Via Wikimedia Commons
Let’s talk about nomenclature. Bird names follow a certain nomenclature that has been prodded, and pinched, and flipped, and flopped over time. We have gotten to a point where the vast majority of bird names are standardized and will not change. There are certain species which seem to change every couple years; there are species splits which create new names for now multiple species; there are delistings where similar species are again grouped and now share one common name; there are strange changes some due to science that may precipitate a name change every so often; and there the occasional decisions to change whole groups of birds common names for one reason or another (take the robins that are now thrushes in central America).
In any case back to that first point—that most bird’s common names have been decided upon and are not changing. I have to admit I have a pretty big pet peeve when it comes to bird names, and that is when birders use the incorrect nomenclature when posting about birds, or listing sightings. Here are a few of my personal “favorites” from recent years—many of which get used on a regular basis:
Redwing Blackbird - as opposed to - Red-winged Blackbird (use those hyphens)
Greenwing Teal - as opposed to - Green-winged Teal (use those hyphens)
Buffalohead - as opposed to - Bufflehead (although the name is derived from Buffalo)
Icelandic Gull - as opposed to - Iceland Gull (named for, not from)
Redhead Duck - as opposed to - Redhead (no need for the duck at the end)
Herman’s Gull - as opposed to - Heermann's Gull (double "E", double "N")
Stellar’s Jay - as opposed to - Steller's Jay ("E" not "A")
Crystal Thrasher - as opposed to - Crissal Thrasher (not named after a gem)
Albert’s Towhee - as opposed to - Abert's Towhee (no "L")
The term “blue jay” - This is a species and doesn't encompass all jays that are blue.
What bring this to my attention? There was a post on the Idaho Birding List this morning about 3 “Redwings” visiting a feeder. My immediate thought was the species “Redwing”, and in Idaho Falls close enough for a quick drive up to see a lifer and a mega rarity. But I quickly gained my composure and emailed the person who wrote the email and asked if the meant “Red-winged Blackbirds”. After a few minutes I received a reply, “Yes, Redwing Blackbirds.”.
I was slightly bothered in the fact that mixing up those two species is a pretty big deal. You are comparing the most widespread native bird in North America to a mega rarity. I was more bothered at the response, when they still typed out “redwing” which is not the correct nomenclature. Call me grumpy; call me a stickler; whatever. As a birder I think it is important to learn, promote, and use the correct nomenclature when sharing information about birds. I can understand the occasional slip up like Great-horned Owl, or American Three Toed Woodpecker, but in general these are avoidable
I myself am far from perfect and have on numerous occasions spelled species names incorrectly, forgotten a hyphen, forgotten to capitalize something, or just blatantly butchered a bird name. It happens. My challenge to you is to take pride in those bird names and make sure the hyphens are where they need to be, the capital letters are in the right place, and everything is spelled correctly. Not only does it show that you have taken the time to learn the bird names, it also adds a bit of credibility to reports. After all the kind of Redwings I want to see are something very different from the Red-winged Blackbirds found everyday all over the country; and that is the kind of posting mistake that can lead to a number of issues with other birders
For the most recent ABA checklist click here. This will be more up-to-date than any field guide you are currently using. Now be kind to me, this is just a commentary, as I am sure I will now be pointed out every time I mess up a bird name!