posted October 19th, 2009; last edited November 5th, 2009 –– David Sibley

Obsolete Bird Names

Have you seen any Field Plovers lately? Blue Nutcrackers? Day Owls? These are all alternate common names of North American birds. Richard Banks has assembled a complete list of outdated English names of North American birds along with the current official names for those species, and it makes a great resource to find out what early authors meant, as well as just fun browsing. You can read it at Obsolete English Names of Birds and their Modern Equivalents.

If only there was a similar resource for North American plants.

4 comments to Obsolete Bird Names

  • Sarah

    Hi,

    I was thinking about old bird names this morning when I saw a Solitary Vireo…oops, I mean a Blue-Headed Vireo. (I still identify its song by its one-at-a-time 'solitary' phrases.) The vireo was in with a bunch of Myrtle Warblers…oops, I mean Yellow-rumped Warblers. That was after I saw the young Marsh Hawk…um, Northern Harrier. Oh, and I saw a Duck Hawk, too — make that a Peregrine! Well, it was a good morning. Read it here: http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/2009/10/traffic-stops.html

  • Lindsey

    Thanks for posting this, being a birder who is only 27 I am not familiar with a lot of the older names so this was interesting. The old names for American Bittern are so fitting for their call! I do wonder how old the list is though, I noticed Solitary Vireo is still in the new list, and had to double-check my recently printed bird books regarding Rufous-sided Towhee (which I and the books currently refer to as the Eastern), and 'Baltimore' for Baltimore Oriole is considered old.

    I've had plenty of fun with 'common' names for birds. I went on a birding trip with an old guide who was unsure of what a Blue-headed Vireo was, as he's from the Solitary camp. Nonbirders in my area regularly still call American Goldfinches "wild canaries." A young fellow birder is unsure of whether to use "Yellow-rumped" or Myrtle" every time he talks to me. And last night it took me about 20 minutes to realize the "snowbirds" nonbirders were talking about were my beloved Dark-eyed Juncos!

  • David Sibley

    Hi Lindsey, Yes, apparently this list hasn't been updated to show some of the recent name changes like Eastern Towhee and the reversion to Baltimore and Bullock's Orioles.

    And thanks to a post by David La Puma on the NJ listserv I learned a new one that's missing from this list: Brotherly-love Greenlet for Philadelphia Vireo.
    From Webster's Online dictionary:
    Greenlet -One of numerous species of small American singing birds, of the genus Vireo, as the solitary, or blue-headed (Vireo solitarius); the brotherly-love (V. Philadelphicus); the warbling greenlet (V. gilvus); the yellow-throated greenlet (V. flavifrons) and others.

  • Kirk Mona

    Cool list. I think some of the older ones are more fun sometimes. Though it isn't even mentioned on the list, I still prefer Timberdoodle over American Woodcock.

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