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The Scientific Names of Birds

February 28, 2020

If you’ve ever wondered about the meaning, origin, or language of origin of a bird name, you need this book. If you write about birds and use their scientific names, you need this book. If you have an inquiring mind and the National Inquirer just isn’t doing it for you any more, you need this book.
The Details: The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names: From Aalge to Zusii. Jobling, James A., London, 2010. Christopher Helm, an imprint of A&C Black Publishers Ltd. 432 pages.

Reduced by 41% from the perfectly clear and legible PDF file.

I’ve had this book for at least ten years, maybe twenty, which is possible as my copy was published in 1991 by Oxford University Press. I’ve referred to it hundreds of times. This newer edition is 432 pages, 47% longer than the 293 pages of my edition, so a lot was added.

The introductory section was expanded and now contains a short glossary in addition to comments on codes of nomenclature, priority of names, homonyms, gender, grammar, abbreviations and symbols. The bibliography is seven pages longer.

The actual dictionary section is 132 pages (52%) longer. I won’t even attempt to figure out what was added, but I know that a lot of new species and name changes occurred in the twenty years between these two editions.

The book is available at the usual on-line places. You know their names. Price ranges from $50-75, depending on bookstore and condition of the book.

Now here’s the mysterious part to me. You can also download a PDF copy of the book, all 432 pages plus title pages and the colorful cover for nothing. That’s right. Nothing. The link above leads you to a PDF file on a website called Cite Seer X, which may (or may not) be a product of the Pennsylvania State University College of Information Services and Technology. Whatever. Perhaps the author decided to make the book available for free as it was out-of-print and he didn’t feel like writing a new edition.

The address is:

Reduced by 41% from the perfectly clear and legible PDF file.

Or you can click the link in the paragraph above.
Same difference.

A great companion to this book focuses exclusively on American birds, and is aptly titled: The Dictionary of American Bird Names, Revised Edition. Choate, Ernest A. Harvard and Boston, MA, 1985. The Harvard Common Press. 226 pages.

The dictionary of this book is divided into two sections: Common (English) Names and Scientific Names. The other book gives you only the Scientific name information.

From The Dictionary of American Bird Names:

Dunlin. AS dunn, “dark”; -lin (having dropped a terminal g), the diminutive suffix, giving us “the little dark one” for the bird in the breeding plumage. Formerly Red-backed Sandpiper. [Note: AS = Anglo-Saxon, circa 450-1200.]

Calidris. Merrem. Gr. calidris, “a gray speckled sandpiper.” The genera Crocethia, Eurentes, and Erolia are now merged in Calidris (1973). C. alpina (Linnaeus): DUNLIN or RED-BACKED SANDPIPER; L. alpina, “alpine,” for its breeding in an alpine-like climate which may be on the Arctic tundra as well as in the mountains. [Note: Merrem and Linnaeus created the scientific names to which they are attached. Gr. = Greek. L. = Latin.]

An Appendix gives short biographies of all the people for whom birds were named. For example, Anna’s Hummingbird was named for Anna, Duchess of Rivoli (1806-1896); wife of Prince Victor Massena, son of Marshal André Massena, Duc de Rivoli and Prince d’Essling, a marshal of France under Napoleon. John James Audubon met her in Paris in 1828 and was impressed by her beauty and charm. The type specimen of this bird was in the Duc’s collection, but in 1846 was acquired by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1846.

Now, don’t you feel better for knowing that?

There’s also a bibliography and a glossary of English bird names with their associated scientific names.

The American book is now 35 years old and may be hard to find. Buy one if you see it.
[Chuck Almdale]

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