A recent proposal to seek to suppress the name Strix pumila is shown by a careful search of the old literature to be unnecessary as the name was first applied to one species where it ranks as a junior synonym, and later applied to a different species where it has no nomenclatural availability as it is preoccupied.
Dickinson et al. (2022) gave notice of intent to make an application to the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature to suppress the name Strix pumila Temminck, 1821, and to conserve the younger name Strix minutissima zu Wied, 1830. This communication explains why no such application is needed.
Our earlier belief was that use of the name Strix pumila by Lichtenstein (1823) was just a later use of Temminck's name and that both applied to the same species. But, in the course of drafting the proposed application, we noticed that an earlier use of this name by Lichtenstein (1818; see Fig. 1) in a list of duplicate specimens published by the Berlin Museum included ‘indications’ that might permit identification of the intended subject (see Art. 12.2.7, ICZN 1999). The relevance of these indications had not been recognised by authors who judged Lichtenstein’s 1818 name to be a nomen nudum.
The indications were to two authors: Azara who used the vernacular name ‘Caburé’ and Levaillant who called it a ‘Chouchette’ and could have been based on descriptions or depictions. Lichtenstein (1818) mentioned ‘Brasil’, and as Azara was known mainly for his work in Paraguay, mention of Brazil seemed to be a link to Levaillant. Consequently, we set out to determine whether either author had provided a description or a plate.
Levaillant (1801) seemed to be the appropriate start point because of all his titled works this was the one that referred to South America, but it proved to be a dead end. Daudin (1800: 205), however, reported that the owl described by Levaillant had been found in Gibraltar and was referred to not as a ‘Chouchette’ but by the name ‘Chevechette’ used by Levaillant (1799: Pl. 46) (see Fig. 2). The most likely identity of a pygmy owl occurring in Gibraltar would seem to be Glaucidium passerinum (Linnaeus, 1758).
However, zu Wied (1830: 239) made no mention of the earlier association of this name with Gibraltar. He suggested the plate might depict the dark morph of the ‘Chouette chevéchoide’ Strix passerinoides Temminck, 1825 (see Fig. 3). However, zu Wied (1830) identified this with Glaucidium brasilianum (J. F. Gmelin, 1788) and it is now considered to be a junior synonym of G. b. phaloenoides (see van den Hoek Ostende et al. 1997).
Meanwhile our check of Azara (1802, 1809) revealed a detailed description of his ‘Caburé’ and this clearly identifies it as Glaucidium brasilianum (see von Berlepsch 1887, Bertoni 1901, Pereyra 1945). This is the only species of Glaucidium that is known in Paraguay (Guyra Paraguay 2004). In conclusion, Strix pumila Lichtenstein, 1818, must be seen as a junior synonym of Glaucidium brasilianum.
By contrast zu Wied (1830) observed that Strix pumila Temminck, 1821 (Fig. 4) was not based on the Paraguayan bird and that it depicted his new Brazilian taxon Strix minutissima. However, the name Glaucidium minutissimum was used by Peters (1940: 129) and treated as available adding ‘not Strix pumilum Lichtenstein, 1818’. Reversal of precedence is denied by Art. 23.9.1 (ICZN 1999), where both conditions are met.
The name Strix pumila Temminck, 1821, is a junior homonym of Strix pumila Lichtenstein, 1818, and as such is invalid despite its availability (see Art. 10.6, ICZN 1999).
We are most grateful to Jan van Tol for his advice on the relevance of Art. 10.6 of the Code. Steven Gregory helped greatly with the quality of the images. We are also grateful to two referees who suggested improvements which we have incorporated along with two extra references.