publication of the HKBWS that came out after the Avifauna, would have used the same names. But, I must confess I didn't check. As for the field guide to the birds of HK and South China, that was really one man's interpretation of bird names, and as much as I respect his choice, I don't think it particularly has a claim to authority. I also agree with Gary that whatever name list is chosen, all HKBWS publications should follow it.

However, we have to be careful about not changing names for this reason. If there are real taxonomic reasons for changing the vernacular name, then it should be changed. No point in leaving people unaware of these. By the same token, we have to be wary of introducing completely new names just because we think they are more apposite. Furthermore, environmental education materials are reprinted, and there's no reason any changes should not be adopted then. I don't think it will cause much confusion in the interim to the average visitor to the Wetland Park, for example!

If only there were a 'standard', as Gary suggests. If there was, it would make things easier. Taxonomy and nomenclature is not really a 'scientists' prerogative alone, though. I don't consider myself a scientist, yet I am interested in the issue. If only because when, for example, I see an Upland Pipit, it doesn't really strike me as a typical [i]Anthus [/i]pipit, and I wonder why it's included with that family. I'm sure that as birdwatching becomes more popular in HK, others will also pick up this interest, and many I'm sure already have.

I guess that if English names don't really matter to me personally, then I shouldn't really be bothered whether it's Chinese or Light-vented Bulbul. And ultimately, I'm not. However, my feeling is that if we adopt (preferable to 'slavishly follow', I think!) the IOC List, then it makes life somewhat easier. Firstly, we won't need to debate English names in this way, should (when) species occur in HK for which there are options for the English name. Secondly, we remove the right to decide from any particular group of people, including the RC, instead transferring it to a reasonable and serious, though admittedly not perfect, body.

Regarding Mike's query about the scope for the Society to make suggestions to the IOC, that's something I don't know about. Presumably there is, but the Society will need to look into it.

As Mike says, it would be good to hear from others regarding this issue. At the moment, anybody reading this thread may think it's only Mike who cares! Is it? Please let us know what you think, even if it is to say 'I don't care'!


P.S. As an unrelated aside, can we have a much smaller space below so that we don't have to scroll down so far when referring back to others' posts? If the space is needed for those onions on the left, can they not be converted to a drop-down menu?

wgeoff 13/02/2010 16:06

I think Gary makes an excellent point. Both stability and the official HKBWS name are important.

I think adopting the IOC list without question will lead to less stability in the names. To take an example, Asian Drongo-cuckoo was the name on the IOC list until this was split by IOC into two species, Fork-tailed Drongo-cuckoo and Square-tailed Drongo-cuckoo. Fork-tailed Drongo-cuckoo is an Indian bird and hardly likely to be seen in Hong Kong. IOC is an international list, so they need to use two names. But there is really no need for us to adopt a name change to Square-tailed Drongo-cuckoo for this species.

The IOC list is updated every 3-4 months, so a name change is possible regularly. Last December 2009, IOC renamed Chinese Flycatcher as Green-backed Flycatcher, a name we have been using since at least Avifauna. If we had adopted the IOC list in 2009, we would have changed Green-backed Flycatcher to Chinese Flycatcher and then changed it back again.

Swift Tern, a particular bug-bear of mine, is so called I believe because that is the common name in Africa. But not in the Pacific, where a different subspecies is known as Greater Crested Tern. Why do we need to change a well-established name? And if this species is split in future, no doubt we would go back again to Greater Crested Tern.

I stick by my point. Use the IOC list as a guideline, but reserve the right to our own independence where necessary, and particularly to avoid unnecessary changes to our past decisions. Or even, we adopt the taxonomy (the scientific names) but not necessarily the English names. I am quite happy to allow RC to choose English names, it seems they have done a good job so far.

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cgeoff 14/02/2010 08:51

Although the IOC List is regularly updated, given that the HK List comprises a mere 5% of the World List, I doubt very much there will frequent changes. I really don't think this will be an issue. The Chinese/Green-backed Flycatcher back-tracking change is possible, of course, but really, how many of these is there likely to be. One, two? (Having checked the IOC website, I see that in the draft for forthcoming changes, Northern Boobook is proposed for insertion after Brown Hawk Owl, which, given we assume birds occurring in HK are Northern Boobook, would have resulted in such a situation. We can, however, forestall that now). I checked the most recent five updates and the draft latest, and only came up with one change that affected the HK List (the one above, not the flycatcher, Geoff, which I can't seem to find).

In June 2008 there were a few relevant changes, but most were straightforward: Cattle Egret to Eastern Cattle Egret, Osprey to Eastern Osprey, Great Egret to Eastern Great Egret; one wasn't though: Brown-cheeked Rail. The latter is a good example, though. We simply wouldn't be able to retain the original name for birds occurring in HK (Water Rail), as that name refers to the nominate subspecies. Brown-cheeked Rail is not particularly euphonious, I realise, but I think it's preferable to the alternative, creating new a new name.

If we accept the taxonomy of the IOC List, we also must accept the taxonomy-driven changes that result. We then have to be very careful about which names we choose, should we want to go it alone on some.

For those interested in looking at the IOC website, you can find it at:



tbob 14/02/2010 17:36

I also would like to agree that Gary has some excellent points. Our company has an on-going government contract and any name changes could affect what we have already produced by making the video out-dated. If there are name changes when are they expected to be finalised.


cgeoff 14/02/2010 17:52


I hope that the List can be finalised in March. I have asked for comments to be added to this Forum before the end of February.

However, just because the official HK List uses one or two different names, I don't think it makes your videos 'out-dated'.


tmichael 14/02/2010 23:56

Just to expand on my rather brief posting earlier, I agree with Geoff C "philosophically" on this, I believe.

By that I essentially mean that I think the [b]taxonomic issue[/b] is of prime importance. More specifically I think it is essential that we "farm this out" to a qualified scientific body - and any reference to the IOC website confirms the quality of the individual scientists involved, even if one or two "senior members" are also in fact "deceased members" (they clearly up-date the World Bird list more regularly than the membership categories!). Taxonomic changes involve either (i) the splitting of species, very few of which in this case affect us directly - but those that do, it seems to me, are all really very much ones we have already made in our own minds and/or are well-acquainted with, eg Spot-billed Ducks, forms of "Hodgson's" Hawk Cuckoo - or (ii) involve higher level taxonomics at genus level, such as within tits and gulls, which are very widely accepted and seem to me to be used in most recently produced field guides eg Brazil's [i]Birds of East Asia[/i] (which follows Howard and Moore 3rd ed 2003, so does not in fact have the Starling generic splits - but then the production of a field guide is a one-off operation whereas the keeping of a national/regional list is an on-going matter, making "stability" ultimately unachievable and indeed contrary to the objectives of the exercise).

By the same token and, again, as I understand it, in line with Geoff C's thinking, I think [b]vernacular names[/b] are of much less importance, but not of no significance whatsoever. Again it seems to me the vast majority of vernacular name changes here are not going to cause any practical or affective (sic!) difficulty to most users, not the least because the Chinese names are mainly used here now, surely, and they ie the Chinese names, are, for that reason, a less insignificant issue, but one that needs to be dealt with separately.

So, I don't really have a problem with "Swift Tern" or even "Fork-tailed Swift" if that's what signing up to the IOC position on taxonomy (=scientific name effectively) + international English name means, even though I don't like either at all, and will undoubtedly for my remaining years utter "Great Crested Tern!" or "Pacific Swift" (probably more quietly) on managing to make either species out. And I'm really happy to be using "White's Thrush" again.

In fact it seems to me there is only one serious problem with the names and that is Chinese/Light-vented Bulbul (which I hadn't noticed earlier because it seems to me it had not been highlighted, and nor had the purely orthographic change from Button-quail to Buttonquail - not a criticism at all, as it is quite clear Geoff, and maybe others, have given a lot of their own time over to this issue).

Chinese Bulbul is a well-established and more sensible name for an abundant bird here, and resistance to that change is very understandable. In fact it is one of very few (as far as I can see) unilateral changes from his reference text on taxonomy and nomenclature that Brazil has made in BoEA, and I would propose we do the same, and in our Annual Reports refer to it as "Chinese Bulbul (IOC: Light-vented Bulbul)", allowing AFCD etc etc to just continue calling it "Chinese Bulbul" in their own publications.

I've looked up and down the list a few times now and can't really see any problems on the scale of Chinese/Light-vented Bulbul, and think we should be grateful for that, make that one little change amd move on. I dare say I've missed something, and would be interested to hear from Geoff C what is going to happen with our non-goodsoni warblers of the group formerly referred to as "Blyth's Leaf Warbler", as they don't seem to feature on the list at the moment, presumably because it is neither proven nor certain that they are "Claudia's Leaf Warbler" [i]Phylloscopus claudiae[/i].

Mike Turnbull

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cgeoff 15/02/2010 08:41

Thanks MikeT for explaining your position.

My stance is very much as Mike says. Philosophically I would vote to accept the IOC List in its entirety (or nearly so...), even though there are a number of names I don't particularly like. And I will continue to use the names I prefer or know in normal speech.

Having considered Chinese Bulbul further, I can see that might be an issue given its abundance in China and ubiquity in HK, and the symbolic importance it has here.

As for the other proposals of MikeK above, I have the following responses:

1) Swinhoe's Egret from Chinese Egret (to honour Swinhoe, it occurs beyond China, breeding and wintering). Chinese Bulbul and Chinese Goshawk occur beyond China also, so I think that element of the argument is weak. Honouring of Swinhoe I can accept, however.
2) Brown Waterhen from Brown Bush Hen. Bush is a strange choice given that, in my experience, it's a wetland species. Given also shared scientific name, agreed.
3) Pacific Swift (nothing wrong with this name, other swifts have forked tails). Agreed.
5) Whipcrack Bush Warbler from Brown-flanked Bush Warbler. As far as I'm aware, this is a newly-created name, which I don't think we should be doing. There are already two names for this species - why introduce a third? And actually, I don't think 'whipcrack' describes particularly well the song.
6) Goodson's Leaf Warbler from Hartert's Leaf Warbler. Hartert's appears to be gaining currency. There are many names where the scientific name is not reflected in the English name, so why focus on this?
7) Streaked Grass Babbler from Rufous-rumped Grassbird. As far as I'm aware, this is a newly-created name, which I don't think we should be doing.
8) Silky Starling from Red-billed Starling. The merit to this argument is not strong enough to warrant choice of a different name.

Finally, to answer MikeT's question, yes, because we still can't be sure whether the non-goodsoni birds are fohkiensis or claudiae, we cannot do anything about this.


ajohn 23/02/2010 00:37

I agree with GeoffC and others that it makes sense to adopt an internationally-recognised authority, and that in doing so you should adopt the taxonomy and nomenclature wholesale. Personally I actually think that almost all of the names in the IOC list are reasonable, and as others have said, you are free to use whatever name you prefer.

A couple of comments on species names previously discussed:
Swift Tern - I don't know for sure, but I suspect this is used because Greater Crested Tern would imply this is the closest relative of Lesser Crested Tern (which it almost certainly isn't!)
Brown Waterhen/Bush-hen - I think Bush-hen is proposed for the new name because this is consistent with the other species of Amaurornis (which don't occur in HK), and White-breasted Waterhen is the odd-one-out for this genus.
Silky/Red-billed Starling - I actually dislike the name silky for this species, especially when you see them kicking around in the revolting stinky channels they use in HK, when they certainly don't look like silk! Like Dave, I have routinely called these Red-billed since I arrived in Hong Kong and will probably continue to do so. Mike mentions other starlings with red bills - off the top of my head I can't think of any.

The only name I really dislike among them is Light-vented Bulbul, as discussed by others this stikes me as vague and non-descriptive, whereas Chinese fits with the scientific name and the centre of distribution in China.  This does not stop me supporting the adoption of IOC names.

Given the ongoing advances in bird taxonomy, it is inevitable that the list will keep changing whatever approach the RC adopts. Following a recognised international list would ensure the HK list keeps up-to-date with scientific opinion and would make it easier on HK bird watchers to follow the taxonomic decisions adopted by the RC.

lrichard 23/02/2010 07:55

I agree that when it comes to updating the scientific names & sequence of species on the HK list, it makes sense to refer to a single authoritative taxonomic source, rather than adopting a piecemeal approach. The IOC list may well be suitable for this purpose.

However, I am unconvinced that we should follow the IOC’s list of English names, which consists of a single common name for each species. A prescriptive approach of this kind is, I believe, both wrong in principle and doomed to failure.

Unlike scientific names, common names do not carry taxonomic significance and do not fall within the realm of science. Instead, they reflect traditions of common usage. In cases where two common names are in use, can we say that one is correct and the other is incorrect? Are North American names such as “Oldsquaw”, “Common Merganser” and “Northern Harrier” correct? And if so, does it follow that alternative names for the same species such as “Long-tailed Duck”, “Goosander” and “Hen Harrier” (which are widely used elsewhere in the English-speaking world) are incorrect? This just too simplistic. There can be no single correct name for these species. The names “Oldsquaw”, “Common Merganser” and “Northern Harrier” are used in North America and so are appropriate for those regions and for other regions where American-English is the adopted standard, and the names “Long-tailed Duck”, “Goosander” and “Hen Harrier” are equally appropriate where they are in usage in other parts of the English-speaking world where British-English is the adopted standard. The IOC list, however, insists that there can only be only one English name for each species, which clearly does not reflect actual usage.

No previous regional or world list has succeeded in persuading birders and their associations and journals around the world to use standardized names. Is there any reason to suppose that the fate of the IOC list will be any different? No, I don’t think so. The idea of imposing a single set of English names on a diverse birding community is doomed to failure. In the 4 years since Gill and Wright published their “Birds of the World: Recommended English Names” which preceded the IOC list, two major Asian guides have been published, neither of which conform to each other or to the IOC in their choice of English names. For example, for species whose official IOC names are “Cinereous Vulture” and “Daurian Starling”, Craig Robson (2008) goes for "Cinereous Vulture" and "Purple-backed Starling" and Mark Brazil (2009) for "Monk Vulture" and "Daurian Starling". In the UK, despite the fact that the BOURC, which keeps the official British list, has stated its support for the IOC list and common names, leading birding journals such as British Birds (which has strong BOURC affiliations) and Birding World totally ignore the official IOC-based list and continue to use traditional common names that reflect their readers' preferences. In the USA, the AOU, the keeper of the official US list, follows Clements (or a variant) and not Gill & Wright (2006) or the IOC list. To conclude, conformity of English names across the world is just not going to happen.

In Hong Kong and along the coast of China, there is a rich English-language tradition of writing about and giving names to Chinese birds, which dates back to the 1850s and includes the writings of Swinhoe, Styan, La Touche, Herklots and, more lately, Clive Viney as well as the whole output of HKBWS and the recent China Bird Reports. For some English names it is possible to trace usage back to the 1860s. Robert Swinhoe unfailingly used scientific names to identify a particular species and only rarely mentioned a common name, “Silky Starling” being one example. Generally, though, English names of Chinese birds are remarkably stable in HK birding literature, especially between the 1960s and the 1990s.

This tradition was ignored by authors from the USA who decided that English names which had long usage in Hong Kong and China could be dropped and replaced by other names. King et al’s (1975) Birds of South-east Asia came up with the following to replace long-standing names (shown in brackets):

•        “Chinese Egret” (Swinhoe’s Egret)
•        “Yellow-hooded Wagtail” (Citrine Wagtail)
•        “Light-vented Bulbul” (Chinese Bulbul)
•        “Orange-flanked Bush Robin” (Red-flanked Bluetail)
•        “Blue Whistling Thrush” (Violet Whistling Thrush)
•        “Scaly Thrush” (White’s Thrush)
•        “Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler” (Rufous-necked Scimitar Babbler)
•        “Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler” (Mountain Bush Warbler)
•        “Pallas’s Warbler” (Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler)
•        “Lemon-rumped Warbler” (Pallas’s Leaf Warbler)
•        “Inornate Warbler” (Yellow-browed Warbler)
•        “Black-throated Tit” (Red-headed Tit)
•        “Buff-bellied Flowerpecker” (Fire-breasted Flowerpecker)
•        “Red-billed Starling” (Silky Starling)
•        “White-shouldered Starling” (Chinese Starling)   

King’s new names were not adopted by HKBWS. However, in a fine series of papers which reported on his visits to newly-opened parts of China in the early 1980s, King was allowed to use his own alternative names in the Hong Kong Bird Report, though these were marked with an asterisk to show that they differed from traditional usage. There the situation remained until the early 1990s when Sibley & Monroe published a revolutionary world checklist with very many taxonomic changes based on DNA analysis, a completely revised sequence and a set of recommended English names which strongly relfected North Amewrican traditions and sensibilities. I don’t have a copy of Sibley & Monroe at hand, but as I recall, King was the source of English names of Asian birds and a whole suite of well-established names commemorating Russian explorers were dropped, though names commemorating North American explorers were retained. This list prompted Beaman (1994) to produce a list of recommended names of Palearctic species which was more acceptable to an international audience. However, Sibley & Monroe’s list was championed on both sides of the Atlantic by those who sought standardization. In the UK, despite serious objections by OBC grassroots members, Sibley & Monroe was accepted as a major source of taxonomy and English names for the official OBC checklist. The taxonomy, sequence and English names of the OBC list were in turn adopted in the early editions (but not the 2008 edition) of Robson’s SE Asia field guide and the English and scientific names were also used as secondary source, after Beaman (1994), in the Avifauna of Hong Kong (2001).

Since then, Sibley & Monroe has become obsolete and King’s names such as Yellow-hooded Wagtail, Orange-flanked Bush Robin, Pallas’s Warbler (for the Locustella) and Inornate Warbler have simply failed to win acceptance by birders and no longer appear in the literature,. Scaly Thrush and Lemon-rumped Warbler are now used only with respect to the Himalayan forms.

There are clearly lessons to be learned here. With respect to English names, I strongly feel that HKBWS should defend English-language traditions in Hong Kong and China and retain and restore common English names of long usage in the region.

I also think we are being naïve if we fail to recognise that two distinct models of written English have evolved, a British model and an American model, which for historical reasons have different spheres of interest. Books and journals published in North and South America use the American model with its distinct vocabulary, spelling and punctuation, whereas English-language publications in Africa, India, Australia and New Zealand follow the British model. Here in Hong Kong, of course, English usage follows the British model.

The IOC list clearly reflects an American model. The punctuation, for example, is characteristically American, especially in the over-use and inconsistent application of hyphens. To take owls as an example, the IOC list hyphenates “Eurasian Eagle-Owl” and “Brown Hawk-Owl”, but not “Brown Fish Owl” or “Brown Wood Owl”. The logic of this is hard to understand. Anyone looking through an alphabetical index would find the first one listed among the Eagles, the second among the Hawks, and the other two where they all should be - among the Owls.

Similarly, when it comes to English names for the China list, I do not think that the IOC list should be the only source consulted. I found on the IOC web-page
[url]http://www.worldbirdnames.org/index.html[/url] a very useful Excel file prepared by Dave Sargeant and David Matson which compares the latest IOC list (version 2.3, Dec 2009) with the 6th edition of Clements. I think this clearly shows that the IOC list used North American traditions (King-Sibley & Monroe-Clements) in deciding upon English names.

From Sargeant & Mason’s file, I created a China list (c. 1410 species) from the IOC-Clements file and added an extra column with English names from Beaman’s (1994) Palearctic list. The IOC list of English names differs in many instances from Beaman’s list, especially in having fewer commemorative names.

I’d also like to comment quickly on English names stipulated by the IOC for about 80 splits involving Chinese birds. These are either geographical, commemorative or descriptive, or were chosen in the interests of uniformity (never a sufficient reason in my view to overturn a unique or memorable name).

It’s hard to argue against many of the geographical names brought on by the splits, except that they are dull. We get, for example, “Western Osprey”, “Eastern Cattle Egret”, “Himalayan Buzzard” and “Taiwan Scimitar Babbler”. However, I agree with those who think that “Indochinese Yuhina” is a poor choice for the recently-split Yuhina torqueola since this is only peripheral to Indochina and is primarily a South China species, which was originally described by Swinhoe from the border of Guangdong and Fujian. The China Bird Report uses the name “Chestnut-collared Yuhina” which reflects the scientific name and echoes an old English name “Collared Siva”.

As for the new commemorative names, I can’t say I’m thrilled to see “Claudia’s Leaf Warbler”, “Hartert’s Leaf Warbler” and “Kloss’s Leaf Warbler” on the IOC list for species whose English names in the China Bird Report are “La Touche’s Leaf Warbler”, “Goodson’s Leaf Warbler” and “Ogilvie-Grant’s Leaf Warbler”. The species involved are all Chinese breeding endemics, and I would seriously query whether Claudia (who I think was one of La Touche’s daughters) and Kloss (who had very little to do with Chinese ornithology) should be commemorated at the expense of La Touche or Ogilvie-Grant. I do agree, though, that Hartert deserves commemoration.

The new descriptive names are generally prosaic. Where splits are concerned, some names have been coined to highlight a feature which is not present on sister species. To take one example, Garrulax berthemyi a stunning laughingthrush, endemic to South China, with rufous wings & tail and bright blue around the eye, is called “Buffy Laughingthrush” apparently a feature that distinguishes it from the equally stunning, bright rufous “Rusty Laughingthrush” of Taiwan. Clearly, “Buffy Laughingthrush” fails to characterise berthemyi and makes it sound dull. The China Bird Report more accurately calls it “Rufous Laughingthrush”, the name used by La Touche.

A drive for uniformity accounts for a number of changes. Some result in minor gains or are innocuous, such as “Red Turtle Dove” being restored instead of “Red Collared-Dove”, the Trerons all being called “Green Pigeons” and the small Dendrocopos woodpeckers becoming “Pygmy Woodpeckers”. However, there will no longer be any Thick-knee – they’ll all be “Stone-curlews” - and Brown Crake (or Crimson-legged Crake if the subspecies coccineipes is ever recognised as a full species) is to be called “Brown Bush-hen”, an absurd name for a bird of ponds and ditches. The quest for uniformity has led to new English names being coined for a genus. Species in the genus Aegithalos are now to be called “Bush-tits”, with the exception of A. caudatus, which to avoid outraging European birders is still be known as Long-tailed Tit. Here in South China, the official name of A. concinnus, which was discovered by Swinhoe on the coast of Zhejiang and has a long history of being called Red-headed Tit, is now the “Black-throated Bush-tit”.

If anyone would like an electronic copy of the China list comparing English names on the IOC list with Clements and Beaman, e-mail me at <[email]rwlewthwaite@cuhk.edu.hk[/email]>.


cgeoff 23/02/2010 13:28

I fully agree with Richard that: "In cases where two common names are in use, can we say that one is correct and the other is incorrect?"

Of course, we can't. I don't think the IOC List, or any other list, is necessarily saying this is correct and that isn't. All it is doing is providing a set of labels to facilitate intercourse. I also agree with Richard that in one sense this List is 'doomed to failure'. It will not result in a standardised set of names being applied internationally. That's what scientific names are for. The English names are just not that important, ultimately.

As for the proposal to "restore common English names of long usage in the region", I am slightly wary of this. What does this actually mean? And who decides which names should be restored? What is the process?

While I certainly understand Richard's points regarding Eagle-owl and Wood Owl, and other examples, I think they are best addressed directly to the IOC. The website is very upfront about welcoming comments such as these.

As for “Claudia’s Leaf Warbler”, what about Mrs Gould's Sunbird? If not wife, why not daughter? No Thick-knee? No problem, as far as I'm concerned.

Again, I point these out not to have a debate about names specifically, but to illustrate that it's often a matter of personal opinion. My feeling is that for many, though not all, names for which there are differences of opinion, these differences will never be resolved to the satisfaction of all.

Which brings me back to my point that this List, in bulk if not entirety, should simply be swallowed. We can all use whatever names we wish in the field or in discussion.

Incidentally, the Records Committee will be discussing adoption of the IOC List at its next meeting on 1st March. Those who wish to comment, please do so by then.



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bkaren 25/02/2010 00:33

Karen and I agree with Richard Lewthwaite.
Wrong in principle. The quest for international uniformity in common names is wrong in principle. For international uniformity we use the scientific nomenclature.
Common names are for common usage, and this means common to the layman in the cultural and linguistic context in which the name has become used and familiar.

Alienating. Secondly, common names reflect familiarity, local knowledge and names and affection for local species. To impose uncommon internationalized names and spellings will have adverse effects. It will alienate us from our birds and local literature by the use of alien names.  It is directly contrary to the prime purpose of a common name.  It is artificial to invent a name to replace an existing valid common name, and then call it common.

Who decides? Common names can change over time and usage and by consensus, but certainly not by imposition.
Having lived with and used some of these names for about half a century, I consider the old names to be part of my natural heritage and would be most unhappy with the changes being discussed.

yours sincerely,
Ruy Barretto

cgeoff 25/02/2010 10:42

Thanks for your comment, Ruy.

I take your point about the local and cultural relevance of English names, and certainly you are better qualified to comment on this aspect than anybody else I know. However, if you, or indeed anybody else reading this, have particular concerns about individual names, please let us know which ones. We are more than happy to consider these alternatives. But we do need guidance as to which names people are concerned about.

Ruy, what are the 'old names' that you wish to retain? Is it just the names that have been highlighted in previous posts above?

As I mentioned above, we are meeting on 1st March, when we hope to reach an agreement. Please could people respond by then, either on this Forum or direct to me.


lpaul 25/02/2010 12:21

It seems that the general view is that acceptance of the IOC list is OK except with regards to certain English names.
I think this is progress, and given that the HK list is rather out of date I am pleased that the aim of updating is accepted.
So, which are the name changes which are unacceptable?  If the HK list were to be revised based solely upon the IOC list, then this would result in a change in the English name for 51 species (10% of the list).  Of these 26 are required due to taxonomic changes (and these are required in order to update the HK list).  Of the remaining 25, three are very minor (the addition of a hyphen) and are presumably not controversial.

The rest are:
1.        Indian Spotbill to Indian Spot-billed Duck
2.        Chinese Spotbill to Eastern Spot-billed Duck
3.        Common Teal to Eurasian Teal
4.        Black Scoter to American Scoter
5.        Schrenck’s Bittern to Von Schrenck’s Bittern
6.        Swinhoe’s Egret to Chinese Egret
7.        Eurasian Black Vulture to Cinereous Vulture
8.        Brown Crake to Brown Bush-hen
9.        Great Thick-knee to Great Stone-curlew
10.        Yellow-legged Gull to Caspian Gull
11.        Greater Crested Tern to Swift Tern
12.        Rock Dove to Common Pigeon
13.        Northern Hawk Cuckoo to Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo
14.        Asian Lesser Cuckoo to Lesser Cuckoo
15.        Pacific Swift to Fork-tailed Swift
16.        Blue Magpie to Red-billed Blue Magpie
17.        Chinese Bulbul to Light-vented Bulbul
18.        Goodson’s Leaf Warbler to Hartert’s Warbler
19.        Bright-capped Cisticola to Golden-headed Cisticola
20.        Purple-backed Starling to Daurian Starling
21.        Red-throated Flycatcher to Taiga Flycatcher
22.        Yellow-billed Grosbeak to Chinese Grosbeak

Of these, I strongly dislike 8, 11, 12, 13, 17 and 21.  I would recommend not adopting these except for 21, as Taiga Flycatcher is becoming very widely used.
I note that three of the changes (5, 19 and 22) are in fact ‘old’ names previously used in HK.
Many of the rest use names which are in widespread use within Asia or are names for recent splits (e.g. 18 - for which either proposed name is equally valid).
So which are the unacceptable names?  Which are incorrect? Which result in a loss of cultural context?

Personally, I don’t think we should be creating new names, nor should be discussing the Chinese list in the context of this discussion as I don’t think it is relevant.

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kmike 25/02/2010 23:37

I agree that there is a need to have a basic framework for a list, and the arguments for the IOC List are fine by me. However I'm strongly opposed to being tied to that list for good or bad.

Given that the IOC invites feedback I think three things need to be decided:
1. Over what names are there conflicting views?
2. Who and how  should we decide on what names should be changed
3. What should we do about it

My suggestion is:
[list=1][*]Build a complete list based on this online discussion with a date set for closure[*]There should be a role for interested members [u]and[/u] the records committee on deciding the names (perhaps a subcommittee of the records committee with co-opted Society members to increase representation).[*]I still there should be an opportunity for a meeting with open discussion.[*]Once these are decided upon a list of the alternatives agreed (with explanations) should be forwarded from HKBWS to IOC.[/list]
I also think we can propose new names should there be good cause.

It appears that other birders in other parts of the world are able to effect change by using names they prefer. Somehow they  gain currency and acceptance. Hence Taiga Flycatcher and Hartert's Leaf Warbler. Since this is the case  it seems that we in HK have as much ability to influence the list as any others whose alternative names now have currency. And we certainly have as much right (with all due respect) as a visiting bird tour leader with a 30-year old book of names which he decided on his own.

As a result I think HKBWS has every right to propose new names when the current name is so poor. The clear example is[b] Rufous-rumped Grassbird. [/b]  Giving the same name to species from two genera cannot possibly be described as sound taxonomy.  I'm perfectly happy to accept that others may prefer a different name to Streaked Grass Babbler (which I'm not sold on myself), but I really don't think we need to accept a plain bad name for the sake of uniformity. Since the bird is due to be split and about to become a south China Endemic I believe we have every right to propose a name.

Finally Paul's list is not exhaustive of all the names discussed so far. The following need to be added

Silky Starling for Red-billed (heritage name)
Mountain Bush Warbler for Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler (pre King name)
something else for Rufous-rumped Grassbird
Someone else disagreed with the new name for Drongo Cuckoo

Mike K

cgeoff 26/02/2010 10:10

I am posting the following comments from Martin Hale on his behalf:

"Personally I never learnt the most recent name changes and never (wittingly) used them, although of course was aware of what species was under discussion. I will continue to use the names I know regardless of any formal changes. I don't feel strongly either way about most of them, with the exception of Bush hen, which will induce me to vomit every time I see it in print (if accepted). On balance I think that we should retain the more traditional names. Since, in print, these will usually be accompanied by the Latin name, it shouldn't matter too much if we go our own way on the English names. Most of the bird literature that originates in Hong Kong is for our own consumption (although no doubt we would like to think otherwise), so why worry about what the outside world thinks of our names? But, as a I say, I can't get too excited about it."

lpaul 26/02/2010 10:30

My reply here is simply an attempt to highlight how complex this issue is.  Mike considers Rufous-rumped Grassbird a ‘plain bad name’, in part because ‘giving the same name to species from two genera cannot possibly be described as sound taxonomy’.  [I presume here that Mike is referring to the word Grassbird which is also used for Megalurus and Chaetornis species – so would actually be applied to three genera]
The current HK name is Large Grass Warbler which is no longer accurate as recent molecular work has shown it to be a babbler, more specifically placed in a clade referred to as Pellorneinae that includes e.g. Alcippe, Pellorneum, Napothera and Gampsorhynchus.  As such retaining the current common name is taxonomically misleading.
However, using a ‘family’ name across genera is common practice (think of ‘Warbler’ which is used for Locustellas, Acrocephalus, Hippolais, Phylloscopus, Seicercus, Abroscopus etc.).  The point about Graminicola, Megalurus and Chaetornis is that they are closely related and are more closely related than the genera which use ‘babbler’ in their English name.  Hence Streaked Grass Babbler is less taxonomically sound than Rufous-rumped Grassbird.
I don’t suppose Mike would like to see genera specific English names either, imagine the changes that would cause (think of the gulls which have recently been split into four genera).
Graminicola bengalensis (my, I love scientific names!) may well be split in the future, but the proposed split may not become widely accepted.  The paper proposing the split (of which I am an author, which is why I know about this) proposes English names, so suggesting a new name now which pre-empts the publication of the paper may well be premature.
For the other examples Mike lists at the end of the post I would note that both Red-billed Starling and Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler are already the official HK names (which is why I excluded it from the summary of changes in my previous post) and a change to the name Drongo Cuckoo is required due to the species being split into three species.  I accept that Square-tailed Drongo-cuckoo is not a good name, but what are the alternatives?  Is there a better name that EVERYONE will like?

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wmartin 26/02/2010 11:02

Be bold regarding English names

I have long been annoyed by various English bird name changes. Believe the Latin name is for the science; likewise the taxonomic status - latter can reflect the latest research, albeit with committee decision if things look not so clear cut (after all, species don't split within milliseconds), and less leeway in Latin names (again, will be some disagreements).

This leaves English name as a common name - a name for those using English to refer to birds. Also the name that regular folk are most likely to hear - which means common names are of importance for conservation. They're the species' "brand names" - and when it comes to arguing for conservation, will be easier for species with an interesting name than a crap one. [Can't think of extreme example here, but Kinabalu Friendly Warbler long seemed to me a top name, even making me want to see a drab little brown bird.]

- also, for people who may start birding, hardly great to hear of chance to see brownish-flanked bush-warblers, brown bushhens and other dull dull dull sounding critters.

So with English names, I've long believed there is scope for flexibility. Should include specific name - Geoff may remember me asking if observers reporting "swallows" over Beidaihe were red-rumped or barn, which led to me being teased as of course, "swallow" meant Barn Swallow to UK birder.

After this, I agree that we should not give in to the Yankee dulling down of names (!) - I once mentioned this to Clements, who foisted blame on Ben King.
Just as English language, overall, should not become hideously uniform; nor does there seem much chance of this, despite Word and its default US spelling...

Light-vented Bulbul indeed an abomination of a name. Have you ever heard anyone look at one and remark, Blimey, its vent's really light? Course not.

Yellow-billed Grosbeak ridiculous: they have yellow bills w black tips, so should be Yellow-but-with-black-tip-billed Grosbeak. Or, Chinese Grosbeak.

As Mike Turnbull (I think) once mentioned, "cinereous" means ashy grey. It's a horrible word, too: when was the last time you heard or used it?
Black Vulture fine in referring to birds here; and can add Eurasian to clarify the species. (US Black Vulture barely even vulture anyway, given DNA showing related to storks, so should be Black Weirdostorkvulture) Yes, not black either, but Chocolate Vulture odder still, and made up w no history.

Pallas's Gull seems weird, to me. As if should be tiny thing, flitting about the mudflats. Great Black-headed more appropriate for the bird, and more interesting, to me.
Inornate Warbler still rankles to me. Whaddya mean, not ornate? To me starting birding in UK, Yellow-browed Warblers looked highly ornate - in books, what with those wing bars. Inornate is wrong, a weird word (just tried Googling it); tho yes, Yellow brows not striking or unique.
Anyone seen a scale on a scaly thrush? Also daft name.

Bluetail - far more appealing name than bush robin.

Crested Bulbul - doesn't work given other crested bulbuls around. Which is kind of sad, as red-whiskered not quite so good, inc because feature way less noticeable.

HK lineage also worth respecting. Such as for Silky Starling, as mentioned above.
I find name like Mrs Gould's Sunbird entertaining.

White-winged Tern duller than White-winged Black Tern, but established perhaps; a case where I'll go along with a King name, with all its shortening and loss of some context.

So, judging by this thread, list would be a hybrid; a Hong Kong list. But that's fine - for common names, for what to most of us is wholly or chiefly a hobby.
Maybe w some sort of voting by those who care - could be online; seems not too many species in doubt

Overall, then, I'd look at mix of criteria, inc:
Range of usage - without strong cause, shouldn't be only in Hong Kong; best if currently used by fair numbers English speaking birders. [Much as I think Whipcrack Warbler appealing (take out the Bush bit: let Latin identify genus, easier to say]. Some bias towards UK usage fine, given Hong Kong history.
Use in Hong Kong: traditional names better. What do people say when they refer to a bird by English name? (There's a bluetail there; I saw six swift terns this morning; That vulture looks very cinereous  ?!)
Interest: interesting, more appealing to say names better. Good as brands; should be looking beyond birding community and papers for posterity - we want regular people supporting conservation, in droves...
Accuracy: yellow-billed grosbeak inaccurate
HK birders' preferences: clearly not so easy to determine, but worthwhile. Voting, but also what people say and hear.

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lrichard 26/02/2010 12:11

To reply to Paul's query as to whether the China list is relevant to this discussion, I think it is very relevant since it clearly shows:

(1) The IOC has endorsed a very poor set of English names for Chinese birds.
(2) The IOC knows very little about the ornithological history of China. (If it were otherwise, it would never have endorsed a name like "Kloss's Leaf Warbler"  for a Chinese endemic breeder, given Kloss's lack of involvement in Chinese ornithology).
(3) The IOC knows very little about the appearance and habits of Chinese birds (eg in endorsing names such as "Buffy Laughingthrush" and "Brown Bush-hen").


cgeoff 26/02/2010 13:05

It's good to see others getting involved in this debate.

With regard to Mike's Point 1, this has effectively been done already via this discussion. We now have a list of bird names, and the closing date is, as stated before, 28th February. Despite this, I am very happy to receive other submissions on the 1st.

With regard to point 2, the role for interested members is to comment on this Forum. I believe the RC is sufficiently open-minded to take into consideration the opinions of those who are concerned. Mike's own particular concerns broadly match those of Richard, and I would suggest can be adequately represented by the latter at the committee meeting. Personally-speaking, I can see there are strong opinions about certain names, and I have no problem with not adopting this List in its entirety.

With regard to Point 3, on behalf of the RC I have done all I can to encourage participation. I placed the initial posting early, and gave approximately 3 weeks for comments to be submitted. I have emailed individually other native English-speaking birders that I know in order to stimulate participation. I have encouraged Mike and Richard both to prepare a list of proposed departures from the IOC List in terms of English names for discussion at the RC meeting on 1st. For this reason, I do not consider it necessary to convene a meeting for open discussion. I believe that sufficient consultation has been carried out by the Records Committee through this Forum.

With regard to Point 4, I think we need to gain some perspective. I feel certain that 95% of the membership of the HKBWS does not really care. That's because 95% of the membership is Chinese-speaking or lives overseas, and has little stake in the issue. It may not be exactly 95%, as I don't know the exact membership number, but I believe it is a very small minority. To represent as the HKBWS official position the views of the tiny minority who actually care is, to my mind, not entirely accurate.

I think Paul's post graphically illustrates the potential complexities of deciding English bird names. I think Richard's last post equally graphically illustrates that the issue is often one of opinion, not fact. His first point and that with regard to the laughingthrush name are simply personal points of view.

I think one of my concerns is that we update the HK List as soon as we can, and to not let this get held up by debating at length ultimately irreconcilable positions regarding a very small number of English names.



[[i] Last edited by cgeoff at 26/02/2010 13:08 [/i]]

ajohn 26/02/2010 13:42

Regarding Rufous-rumped Grassbird: I understand Mike's concern that using the name GRassbird implies a relationship to other Grassbirds. Contrary to Paul's post (unless I misunderstood!), Graminicola is not considered closely related to Megalurus or Chaetornis and is placed in a different family. Use of a name such as this across families is not without precedent, however - in Hong Kong (based on the IOC list), we have at least:
Snipe in 2 families (no-one seems to have commented that Painted-snipe is now Painted Snipe again!)
Flycatchers in 3 families (Monarchidae, Muscicapidae and Stenostiridae)
Tits in 2 families (Paridae and Remizidae)
Warblers in 4 families (Cettidae, Phylloscopidae, Acrocephalidae and Megaluridae) - would be 6 if Graminicola and Cisticola retained the old 'warbler' name!
and even Tailorbirds in 2 families (Cettidae and Cisticolidae)
Are we destined to have similar arguments about these?
Elsewhere in the world there are also issues with Vultures, Sparrows, Blackbirds, Robins, Wrens, Grosbeaks, etc., etc.

I would also expect Timaliidae to be subject to a large degree of splitting in future, leaving a mess with Babbler as a name. Rather than coining a new name for Graminicola benghalensis now, I suggest that it is more sensible to wait until the species is split and adopt the name used in that paper.

[[i] Last edited by ajohn at 26/02/2010 13:45 [/i]]

kmike 26/02/2010 22:18

This continues to be a highly stimulating discussion which seems to me to be characterized by a high degree of flexibility and respect for alternative views and I see a broad consensus on accepting the IOC list with the flexibility for discussion on certain names.

I fully accept the complexities of taxonomy and my lack ofqualification to comment, but I still think "grassbird", unless geneticevidence shows a distinctive linkage between the three generamentioned, is a lost opportunity. I also accept that the same name iscommonly applied to different genera, butwhy not, when the rare opportunity arises, go for a really great namealong the lines Martin Williams suggested. How about celebrating thefact it took so long to work out and survives only as a Chineseendemic; Chinese Enigma (scientific name [i]Enigma hongkongensis (since here is the only place it's now seen))[/i] would be my (purely subjective) choice - with Terai Enigma [i]Enigma subcontinentalis[/i] for the one in Nepal and N India. This is certainly as justifiable as Doubtful Leiothrix or  Invisible Rail and in the scientific [i]confusus, disturbans[/i] and [i]paradoxornis[/i] all provide sound precedents!

However, more  important than my views on "Grassbird" particularly, is that there is scope to discuss and adopt locally appropriate names, and that HKBWS has as much right as any author or committee to engage with the IOC. I certainly think it is better for HKBWS to organise and represent the voice of its members than for individual members to do so on their own.

I also do not see why, if the list is being reviewed, we should be constrained only to new names that are contentious. A bad name for 30 (or more) years is just a bad as a bad name for 30 minutes. There equally should be a good reason for keeping an old name if an alternative is preferable.

As for whether the views of HKBWS are accurately represented I think any list of name that comes out of this discussion certainly represents the views of those who care enough to take part. This is the standard method for any democratic system - all have the chance to participate, but the outcome is ultimately decided by the active participation of those who vote. I have no qualms about saying that those who have chosen not to participate can have no complaint that their views are not represented.  

Geoff's opening up of this discussion is certainly warmly welcomed, and the response,  reflecting a diverse range of opinions clearly shows it was an exercise worth doing. Of course there will be a lot of discussion on subjective preference, but equally there are some good justifications for some of the alternatives that have been suggested. Despite some of my wilder suggestions I am more than willing to accept names I don't necessarily like in order to reach a broad consensus.

If the Records committee is to decide on the names It would be greatly appreciated if a list of names for discussion was formally presented and the outcome on each decision made available to the members through the website, along with a simple explanation of the decision-making process ( i.e majority voting, unanimous consensus etc.)

I very much agree with Richard that HK-based birders are at least as well informed as any others to propose English names for Chinese birds. However I accept that is perhaps a different discussion that need not involve the Records Committee at all since it has no authority on those names.  In fact I would love to invite the likes of Viney, King, Beaman, Brazil, De Schauensee (if he's still alive), Hornskov, Holt and of course Chinese birders, OBC members and others interested in the English names to participate in another online discussion. I suspect no-one is in a better position than Richard to lead such a discussion after his work on the China Bird Report and extensive research into the history of Chinese ornithology. Ultimately I suspect the Chinese Ornithogical Society will decide if the issue

Mike K

cgeoff 27/02/2010 08:41

As Mike says, this has been a very worthwhile exercise.

In terms of taxonomy, it seems to me that there is a broad consensus that we are best to accept the deliberations of a respected authority, one that is based on peer-reviewed research. I don't think Mike, or anyone, is unqualified to comment on taxonomy, but it's just that there are fortunate people out there who get to do this as a job, and we have to accept in many cases they probably have a better claim to authority.

Certainly we can post the reasons for adopting or not adopting the changes suggested on the website. I look forward to receiving further suggestions for changes, with reasons, if possible.

Certain is it also that the RC does not want to get involved in the list of English names of birds on the China list - we have quite enough on our plate as it is!



cgeoff 1/03/2010 14:43

This from Chris Campion:

[font=&quot][size=10pt]My feeling is that we should broadlyadopt the IOC list.  It makes sense to me to standardiseEnglish names given that birders and birding are becomingincreasingly global.  Scientific names are for scientists and mostbirders (with a few exceptions) don't tend to remember these ordiscuss them over a beer.  But we shouldn't feel obliged tofollow the standard-setters when they get it wrong, after all they have10,000 species to worry about so will tend to make a fewmistakes.   The trend seems to be for a general adoption of the IOClist, but with each field guide author reserving the right to make a fewchanges of their own.  Thus, we wouldn't be creating a precedent ifwe did the same with our checklist.  In particular, names with localheritage or those commemorating explorers should in my view bekept, though it seems we don't have too many of these to worry about inHK, China is another matter.  The "Blyth's" Leaf Warbler complexis an exception, but since we don't know which ones occur in HK we candefer the debate on these for now.  From Paul'ssummary, most of the changes are fairly innocuous with only a fewthat rankle, namely[/size][/font][font=&quot][size=12pt][/size][/font]
Brown Bush Hen
Swift Tern
Common Pigeon
Rufous Hawk Cuckoo
Light-vented Bulbul[/size][/font][font=&quot][size=12pt][/size][/font]
[font=&quot][size=12pt] [/size][/font]
[font=&quot][size=10pt]I could live with theTern, Pigeon (who cares) and Cuckoo, but not the other two, in common with manyin this forum.  I don't think we should be creating any new names, asthat would only exacerbate the problem, except in the one caseof our new South China endemic Babbler, as we are better placedthan most to propose a name for this.  We shouldn't adopt any AmericanEnglish and the use of hyphens should be consistent. [/size][/font][font=&quot][size=12pt][/size][/font]

[font=&quot][size=10pt]Some of the changes actuallyrestore a bit of heritage, I'm also pleased to see the return of White'sThrush.  I'll continue to call Great Black-headed Gull justthat whatever it's called in the checklist, but Pallas' Gull isn't abad name for the next generation of birders, though we shouldn't inflictLight-vented Bulbul on anyone.  The IOC might take note if enough authorsreject their proposals, I agree that the HKBWS should write to them onthis.[/size][/font][font=&quot][size=12pt][/size][/font]
[font=&quot][size=12pt] [/size][/font]
[font=&quot][size=10pt]The idea of a species "brand" isvery compelling, the example of the Kinabalu Friendly Warbler is spot on,but who'd cross the road to see a Brown Bush Hen, or should that beChicken, a name that is something of an own goal for conservation[/size][/font]

lpaul 1/03/2010 16:01

Whilst coining new common names is an option, it should be noted that use of scientific names is controlled by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature and under the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature new scientific names can only be adopted in fairly exceptional circumstances.

For those interested the code can be found at:

cgeoff 3/03/2010 09:15

Interestingly, the editorial committee of the China Bird Report have just announced the release of a China bird list based on the IOC List. See:


As the RC has now adopted the IOC List, we now have broad uniformity in taxonomic approach, at least.


gary 3/03/2010 22:36

Good timing!
Two points we can learn from the CBR checklist:
1. It mentioned in the introduction that the editorial have spent 10 months doing literature review and discussion before adopting the IOC in view of its regular and systematic update on bird name.
2. Although it adopted the taxonomic order of IOC, it do preserve some broadly used English name such as Greater Crested Tern and Goodson’s Leaf Warbler (but it prefers to use Light-vented Bulbul!!).
Third point is about Chinese name which I prefer to type in Chinese

cgeoff 4/03/2010 08:54

I should perhaps point out that the adoption of a revised taxonomy for the HK List also went through a lengthy period of discussion among RC members and other birdwatchers. This was certainly not a spur of the moment decision.

I would suggest that both committees' having reached the same conclusion is a validation of the work carried out.


cgeoff 24/04/2010 11:15

Apologies for taking so long to post the following.

The following decision was made at the RC meeting of 1st March:

[font=Tahoma]"It was unanimously agreed to adopt the taxonomic approach of the IOC List, which is itself based on that of Howard and Moore, on the basis that it adopts areasonable and consistent approach based on a scientific assessment of peer-reviewed literature. The list of names and updates can be found at [url=http://www.worldbirdnames.org/]www.worldbirdnames.org[/url].[/font]

[font=Tahoma][size=10.5pt]The English names were discussed at some length, and it was unanimously agreed not to accept these in their entirety.[/size][/font][font=Tahoma]"[/font]

The following attachment provides a list of names that differ in the IOC List, and lists species for which the RC recommends adoption of a name different to that in the IOC List, together with a summary of reasons.

We are happy to take further comments before final confirmation at our next meeting. Please post these here before the end of April.

HKBWS WY 26/04/2010 10:09

The file is being uploaded.
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查看完整版本: Proposed Revision to HK List