In my last column, I discussed the decision of the American Ornithological Society (AOS) to begin the process of changing the common names of many bird species. The impetus to do this is driven by a variety of factors including better reflecting the birds themselves, correcting inaccuracies, and specifically to update historic attributions to Confederate generals, enslavers, etc. The AOS has decided that ALL honorifics (a species name referring to a person) will be consigned to history and a new name allocated. This process will do away with long-held names that honour both the reputable and deserving, along with the dubious.
The Checklist of the Birds of the Sunshine Coast currently stands at 323 species, and of those, 38 species have an honorific in their name, predicating many forthcoming changes. Some of our most common and well-known species will be part of the new protocol and it is interesting to speculate on new names for species such as Steller’s jay, Swainson’s thrush and even Anna’s hummingbird.
Before looking forward to new names, I will refer to the derivation of some current names. Most North American species were given their English language names in the 18th and early 19th centuries as the continent was settled and naturalists began to identify individual species. The process was ad hoc, with no preconceived plan. Our American robin was so-named on the basis of its reddish breast which reminded early settlers of the red-breasted European robin (familiar from Christmas cards), that they had left behind.
In the late eighteenth century, Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, formailsed the system of scientific naming of species, using a Latinized binomial format. Thereafter, American and European ornithologists had the opportunity to name many newly discovered species. For example, our local Steller’s jay was given its original scientific name, Corvus stelleri, in 1788 based on a specimen in England, belonging to Joseph Banks, that was collected at Nootka Sound by Capt. Cook’s expedition. Even so, the naming convention dictated that the species name would be Steller, based on its first report by the German naturalist Steller in 1741.
Our abundant wintering duck, Barrow’s goldeneye, is named after Sir John Barrow, an English geographer, writer and civil servant, who was instrumental in promoting numerous Arctic explorations, including that of Franklin. Bonaparte’s gull, a common migrant and winter visitor to the Sunshine Coast, is named after Charles Lucian Bonaparte, a French ornithologist who was Napoleon’s nephew, and who spent eight years in the U.S., contributing to the taxonomy of American birds. Alexandar Wilson has five species of North American birds named after him and is known as the Father of American Ornithology as he predates Audubon. Finally, Anna’s hummingbird is named after Anne d’Essling, an Italian duchess married to a French ornithologist. You can easily research the derivation of any bird name by googling the species and reading the Wiki.
To report your sightings or questions contact email@example.com or 604-885-5539. Good Birding