It’s in your nature: A name?
Biologists or taxonomists weren’t always too creative in assigning names to plants and particularly animals. Case in point: cottontail rabbit, white-tailed deer, or gray squirrel; rather obvious. Here’s another tough one, black bear.
In the case of birds, some were named for the calls/songs they make. The eastern phoebe’s song is feee-be, feee-be. The eastern pewee’s song is, you guessed it, peewee. One bird never too common here, and for those familiar with it, the bobwhite and its call: Bob white.
Anyone who has vacationed at the Jersey Shore or the Delaware or Maryland beaches I’m sure is familiar with the cackling/laughing call of the laughing gull. What else could we name one so obvious as that? In our backyards, particularly in the morning, is the sorrowful sounding call of the mourning dove. It really is a sad and plaintive song. Kudos to those who were responsible for the appropriate name.
Many birds are given names by something unique with or about their anatomies. The great horned owls and long-eared owls have feathery ear tufts (not external ears as the name implies) and their names befit their general appearance. Likewise, the rare short-eared owl fits its description, too. An evening grosbeak with its “gross beak” used for seed crushing is aptly named, too.
We are probably more familiar with its cousin, a rose breasted grosbeak. And yes, it has a large (gross) beak and a rose-colored patch on its breast.
On the “flip side,” some bird names can be a bit misleading. A screech owl has a distinctive call but, in my opinion, not at all like a screech. The song is more like a low, slurred trilling sound. You may find some other name descriptors misleading, too. The prairie warbler might be expected to be a bird of our Western Great Plains, but that is not the case. I’m not sure how it got its name.
Birding buddy Dave and I have discussed the choice of names for two other warblers, the Louisiana waterthrush and the northern waterthrush. They can both be found in our Times News coverage area. But one of them prefers cold mountain streams and stream banks as its habitat, while the other prefers more of a marshy area.
Guess what, the Louisiana waterthrush is the first to migrate back here and prefers streams like Wild Creek, Drakes Creek, or Saw Mill Run. We both question why the more northern region preferring bird is named the Louisiana Waterthrush and not northern waterthrush. But we aren’t the taxonomists.
I have a few photos to share of birds given names to befit some physical appearances.
Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: With its eggs already laid, this amphibian is the earliest out of hibernation, even calling on nights close to freezing. A. pickerel frog, B. wood frog, C. bullfrog, D. toad.
Last Week’s Trivia Answer: Looking a bit like dandelion, the coltsfoot blooms earlier and has a preference to grow on roadsides not sprayed with herbicides (generally secondary roads, not state routes). Look for them now and enjoy, enjoy.
Contact Barry Reed at firstname.lastname@example.org.