The Bird Meme: Day 28

Day 28: Favorite bird name


Nomenclature and I go back a long ways. I can get picky about the names of everything from a super-hero to an album, from a sports team to a small town, so believe me, there are plenty of things I can say about the names of birds.

For one thing, there's the important fact that we are discussing names, plural. Each bird species has at the very least a scientific name, a/k/a the Latin binomial from the system devised by Linnaeus, and a common name used by the people who live in its habitat. And should that habitat extend over an area where the people speak more than one language, well, you're going to have to decide whether you want to talk about Alauda arvensis, an Alouette, or a Skylark. 

For myself, I'll just note that even though I do love some binomials dearly--Troglodytes troglodytes, Pica pica, and Upopa epops are all high on the list--I think this discussion is best reserved for common names, and only those in English, since this is the category with which I am by far the most familiar. Indeed, I think I'll even limit myself to the North American birds, rather than create an argument over whether the New World birds named after Old World birds--Robin, Redstart, Magpie, etc.--have better names on one side of the pond or not. With those caveats, let's consider the issue: would a Rosy-finch by any other name smell as sweet?

For the most part, American bird names are functional rather than elegant. Some are bluntly descriptive: Yellow-throated Warbler, Black Phoebe, Red-throated Loon. Some describe the habitat where the bird will likely be seen: Spruce Grouse, Mississippi Kite, Mountain Chickadee. A handful are named after the bird's call: Killdeer, Bobwhite, Whip-Poor-Will) and a fair number are given eponymous names to honor a naturalist who described them (Audubon's Shearwater, Lewis's Woodpecker, Harris's Hawk.) Few American birds receive names that demonstrate any real creativity, but here's a quick list of some that do--my Top Ten of American Bird Names:

10. Brown Creeper
9. Snowy Egret
8. Hermit Thrush
7. Prothonotary Warbler
6. Razorbill
5. Evening Grosbeak
4. Loggerhead Shrike (who should really be a Dickens character)
3. Yellowhammer (which isn't officially the Northern Flicker's name, but a nickname I love)
2. Magnificent Frigatebird

And at number one? The best name altogether combines a basic functionality (describing the bird's color and behavior) with a perfectly assembled set of phonemes that make it sound even cooler than it is. This is a bird whose name might well have been chosen by Jack Kirby for a guest character in an old Avengers comic. (Though now that I think about it, I can actually imagine Kirby having Captain America locked in mortal combat against the Brown Creeper, or pitting Iron Man against the man called... RAZORBILL.!) 

You simply will not find any name cooler than... 

Black Vegetable.jpg
Oh, all right. The Black Skimmer, then.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on October 19, 2017 9:05 PM.

The Bird Meme: Day 27 was the previous entry in this blog.

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