Bird Names, Part 1

Most bird names are like most people names. A first name, a last name. Something specific to differentiate from the more general. Burrowing Owl. Yellow Warbler. Mountain Chickadee. It’s always appreciated when the name tells you something about the bird, be it behavior, appearance, or habitat. Sometimes you get multiple clues: Malaysian Pied-Fantail tells you a lot.

If only all birds were named so well. Sharpe’s Akalat just does not describe much, does it?

With the Clements taxonomy being recently updated for 2019, it now includes 10,721 species. It seemed like a good time to go through them all and enjoy the nomenclature, classification, and general nerdiness that lies at the intersection of birding and logophilia. So I wrote up some Python scripts to parse the latest downloadable spreadsheets from eBird and look at the results. I find this sort of thing so much fun that I figure everyone else must as well. So I’m making this post, and several that will follow, into a quiz also. Answers are at the bottom.

Getting back to bird and people names, we’ll start with the mononyms, those odd cases where an individual has just a single name. These are generally entertainers and such, so I tend not to know much about them. Sting, Pele, Shakira, Ichiro, etc.

With birds, the mononym is equally rare. If we include bird names with a hyphen, such as Jacky-winter or Chuck-will’s-widow, there are 166 to consider. This is about 1.5% of all species. The number of mononyms that have no hyphens is 146.

Question #1:

Of these 146 pure mononymic names, how many have just one syllable?

Question #2:

How many monosyllabic species can you name? (Remember, an answer such as “Gull” does not count, as there is no such specific bird.)

So how many birds go with two-word names? The overwhelming majority: 9821, or just under 92%. And just as with human names, we expect that certain avian “surnames” will be more common: the Johnsons and Smiths, for example.

And then there are names with even more parts, but as is becoming clear, there cannot be very many along the lines of Great Blue Heron; after all, we’ve already accounted for 166+9,821=9,987 having names comprised of just one or two words.

Question #3:

The longest bird name(s) consist of how many words? Three? Four? Five? More?

So if we consider all bird names beyond the odd monosyllabic ones, we get to our first multiple choice entry:

Question #4:

Which is the most common “surname” for a bird? (This is not the same as asking which family is the largest, because many families have members with different “last names.” For example, both Tufted Duck and Lesser Scaup are in the duck family, but only one goes by Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. Duck at the office.)

(a) Warbler

(b) Flycatcher

(c) Bunting

(d) Tanager

(e) Woodpecker

(f) Sparrow

As stated above, the assumption here was that words could include a hyphen. I dont like hyphens; they muck things up. They are not applied consistently. For example, there are White-eyes, and then there is the Silvereye. Thick-Knees and Broadbills. Bee-eaters and Flycatchers. Cuckoo-Doves and Cuckooshrikes. Ant-Tanagers and Antwrens. That last one is particularly egregious. I don’t get it. Can someone explain this to me?

So what happens if we were to say that Catherine Zeta-Jones fully belongs to the Jones clan? That Mr. Sage-Grouse should go by the name of Mr. Grouse?

Question #5:

Repeat of #4, but after making hyphens into whitespace (or is it white-space?)

(a) Warbler

(b) Flycatcher

(c) Bunting

(d) Tanager

(e) Woodpecker

(f) Sparrow

That’s all for now. I’ve got some doozies planned for upcoming posts.
Easternspotbilledduck2
Eastern Spot-billed Duck, Tokyo

Answers:

#1: Fully six birds have monosyllabic names….

 

#2: And they are: Brant, Smew, Ruff, Mao, Rook, Twite

#3: No species has a name consisting of more than FOUR parts. And there are not very many of them. Here they are:

Rio de Janeiro Antbird
Rio de Janeiro Antwren
Gran Canaria Blue Chaffinch
Santa Cruz Ground Dove
Caroline Islands Ground Dove
St. Lucia Black Finch
Von der Decken’s Hornbill
Sri Lanka Gray Hornbill
North Island Brown Kiwi
Large St. Helena Petrel
Small St. Helena Petrel
New Guinea Flightless Rail
New Zealand King Shag
Abd al Kuri Sparrow
Serra do Mar Tyrannulet
Serra do Mar Tyrant-Manakin
Cape Verde Swamp Warbler
Southern Marquesan Reed Warbler
Henderson Island Reed Warbler
Cook Islands Reed Warbler
Society Islands Reed Warbler
Northern Marquesan Reed Warbler
Dja River Swamp Warbler
West Himalayan Bush Warbler
Sri Lanka Bush Warbler

So the breakout for three- and four-word names is:

709 three-word names (about 0.6%)
25 four-word names (well under 0.1%)

#4: The correct answer is (a) Warbler. Thanks to the Old and New World versions, there are 292. Here are the top 10 most common bird “surnames”:

Warbler 292

Flycatcher 232

Woodpecker 175

Tanager 143

Sunbird 129

Thrush 116

Parrot 110

White-eye 108

Honeyeater 98

Sparrow 94

 

#5: The correct answer is still (a) Warbler. Bracken-warblers, Rush-warblers, Grasshopper-warblers, Brush-warblers, and many others… all Warblers except for that damn hyphen!

Here are the top 10:

Warbler 332

Flycatcher 300

Owl 191

Dove 184

Woodpecker 177

Tanager 169

Babbler 161

Thrush 158

Pigeon 152

Parrot 145

Finally, a list of the 146 pure mononyms of the bird world. Hyphens not welcome here!

Emu
Brant
Garganey
Gadwall,
Mallard
Canvasback
Redhead
Hardhead
Bufflehead
Smew
Malleefowl
Maleo
Chukar
Dodo
Oilbird
Snowcap
Streamertail
Hoatzin
Weka
Sora
Watercock
Sungrebe
Limpkin
Brolga
Ibisbill
Killdeer
Wrybill
Whimbrel
Surfbird
Ruff
Sanderling
Dunlin
Willet
Dovekie
Razorbill
Kagu
Sunbittern
Jabiru
Anhinga
Shoebill
Hamerkop
Secretarybird
Osprey
Bateleur
Shikra
Besra
Morepork
Dollarbird
Merlin
Gyrfalcon
Kea
Kakapo
Galah
Cockatiel
Guaiabero
Budgerigar
Rifleman
Sapayoa
Capuchinbird
Sharpbill
Tui
Mao
Goldenface
Pilotbird
Rockwarbler
Fernwren
Scrubtit
Redthroat
Weebill
Chowchilla
Whitehead
Yellowhead
Pipipi
Morningbird
Brubru
Bokmakierie
Balicassiao
Apostlebird
Piapiac
Rook
Huia
Stitchbird
Tomtit
Verdin
Rockrunner
Millerbird
Spinifexbird
Malia
Thamnornis
Odedi
Bushtit
Wrentit
Silvereye
Goldcrest
Flamecrest
Wallcreeper
Coleto
Grandala
Kamao
Amaui
Olomao
Omao
Puaiohi
Geomalia
Veery
Redwing
Fieldfare
Silverbird
Bluethroat
Firethroat
Blackthroat
Whinchat
Blackstart
Kioea
Phainopepla
Palmchat
Hylocitrea
Hypocolius
Mistletoebird
Quailfinch
Locustfinch
Dunnock
Madanga
Brambling
Hawfinch
Akikiki
Kakawahie
Palila
Akohekohe
Apapane
Iiwi
Ou
Akiapolaau
Anianiau
Akekee
Twite
Yellowhammer
Wrenthrush
Bobolink
Ovenbird
Pyrrhuloxia
Dickcissel
Pardusco
Plushcap
Bananaquit
Orangequit

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s