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….

treeswallows
Tree Swallows

Answers:

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.

Bird Names, Part 2

We continue looking at the 10,721 species names from the updated Clements taxonomy. Well, not all of them at once, but various interesting subsets. Previously we looked at the number of words in bird names, comparing their structure with human names and “surnames.”

A natural step from here is to look at an even more direct intersection: species named after people.

This is a terrible way to name a bird, I think. Honoring the individual that first described a bird is all well and good, and can be done in the latin name, as is often the case. But the common names that birders must commit to memory should be descriptive, and I submit that there is simply nothing descriptive in the name “Ludlow’s Fulvetta,” for example.

Here are some trivia questions to get us thinking about these matters:

Question #1:

Of the 10,721 species, how many are named after people?

(a) 498

(b) 828

(c) 1,333

(d) 203


Question #2:

How many different individuals have birds named after them (with a name of the form “Ludlow’s Fulvetta”)?

(a) 92

(3) 221

(c) 506

(d) 788


Question #3:

Which one individual has the most species named after them?


Question  #4:

Following up to the above question, how many species were named after this person?


When naming a bird after a person, the name is almost always of the form “Wilson’s Warbler”; it uses a possessive adjective. There are, however, 21 species that are named after specific people, but that do not use this form.

Question #5:

Can you give an example of a species named in honor of a specific person, but which does not use an apostrophe in the spelling?


Bonus Question #6:

Provide a species name which references a human name, although the bird is not named specifically for them.


EdwardBlyth
The answer to Question #3 is pictured here. Sadly, he did not work on neotropical birds, and so did not get to have a Tuftedcheek named after him.

Answers

1: Of the 10,721 species, how many are named after people?

(b) 828, by my accounting. There are 806 birds in Clements that have an apostrophe, not including the Chuck-will’s-widow, which is not named after someone called Chuck-will. See the answer to number 5 below for the other birds.

2: How many different individuals have birds named after them?

(c) 506 that use the possessive form, see the answer to number 5 for the others.

3: Which one individual has the most species named after them?

The individual with the most species named after him is Edward Blyth (1810-1873)

4: Following up to the above question, how many species were named after this person?

Mr. Blyth has 12 species, per the Clements taxonomy:

Blyth’s Tragopan
Blyth’s Frogmouth
Blyth’s Swift
Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle
Blyth’s Hornbill
Blyth’s Kingfisher
Blyth’s Shrike-Babbler
Blyth’s Paradise-Flycatcher
Blyth’s Reed Warbler
Blyth’s Leaf Warbler
Blyth’s Pipit
Blyth’s Rosefinch

By the way, the Top Ten, and the number of species they each have, are:

Blyth 12
Cassin 9
Pallas 8
Hume 8
Finsch 8
Jerdon 8
Salvadori 8
Shelley 8
Rüppell 8
Temminck 7

5: Can you give an example of a species named in honor of a specific person, but which does not use an apostrophe in the spelling?

I have found 22 species instances where a species is named in honor of a specific person, but the name is not of the form “Johnson’s Wren.” There are fourteen people involved:

  • Victoria Crowned-Pigeon (for Queen Victoria, who else? She also has the Victoria‘s Riflebird)
  • Gouldian Finch (for ornithologist John Gould’s wife)
  • Blackburnian Warbler (for the botanist Anna Blackburne)
  • Alexandrine Parakeet (for Alexander the Great)
  • Derbyan Parakeet (for Edward Stanley, 13th Earl of Derby)
  • There are seven “Magellanic” birds: Penguin, Plover, Oystercatcher, Diving-Petrel, Cormorant, Woodpecker, and Tapaculo (for Ferdinand Magellan)
  • Goliath Coucal and Goliath Heron (for the noted gargantuan Philistine and sling-victim)
  • Mikado Pheasant (for the Emperor of Japan)
  • Montezuma Quail and Oropendola (for the Aztec Emperor)
  • Narcissus Flycatcher (for the mythological narcissist)
  • Narina Trogon (name of Francois Levaillant’s mistress)
  • Princess Parrot (for Princess Alexandra of Denmark)
  • Raggiana Bird-of-Paradise (for the Marquis Francis Raggi of Genoa)
  • Zenaida Dove (for Zénaïde Laetitia Julie Bonaparte, wife of the French ornithologist Charles Lucien Bonaparte and niece of Napoleon Bonaparte)

6: Provide a species name which references a human name, although the bird is not named specifically for them.

This happens when the bird name references a place that was named after a person. There are over 48 names in this category:

Baltimore Oriole, Hudsonian Godwit, Colombian Grebe, Bolivian Spinetail, Juan Fernandez Tit-Tyrant, Lord Howe Swamphen (extinct), Santa Marta Warbler, San Andres Vireo, Virginia Rail, St. Lucia Black Finch, Henderson Island Reed Warbler, Bismarck Black Myzomela, Nashville Warbler, Atherton Scrubfowl, Chatham Albatross, Crozet Shag, Geelvink Pygmy-Parrot, Gough Island Finch, Gough Moorhen, Gunnison Sage-Grouse, Heard Island Shag, Humboldt Penguin, Isabela Oriole, Isabelline* Shrike, Kimberley Honeyeater, King-of-Saxony Bird-of-Paradise, Macquarie Shag, Magdalena Antbird, Mascarene Coot, Mauritius Blue-Pigeon, Nariño Tapaculo, Nightingale Island Finch, Norfolk Ground Dove, Noronha Elaenia, Pitt Island Shag, Rennell Fantail, Rodrigues Fody, Rondonia Bushbird, Rote Leaf Warbler, Solomons Boobook, St. Helena Crake, St. Lucia Oriole, St. Vincent Parrot, Stephens Island Wren, Stewart Island Shag, Sucre Antpitta, Torresian Crow, Wake Island Rail, Wallacean Drongo, Wonga Pigeon, and Zapata Rail. Two species are named after Esmereldas, the northernmost province of Ecuador:  a Woodstar and an Antbird. This refers to “emeralds” and not the  name of anyone.

*The origin of the color isabelline is not clear. There is a disputed story that it refers to the color of the undergarments of either Isabella I of Castille or Isabella Clara Eugena of Spain. The hue became distinctive because it resulted from the discolored underclothes never being removed from the royal person for months or years due to an ongoing siege.

Bird Names, Part 1

We form most bird names in the same way we name people. 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: for example, 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?

The Clements taxonomy was recently updated for 2019, and it now includes 10,721 species. It seemed like a good time to go through them all and to revel in the nomenclature, classification, and general nerdiness that lies at the intersection of birding and logophilia. So I have been writing 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. Perhaps that is too optimistic. In any case, I’m making this post, and several that will follow, into a quiz. 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. With humans, these are generally entertainers and such, so I tend not to know much about them: Sting, Pele, Shakira, Ichiro, etc.

With birds, having a 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, such as “Northern Cardinal”? The overwhelming majority: 9821, or just under 92%.

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?

Just as with human names, we expect that certain avian “surnames” will be more common: the Johnsons and Smiths, for example.

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 don’t 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