Here’s to You, Bird Taxonomists!

We’re often scornful of bird taxonomists. Most often this is due their use of nomenclature…the bird names they come up with. These bird names can frequently be counter-intuitive. We find bird names that do not appear to describe what our eyes tell us. We even see bird names that use obscure (even bizarre) terminology.  For example:

The Green Heron isn’t really green; at least no one would ever say, ‘Hey, look at that green heron over there.’

Green Heron: photo from public domain

The Mistletoe-Paltry-Mistletoe Tyrannulet; Taxonomists changed the perfectly named Mistletoe Tyrannulet (so named because this little bird is often found eating Mistletoe/Mata Palo berries) to the bizarrely named Paltry Tyrannulet. Paltry?  Isn’t that a term most often associated with a weekly salary?  ‘How am I supposed to live on this paltry sum?’  To their credit, the taxonomists changed it back a couple of years ago!

The Gartered Trogon?  Gartered? Aren’t garters something from the era of Jane Austin and Arthur Conan Doyle?  What was wrong with Violaceous Trogon?  

Yes, taxonomist decisions often vex us.  In return we give them a lot of heat.  So maybe it’s time we turn down the heat…let’s now give these troubled (and possibly lonely) souls some love.  Please join me and raise a glass of cheer to some of the wonderful bird names the taxonomists have come up with over the years.  Here are a few bird names that fit that particular bird to a TEE!

Roadside Hawk: My guess is the office-bound taxonomists were staring down at the skin of this bird but were stumped to come up with a name.  The head taxonomist probably decided to ask a field biologist for some insight; ‘Hey,’ they asked.   ‘Where do you find these hawks?’ and the simple answer from the field biologist came back, ‘We always find them alongside a road.’  Hence, the perfect name was born…a name based on the bird’s behavior.  This same process likely occurred with our next bird.

Roadside Hawk: photo courtesy of Helen LeVasseur

Social Flycatcher: ‘’These birds’ replied the field biologist when asked by the taxonomist, ‘like to hang out around people and with other members of their clan.’  And a great name was born.

Social Flycatcher: photo courtesy of Julie Girard

Double-striped Thick-knee: Looks like a giant Plover or shore bird with a couple of stripes but it has tremendously thick knees.  Voila, a great name.

Double-striped Thickknee: photo from public domain

And my favorite of all taxonomist christened bird names: the Eye-ringed Flatbill.  The entire name is a perfect descriptor of this otherwise bland appearing bird.   Both the eye ring and the flat shaped bill are quite prominent.  Here’s my theory as to how such a perfect name was able to get through the traditional taxonomist sticky nomenclature web……..It was about 10 minutes to 5pm on a Friday.  The annual Bird Taxonomists’ Ball and Cotillion was scheduled to begin at 7pm.  So, rather than come up with an obscure, counter-intuitive name for this bird the head taxonomist just threw up his hands and said, ‘Oh hell, just called it an Eye-ringed Flatbill and let’s go to the party.

Eye-ringed Flatbill: photo from public domain

Bird Taxonomists…here’s to you!  Who else could come up with over a dozen different names for the color RED.