What’s in a Title? – 10,000 Birds

David Tomlinson

The current announcement by the American Ornithological Society that it intends to exchange names of all birds named after individuals has brought on fairly a stir right here within the UK. There are lots of who assume that the entire concept is ridiculous, whereas others consider that it’s lengthy overdue. Name me quaint in the event you like, however I slightly like many of those previous names, as they put a little bit of color and curiosity into birding, particularly in the event you trouble to research who precisely the birds are named after. Descriptive names are all very effectively, however there are already no fewer than 25 birds with the prefix thick-billed, 39 with collared, 50 crested, almost 100 widespread and greater than 200 with chestnut within the identify. As for black, effectively, there are such a lot of with black that I couldn’t face including them up. We don’t want any extra.

Black Francolin – one among a number of hundred birds with black in its identify

OK, almost all the individuals who had birds named after them had been white, usually wealthy and sometimes colonialists, military officers or explorers, however there’s hardly a uninteresting particular person amongst them, and all had been merchandise of their time. We are able to’t change historical past, whereas many of those chaps (there’s not many ladies) had been excellent area ornithologists, although it needs to be admitted that the majority of them shot the birds that took their names. They didn’t, after all, have the luxurious of the incredible trendy optics we take as a right at present.

I’ve a captivating little reference e-book referred to as Whose Fowl? written by Bo Beolens and Michael Watkins, revealed by Christopher Helm in 2003. It’s stuffed with fascinating information. It notes that there are round 1,000 individuals who have had birds named after them, however no fewer than three of them – Frank Linsly James, Eugenio Prince Ruspoli and Johan August Wahlberg – had been killed by elephants, not a typical type of dying. Amassing birds was clearly a harmful pastime. Johann Georg Wagner has seven birds named after him, from a chachalaca to a woodpecker, however would he have discovered extra if hadn’t by chance shot himself whereas out gathering?

Wagner wasn’t the one one to have died from gunshot wounds. So, too, did Captain Meriwether Lewis, (he of woodpecker fame), however to this present day no person is aware of whether or not he was shot or dedicated suicide. One other Captain, John Speke (Speke’s Weaver), was killed by his personal shotgun when climbing a stile whereas out capturing in England, a tragic finish for the person who was the primary European to see Lake Victoria (which he named after Queen Victoria). Victoria, by the way, had three birds named after, and she or he didn’t shoot any of them. 

Each Bewick’s Swan (high) and Whistling Swan (above) are actually often known as Tundra Swan

Right here within the UK now we have just a few birds named after individuals, of which probably the most notable is Bewick’s Swan. Thomas Bewick was a gifted wooden engraver whose work so impressed Audubon that he named a North American wren after him. Presumably below AOS guidelines he’ll lose his wren quickly. His swan is mostly identified in trendy guides as a Tundra Swan, because it’s thought to be a race of the North American Whistling Swan. Nevertheless, most of us nonetheless name it a Bewick’s.

There will not be, so far as I do know, any plans to re-name the Montagu’s Harrier, a chicken that’s now an actual rarity within the UK that solely sometimes breeds right here. The truth that this lovely chicken is called after an adulterous English military officer who died over 200 years in the past doesn’t fear me in any respect, however maybe it ought to. It was Montagu who first realised that the “Ring-tail hawk” and the grey male Hen Harrier had been the identical species, and that the chicken he referred to as the Ash-coloured Falcon was a distinct species to the Hen Harrier, a powerful achievement at the moment. 

I think that Montagu might be fortunate to hold on to his harrier, as his identify is prone to change into more and more unacceptable. He didn’t, so far as I do know, have any connections to the slave commerce, however not solely did he go off with one other man’s spouse, resulting in being court-martialled and thrown out of the military, he additionally suffered the indignity of being sued by his personal son.

North America has way more birds named after individuals than we do in Europe, the place’s there may be solely round 50, and most of these are scarce or restricted in vary. Plenty of birds named after individuals do wander repeatedly to the British Isles, together with Temminck’s Stint (a daily however scarce migrant), Pallas’s Warbler (one other uncommon however annual migrant) and Steller’s Eider (very uncommon). Although I’m not a twitcher, I’ve come throughout each Forster’s Tern and Wilson’s Phalarope in England, each North American vagrants. Johann Forster was apparently a nasty piece of labor with a fame for being a complainer and troublemaker, so doesn’t actually deserve his tern. The phalarope was named after Alexander Wilson, a Scot who is commonly thought to be the founding father of American ornithology. He’s bought seven birds named after him, however not for for much longer. 

Wilson continues to be commemorated by the Wilson Ornithological Society, one of many oldest ornithological societies on the earth: it was established 1888. In keeping with its web site “The Wilson Ornithological Society Council is glad to share our enthusiastic assist for the current resolution made by the American Ornithological Society about English names.” It’s not, apparently, planning to alter its personal identify, although one touch upon the Society’s web site reads: “Are you planning to drop Wilson’s 4 eponymous birds out of your journal and web site logos? Whilst you’re at it, why not rename the society, too. Then we are able to cancel that previous white man Wilson utterly.” One other remark reads “Apparently a few of my fellow ornithologists don’t have sufficient to do.”

There are comparatively few European birds named after ladies. Eleonora’s Falcon was named by Italian naturalist Alberto della Marmora after Eleonora of Arborea (1350-1404), a celebrated Sardinian princess. Eleonora’s Falcons nonetheless breed on Sardinia at present. It’s a glamorous identify for one of the vital elegant of birds. The identical can’t actually be mentioned of Thekla’s Lark (pictured above). Christian Ludwig Brehm, a German ornithologist, named the lark after his solely daughter. Sadly, she died the identical 12 months (1858) that he described it.

Cetti’s warbler is called after an Italian Jesuit priest, Fr Francesco Cetti
Audouin’s Gull takes its identify from a French naturalist, Jean Victoire Audouin

Girl Amherst’s pheasant is hardly a European species, although a small launched inhabitants survived within the English county of Bedfordshire till lately. This placing pheasant was named after Sarah Countess Amherst, whose husband Lord Amherst despatched the primary specimen of the chicken to London in 1828. I’ve no concept whether or not she was as lovely because the pheasant that also bears her identify: I prefer to assume that maybe she was, nevertheless it appears unlikely, because the pheasant is a stunner. Nevertheless, the truth that Lord Amherst was Governor Normal of Bengal from 1822 till 1828 (and thus a white colonialist) in all probability makes commemorating his spouse in such a manner unacceptable at present.

Important studying for anybody within the individuals who have birds named after them are two books written by husband-and-wife staff Barbara and Richard Mearns: Biographies for Birdwatchers, The Lives of these Commemorated in Western Palearctic Fowl Names, and the North American equal, Audubon to Xantus. The previous was first revealed in 1988, and has lately been closely revised and prolonged. Reviewing it within the October subject of the journal British Birds, Nigel Redman commented “I discover the tales of ornithologists of the previous fascinating, and I feel it will be a disgrace to exchange eponyms with far more mundane descriptive names.” Fairly agree, however I do recognize that many individuals don’t.

(Simply in case you might be questioning, the header {photograph} is of a Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture, one among eight birds the German collector Wilhelm Rüppell has named after him. For those who assume seven is rather a lot, Dutch ornithologist Conrad Temminck has no fewer than 17, as does William Swainson. Charles Darwin has 20, of which the bulk, not surprisingly, are finches from the Galapagos. The 2 Sclaters, father and son, have 22, although not all are in widespread utilization at present, however the report is held by British ornithologist and artist William Gould, with an astonishing 24. Once more, most of them are not usually use at present.)

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