Northern Harrier. Photograph by Shawn P. Carey.
My husband Bob and I were recently birding when he quickly brought his binoculars up, and casually said, "What a beautiful gray ghost." "Gray ghost? What is that?" I asked. "Northern Harrier," he replied. I conjured up my memory of watching these sleek, silent birds drifting and teetering with their wings forming a V low over marshes or meadows, the male strikingly beautiful with its steel gray coloring contrasting with a white patch at the base of its tail. I could easily see why these magnificent birds were called gray ghosts.
I wondered what other colloquial names have been given to birds. In some cases, names appear to have been assigned by hunters to more easily identify their targets. In other cases, names were given by ornithologists or other observers of birds, sometimes in ways that may or may not make sense.
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