Sunday, July 06, 2014

Bird names explained by Chico experts


The story is told of a writer, also an avid bird-watcher, who used a book called “Birds of the West Indies” to guide him at his Jamaica estate. He was writing a spy novel, needed a name for his protagonist, so he used the name of the bird book author, James Bond. Ian Fleming only met the real Bond toward the end of Fleming’s life, but the two shared ornithological joy.

A writer some years ago identified “true birders”—bird-watchers with a scientific bent—“in which the naming of things is an overriding hunger.” The husband-and-wife team of Roger Lederer and Carol Burr (who produced “The Birds of Bidwell Park,” where Burr provided the illustrations) have given birders a stunning compendium. “Latin For Bird Lovers” ($24.95 in hardcover from Timber Press) contains “over 3000 bird names explored and explained.”

Birds are listed by their binomial names, which is usually in a form of Latin or Greek; these are “double names” identifying the genus and species in a vast web of “evolutionary relationships.” These scientific names are more accurate since the same bird may have different common names in different areas. The fun comes in figuring out the sources of these (mostly) descriptive scientific names.

The Eurasian Hoopoe, for example, has a scientific name that is based on the bird’s call: Upupa epops (say oo-POO-pa EE-pops; all the scientific names in the book have pronunciations). Each entry contains a line or two about the meaning of the scientific name, and then gives the common name. But because there’s no common name index, bird-watchers can start with field guides, which will direct users to the scientific name.

The book is generously inhabited by full-color illustrations, “Latin in action” boxes discussing specific birds, genus profiles (Amazona to Zosterops), sketches of famous birders (including Phoebe Snetsinger of Missouri, who recorded a life list of 8400 species), and bird themes (beaks, colors, feathers, songs, and more).

I’d add one entry: the Elegantem lederburr, meaning “elegant work from two authors.”

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