We’ve given birds some pretty bizarre names. Does the Secretarybird (right) take notes? Who does the Wandering Tattler tattle on? Do chatterers and babblers ever shut up?
Then there are the names that must have come from examining a stuffed specimen in hand. How often do you see the orange crown of an Orange-crowned Warbler?
I think sometimes ornithologists simply run out of ideas. Woodpeckers can be Rufous-bellied, Rufous-headed, Red-headed, Red-crowned, Golden-crowned, Golden-fronted (left), Golden-tailed, Golden-naped, Golden-cheeked, Yellow-crowned, Yellow-tufted, Yellow-fronted, White-fronted, Brown-fronted, Brown-capped, Gray-capped, Gray, Gray-headed, Gray-breasted, Gray-and-buff, Black-and-buff, Buff-rumped, Buff-spotted, Orange-backed, Green-backed, White-backed, White-fronted, … the list goes on and on. Maybe they ran out of colors and/or body parts when they got to the Beautiful Woodpecker!
Woodpeckers aren’t the only beautiful birds. There is also a Beautiful Fruit-dove, hummingbird, treerunner, jay, nuthatch, sibia, sunbird, rosefinch and firetail.
Then there are the hybrid names that totally confuse me. I know what an eagle is, and I recognize an owl, but what’s an eagle-owl? Or a hawk-owl? Chats are warblers, and tyrant flycatchers include our local Western Kingbird, but how can you combine them into a chat-tyrant? I also discovered the robin-chat, quail-thrush, quail-dove, shrike-flycatcher, shrike-tit, cuckoo-shrike, cuckoo-dove, and hawk-cuckoo.
Some species are named after their favorite meal. It seems that a lot of birds eat ants, not surprising for so numerous an insect. There are antvireos, andwrens, antbirds, antpitas, antpeckers, and antshrikes. (That last one produces a mental image of an ant impaled on a thorn.) Then we have bee-eaters, spiderhunters, flycatchers, and gnatcatchers. Fruiteaters, berrypickers, flowerpeckers, seedeaters, and honeyeaters are presumably vegans (unless they snatch a bug or two while no one is looking).
Sometimes, the names make perfect sense. Woodpeckers do indeed peck wood. I can only assume that earthcreepers are ground birds, treerunners, woodcreepers, and treehunters are found in trees, and foliage-gleaners hunt their prey among the leaves.
There are a lot of birds which are unfamiliar to us here in North America. I had a bit of fun picking out some of the more whimsical names, then adding a few of my own. So here’s a little quiz. Can you figure out which are the real birds, and which are the ones I made up? Good luck, and the answer will appear next Monday.
- Bare-faced Go-away-bird
- Bare-faced Lyrebird
- Bearded Guan
- Colorful Puffleg
- Familiar Chat
- Freckled Duck
- Giggling Guan
- Green Hermit
- Horned Screamer
- Invisible Rail
- Large Frogmouth
- Lark-like Brushrunner
- Laughing Falcon
- Macaroni Penguin
- Mysterious Starling
- New Zealand Kaka
- See-see Partridge
- Singing Quail
- Spectacled Tyrant
- Spotted Shag (rug?)
- Streaky-breasted Flufftail
- Zigzag Heron
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