December 2022

Vol. 50, No. 6

Naming Birds: Wherefore Art Thou Vireo?

Caitlin L. Miller and Jeffrey Boone Miller

When you see a bird’s common English and scientific name in a Bird Observer article, e.g., Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), do you skip over the often unfamiliar genus and species names? Or, do you perhaps wonder what the scientific names mean in English, how names are chosen, or whether names can be controversial? In this article, we hope to pique your curiosity by providing a brief introduction to bird naming. Though not experts, we have found that learning about scientific and common English bird names has deepened our engagement with birds, birders, and bird science.

To get started, here are translations of the scientific names of five birds well known to New Englanders—can you identify each bird’s common English name? (Answers at the end.)

  1. Migrating thrush
  2. Rooster rooster
  3. Many-colored black-haired bird
  4. Blood-colored crimson bird
  5. Pure speckled bird
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