Bird Names, Part 3

Good bird names are descriptive. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher is a wonderful name; it describes a feature and a behavior. It includes a color, and that is even better. A very rough estimate suggests that at least 3,000 or so birds have some kind of color included in their name (I’m working on an exact count). This can show up in many ways, such as a general, overall descriptor (“Indigo Bunting”), part of a full name (“Yellowthroat”), a specific feature (“Red-headed Woodpecker”), one of several colors (“Black-and-white Warbler”), or my favorite, one that includes a useless hyphen (“Little Green-Pigeon”, an example which seems particuarly silly given that there was also a “Spotted Green Pigeon” which was green with yellow spots… why is hyphen use not consistent?!)

Question # 1:

So…which color most commonly shows up in bird names?

(The featured image for this page is a very sneaky, devious hint. That really wasn’t very nice, but I didn’t want to give the answer away too easily.)

Question # 2:

About how many species include this most common color?

(a) 153

(b) 211

(c) 346

(d) 508

(e) 698

At the other extreme, there are colors which only rarely make it into bird names. The question below features a few examples.

Question #3:

Each of the these colors appear in at least one bird name. But which one occurs just once?

(a) Cerulean

(b) Vermilion

(c) Salmon

(d) Viridian

Tree swallows


1: The most common color in a bird name is…. white.

2: (e) 698. If you include all names with “White” or “white” you will find 706, but we need to remove the following eight because they are not describing a color, but either a call (“Bobwhite”) or the proper name of the person for which they are named:

Northern Bobwhite, Black-throated Bobwhite, Crested Bobwhite, Whitehead’s Swiftlet, Whitehead’s Trogon, Whitehead’s Broadbill (shown in the featured image for this post), Whitehead’s Spiderhunter, White’s Thrush

Of the 698, only thirteen are “pure” white:

White Eared-Pheasant, White Tern, White Stork, American White Pelican, Great White Pelican, White Ibis, White Hawk, White Woodpecker, White Cockatoo, White Bellbird, White Monjita, White Helmetshrike, White Wagtail

For all the others, the term “white” describes some feature, such as “white-browed” or “white-throated,” etc.

3: (c) Salmon occurs just once, with the Salmon-crested Cockatoo. There are four cerulean birds, three vermilions, and two viridians.

Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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