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Nov 9, 2011

Obsolete bird names

                                                                                                                                                                                  Photo by BarrytheBirder
Sleepy Duck
a.k.a. Ruddy Duck
Oxyura jamaicensis

The Ruddy Duck wood carving above was crafted by Jim Harkness of Stayner, Ontario, in 1982.   It is one of my favourites in a small collection of bird carvings that I own.   The Ruddy Duck carving is almost 30 years old now and it's interesting to note that 100 years ago this bird was known as, for reasons unknown to me, the Sleepy Duck.   The Ruddy Duck is one of hundreds of birds in Canada and the USA that went by different names in the last two centuries.   If you are interested, there is a list of all those old names that has been compiled by Richards C. Banks of the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Centre, at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.   The list is available online at or just Google 'old bird names'.   Here is a list of old bird names (and their modern equivalents) that caught my eye.   They range from  exotic to odd to amusing to descriptive - referencing sight, sound or behaviour.

cock of the plains (sage grouse)
scolopaceous courlan (limpkin)
sicklebill (long-billed curlew)
acorn duck (wood duck)
dunk-a-doo (American bittern)
Lord Derby's flycatcher (great kiskadee)       
fly-up-the-creek (green-back heron)
brotherly love (Philadelphia vireo)
hairbird (chipping sparrow)
anthracite (common black-hawk)
hell-diver (horned grebe)
muttonbird (short-tailed shearwater)
niggergoose (double-crested cormorant)
monkey-faced (common barn owl)
oxeye (least or semipalmated sandpiper)
poke or shite-poke (green-backed heron)
rain crow (yellow-billed cuckoo)
rice-bird (bobolink)
snakebird (anhinga)
specklebelly (greater white-fronted goose)
stake-driver (American bittern)
tell-tale (greater yellowlegs)
...and my personal favourite: black warrior (red-tailed and Harlan's hawk)

Please comment if you wish, especially if you know the origin of 'Sleepy Duck'.   

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