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; an image comes to mind, it seems, much more readily when one can picture the coloration. A very rough estimate suggests that at least 3,000 or so birds have some kind of color included in their common name (I’m working on an exact count). This can show up in many ways, such as with a general, overall descriptor (“Indigo Bunting”), or as a part of a full name (“Yellowthroat”), or as part of a more specific, descriptive feature (“Red-headed Woodpecker”), or as one of several colors (“Black-and-white Warbler”), or my favorite, one that includes a useless hyphen (such as “Little Green-Pigeon”, an example which seems particularly silly given that there was also a “Spotted Green Pigeon” which was green with yellow spots… so why is hyphen use not consistent?!)

So with all that, here are a few trivia questions related to bird names that include specific colors.

Question # 1:

Which color most commonly shows up in bird names?

(The featured image for this page gives 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

Question #4:

Consider the birds which include the color black in their name. Which of the choices below is the most common?

(a) Black-throated

(b) Black-headed

(c) Black-bellied

(d) Black-vented

(e) Black-winged

Question #5:

Consider the birds which include the color white in their name. Which of the choices below is the most common?

(a) White-throated

(b) White-headed

(c) White-bellied

(d) White-eye(d)

(e) White-tailed

Question #6:

Consider the birds which include the color blue in their name. Which of the choices below is the most common?

(a) Blue-throated

(b) Blue-tailed

(c) Blue-headed

(d) Blue-breasted

(e) Blue-winged

More colors coming soon….

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

Interestingly, of the 698 birds with white in their name, only thirteen are “pure” white, that is, of the form “White X”:

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 of the 685 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.

4: (b) Black-headed, of which there are 45.

5: (d) White-eye(d), and it isn’t even close! There are 120 such birds.

6: (e) Blue-winged, of which there are 13.

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