As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Blackcap, redstart, yellowhammer: what’s in a bird’s name?



The author of a new book on the history of birds’ names found tales of conquest, myth and human endeavour

Sun 29 Apr 2018 00.05 BST

It’s easy to assume, with bird names, that we know what they mean, and often that assumption is quite correct. Woodpeckers peck wood, bee-eaters feed on bees, and whitethroats are indeed white around the neck.

Other names seem almost wilfully obscure: what on Earth does the name puffin mean? Or hobby? Why are turtle doves named after reptiles? And don’t get me started on some of the more bizarre bird names found around the world – from oleaginous hemispingus to zitting cisticola, leaflove to hardhead, and bananaquit to bearded mountaineer.

Yet, as I discovered when I was researching my new book on the origins of bird names, if you dig deep enough, you unearth all sorts of fascinating stories about what the names mean, where they came from and, especially, the men and women who created them.

The origin of some names may, at first, seem obvious, yet are not quite as straightforward as they appear. Take the simplest of all English bird names: blackbird. It’s a bird, and it’s black. Isn’t that all we need to know?

But what about the crow, rook, raven and jackdaw? All of these would have been very familiar to our ancestors, and all appear – at least from a distance – to be black in colour. So why was just one species singled out as the “blackbird”


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