One topic that never seems to grow old among birders is the subject of poorly-named or misnamed birds. If you go on a bird club outing with at least five people and happen to see a Red-bellied Woodpecker, I can guarantee that at least one person is going to say, “I don’t know why they call that bird a Red-bellied Woodpecker. I’ve seen hundreds of them over the years, and I’ve never seen any red on the belly.” And then there is the case of the Ring-necked Duck. I think that some birders are contractually obligated every time they see one of these birds to say, “They should really call that bird the Ring-BILLED Duck, not the Ring-NECKED Duck. Both the male and the female have a big white ring around their bills. Has anybody ever actually seen the ring on a Ring-neck?”
Although I understand birders’ complaints about these two bird names, these species are not actually misnamed, they’re just named for difficult-to-see field marks that were much more obvious to ornithologists who examined the species in the hand. The bird names that really frustrate me are those that are based on habitats or places where the given species rarely, or at best, infrequently, occurs. Two such names that come to mind right away are Prairie Warbler and Philadelphia Vireo. Prairie Warbler is found primarily in the eastern United States, with only a limited portion of its range occurring in the prairie regions of the central
It’s one thing for birders to be frustrated by bad bird names, but can you imagine how a poorly-named bird must feel? At best, having an inappropriate name given to you must be an annoyance, and at worst, it could even lead to an identity crisis. To gain more insight into this topic, I’ve actually arranged for some quotes from two Boreal-breeding warblers with decidedly non-Boreal namesâ€”Nashville Warbler and Connecticut Warbler. First, here are the thoughts from a Nashville Warbler:
“Sure, my official name is Nashville Warbler, but nobody that I know actually calls me that. All of my friends call me Ontario Warbler. I was born and raised here in the Boreal Forest of western
The Nashville Warbler seems a bit better adjusted about his name situation than our second guest, the Connecticut Warbler:
“Connecticut?!?! Where the $#@%$! is Connecticut? And what makes you think that I’d want to go there? The casinos and shopping malls? I prefer places that are a little less crowded, like spruce-tamarack bogs in central Manitoba. So if you want to call me anything, call me Manitoba Warbler. Or maybe just Boreal Warbler. After all, if you want to see me or one of my kind during the summertime, you better bring some bug spray and head to the Boreal, because that’s where 91% of us are. And don’t even give me that line about how we’re seen every fall in Connecticut. How many sightings are there? Five?!? Ten?!? The only “Connecticut” Warblers that I know that have ever been to that little state are my crazy Uncle Gord, his mate Emma, and their offspring. I think there must be some sort of genetic defect on that side of the family. So that explains about ten birds. What about the other 1,199,990 of us who don’t ever set foot there? Connecticut Warbler my cloaca!”
In next week’s entry, we’ll talk with a Palm Warbler who has legally changed her name to Peatlands Warbler.