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.

Friday 12 July 2013

Pathfinder: State bird neither lark nor bunting but takes the name of both

Pulling the trigger, John Kirk Townsend felled enough birds to preserve as specimens and to initiate a stream of controversies. It probably qualifies as an intermittent stream rather than as a steady stream, but it is a stream nevertheless.

A 24-year-old naturalist hired by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Townsend was paired with Thomas Nuttall, a 48-year-old English botanist. Together they crossed the continent to document its wildlife by collecting specimens. The year was 1834.

Somewhere along the North Platte River in what is now the panhandle of Nebraska, they encountered the birds. With a single shot Townsend killed several, which he called “prairie finch” in American English but in 1837 named “Fringilla bicolor,” following the Latin of biological convention.

And here the controversy begins almost 100 years after the story began.

Sometime in the interval of 1731-43, English naturalist Mark Catesby published a painting of a bird he had found while visiting the Bahamas in 1714. This bird he named “Passerculus bicolor.”

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