Total Pageviews

Dec 3, 2010

Puffin a.k.a. Sea Parrot

I've always been curious about bird nicknames. In my last blog, below, I wrote about the Peregrine Falcon's epicurean taste for duck meat, so much so that long ago this raptor was called the Duck Hawk. It got me thinking and I did some checking. As my reference tool, I consulted a bird guide written almost 105 years ago, in 1906, by Charles A. Reed. It was published in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1910, although my own copy is a 1926 edition. I frankly think this guide is as good as the 1934 Roger Tory Petersen bird field guide; a book described as seminal and the first of its kind to spark the cataclysmic interest in birds and environmental protection in the 20th century. This is not meant to be an essay on etymology or onomastics, but just a light-hearted look at the simpler side of selected bird nicknames. In this case, the selected birds are from that old Chester Reed guide to "Water Birds, Game Birds and Birds of Prey East of the Rockies". Moving beyond the Peregrine then, let's begin with the...

1/ Western Grebe, a.k.a. SWAN GREBE, because of its extremely long neck.
2/ Eared Grebe, a.k.a. DEVIL DIVER, for its diving at the flash of a gun and swimming long distances before coming to the surface.
3/ Puffin, a.k.a. SEA PARROT, for its large, almost grotesque, red and yellow bill.
4/ Black Guillemot, a.k.a. SEA PIGEON, for sitting in rows on rocky ledges.
5/ Dovekie, a.k.a. SEA DOVE or ICE BIRD, for its abundancy in the far north and because it is sometimes blown inland and found with its feet frozen fast in the ice of some ponds and lakes.
6/ Ivory Gull, a.k.a. SNOW GULL, because it breeds in Arctic regions, further north than any other gull, except for the Ross's Gull. Whalers gave it the name Snow Gull.
7/ Forster Tern, a.k.a. SEA SWALLOW, for its resemblance in flight and form to swallows and their embodiment of grace in the air.
8/ Sooty Tern, a.k.a. EGG BIRD, because eggs of this bird were collected by the thousands for food in tropical islands.
9/ Greater Shearwater, a.k.a. HAGLET, so named by fishermen who noted their greedy and continuous quarreling in their flocks, over the lion's share of food.
10/ Storm-Petrel, a.k.a. MOTHER CAREY'S CHICKENS, because it seems to walk on water, in a flock, looking for food.
11/ Anhinga, a.k.a. SNAKE BIRD or AMERICAN DARTER, because it swims with its body submerged, with only its serpent-like head and neck visible, and also for its habit of perching in dense swamps and diving after fish, frogs and lizards, etc.
12/ Greater Scaup, a.k.a. BLUE BILL, for its blue bill.
13/ Bufflehead, a.k.a. BUTTER BALL, SPIRIT DUCK, DIPPER, etc., because of the speed with which it can disappear under the water.
14/ Ruddy Duck, a.k.a. BROAD-BILL DIPPER, BULL-NECK, BRISTLE-TAIL, all of which speak to some characteristic of its form.
15/ Fulvous Whistling Duck, a.k.a. LONG-LEGGED DUCK, for its long legs. In 1906, it was known as the Fulvous Tree Duck because it laid its eggs in tree hollows.
16/ American Bittern, a.k.a. STAKE-DRIVER, because of the peculiar pumping sound the male makes during the mating season.
17/ Limpkin, a.k.a.CRYING BIRD, for the odd wailing cries that they utter, day and night.
18/ Dowitcher, a.k.a. RED-BREASTED SNIPE and ROBIN SNIPE for its reddish-brown called by gunners with whom the bird was a favourite.
19/ Knot, a.k.a. RED-BREASTED SANDPIPER and ROBIN SNIPE for its reddish-brown colour in summer, and GRAY-BACK when in winter plumage.
20/ Pectoral Sandpiper, a.k.a. JACK SNIPE and GRASS SNIPE, probably the two most common of its great variety of nicknames.
21/ Marbled Godwit, a.k.a. MARLIN or STRAIGHT-BILL CURLEW, just two of its many aliases.
22/ Long-billed Curlew, a.k.a. SICKLE-BILL, because of its much decurved and very long bill (up to 8"), the longest of any shorebird in eastern North-America.
23/ Ruddy Turnstone, a.k.a. CALICO-BIRD and CHECKERED-SNIPE, among many other names, for its its peculiarly pied appearance.
24/ Northern Harrier, a.k.a. MARSH HAWK, because it is found most abundantly around marshes and wet meadows.
25/ Cooper's Hawk, a.k.a. CHICKEN HAWK or HEN HAWK, for its preferred food.
26/ Merlin, a.k.a. PIGEON HAWK which, when led by pangs of hunger, is bold and courageous as it chases down pigeons as big or bigger than itself.
27/ Osprey, a.k.a. FISH HAWK, for its exclusive diet of fish.
28/ Barn Owl, a.k.a. MONKEY-FACED OWL, for its odd visage.
29/ Barred Owl, a.k.a. HOOT OWL, because of its noisy hooting and wailing, which 19th century children were taught to regard with terror.
Of special mention is the Great-horned Owl, which has no nickname and how it escaped being called the Skunk Owl is a mystery, because its favourite food is that malodorous mammal. Chester Reed, himself, noted that these owls "...seem to be especially fond of skunks, and nearly all of them...have given unmistakable evidence of their recent and close association with these animals.
(Puffin Carving by Dale Davies)


Anonymous said...

My partner and I really enjoyed reading this blog post, I was just itching to know do you trade featured posts? I am always trying to find someone to make trades with and merely thought I would ask.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, I have recently been searching for information about this topic for ages and yours is the best I have discovered so far.