Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Name Dropping

I realised I’d not posted in almost a week. In fact I’ve hardly birded in almost seven days since the weather took a severe turn for the worse with almost constant rain and wind. It’s much the same today with yet more forecast for the remainder of the week. So for today here’s filler for the blog until such time as I can get out birding or ringing. 

It was last week when deliberating over two very similar looking but geographically separated species the UK Coal Tit and the North American Black-capped Chickadee that I had reason to ponder their respective scientific names - Parus ater and Poecile atricapillus. 

For many birdwatchers the scientific names of birds are a bit of a bore, at best a riddle and of interest only to scientists who speak Latin. But as well as a means of allowing people throughout the world to communicate unambiguously about birds they almost always give an insight into the origins of the name. Here are some I gleaned from both the Internet and books. 

There’s a question that often crops up on TV quizzes, one designed to trap the unwary. Which bird has the Latin name Puffinus puffinus? The correct but slightly confusing answer is of course Manx Shearwater. In days gone by the word “puffin” was a synonym for a shearwater and not the unrelated seabird Atlantic Puffin, hence it was the shearwater which earned the Latin title of Puffinus puffinus

The “manx” refers to the species’ former abundance on the Calf of Man a small island lying to the south of the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, while "shearwater” describes the birds’ mode of flight which skims or shears the water. 

Manx Shearwater - Puffinus puffinus

The scientific/Latin name for Wigeon is Anas penelope. I’m somewhat disappointed that the name for such a gorgeous duck should simply mean duck-duck. It’s from the Latin and Greek respectively. 

Wigeon - Anas penelope

Would anyone who has slept under a duck down duvet by way of feathers plucked from an Eider duck Somateria mollissima disagree with the Latin meaning “very soft woolly body”? 

Eider -  Somateria mollissima

Now for an easy one, Barn Owl. Tyto alba simply means white owl. I think we can all agree on that one for the often ghostly apparition.

Barn Owl - Tyto alba

One might think that the rustica element of the Latin name Hirundo rustica refers to the reddish forehead, throat or the often pink underparts of our common Swallow. In fact it means a rural or rustic swallow. The Swallow is a bird which graces our countryside for a few short months of the year. Long may it continue to do so until the politicians succeed in concreting over the entire landscape of England. 

Swallow - Hirundo rustica

I’ve not heard of any Bohemian Waxwings Bombycilla garrulus finding their way to the UK this autumn, but if they are around soon I’ll be looking out for the “chattering silk-tails” that their Latin name describes. The Bohemian part of their common name tells us the species’ wandering habits were reminiscent of tribes of gypsies or Bohemians. 

Waxwing -  Bombycilla garrulus

The Phylloscopus collybita of Chiffchaff breaks down as Phylloscopus a leaf-watcher, and collybita originating from a word meaning money-changer. The clicking, repetitive sound of the Chiffchaff’s song was thought to resemble the sound of coins being clinked together. 

That’s a really interesting if somewhat esoteric explanation which may or may not be the truth. Readers should think about that one in the Springtime while watching and listening to a Chiffchaff in the tree canopy.

Chiffchaff -  Phylloscopus collybita

There was a Jay Garrulus glandarius in my garden this week, taking a break from raiding the young oak tree in a neighbours garden. Jays are often silent but “acorn-eating chatterer” would apply on many occasions. 

Jay - Garrulus glandarius 

Please excuse my bout of name dropping today. It's not something I normally do or even like to hear,  but hopefully there will be more posts and news soon. 

In the meantime stray tuned to Another Bird Blog.

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.



13 comments:

Stuart Price said...

You're a man of many talents Phil, bird-ringer and latin speaker to name but two of many!

Ana Mínguez Corella said...

Nice series of pics. .Congrats and regards..

eileeninmd said...

Hello Phil, I agree with Stuart above, you are talented. I can not imagine learning how to pronounce and spell the latin name of all these birds. Awesome photos, I love your beautiful Jay! Happy Tuesday, enjoy your day!

David Gascoigne said...

I never find scientific names boring and I pride myself that I know most North American birds by their Latin nomenclature. Other birds around the world....now that's a different matter! The kind of weather you are describing, although miserable, seems like a decent opportunity to do a little seawatching.

Findlay Wilde said...

Fantastic pictures.

Linda said...

Another gorgeous series, Phil! And it is one thing for me to see an owl, but an owl in flight is quite an accomplishment! Fantastic!

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

I thought this was fun. A beautifully illustrated birding class! I know nothing about the Scientific names, but I enjoy learning more ( or trying to). We've seen cedar waxwings ... Even I can probably figure out the first part of that one. Your Jay is lovely and soft ... And if he isn't noisy, he's definitely different from ours in that way as well. Have never seen a chaffinch, but now I feel like I'd recognize him by sight and sound. If I should ever be fortunate enough to bird on your side of the pond.

Marie C said...

Loved this post! It was so interesting learning all the confusing different Latin names. And seeing the beautiful photos. That money-changer doesn't look like an avaricious bird! :-)

Wally Jones said...

Well, that was interesting and fun! Almost makes me wish for inclement weather so I can discover more neat scientific stuff. Almost ...

Here's hoping your weather soon breaks for the better, Phil!

Margaret Adamson said...

Beautiful series of images

Nathalie Santa Maria said...

Très belle série. Grand bravo

June Caedmon said...

I'm a big fan of the meanings and origins (or etymology) of words, so I enjoyed this post very much, Phil. Thank you!

Mary Cromer said...

Oh Fun Fun, saw this post on my Blogger link up a minute ago and had to stop back by. I love all of these birds, but especially the wonderful Barn owl, Swallow and oh my that is one glorious Waxwing! I have just a trace of ours that remain and watched a few from a short distance the other day eat and then drink in my cold creek water and got not a single share...too many branches between us and I just wanted to take it all in. Thank you for always sharing as you are able~

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