by Steve White
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
If you have ever attempted to use a wild bird field guide to identify that mysterious bird in your backyard, you might be tempted to question the name of that bird. Exactly what is a northern mockingbird? Is there a southern mockingbird?
Taken literally, common names can be misleading to any novice birder. When you check your field guide, note that there are two names for each bird you’re trying to identify: one scientific, used to place birds by families, lineage and species, and the other is the common name.
Interestingly, it is the latter the causes the most confusion, particularly when you read that the year-round range of the Minus Polyglottos (i.e. the northern mockingbird) extends from New England on the east, south to Florida and across the lower United States westward to Oregon and south into Mexico!
Some birds with the name “common” attached to their names, such as the common loon or common raven, may be abundant in some areas but totally absent elsewhere. Depending upon where you live, the word “widespread” might be a more accurate name.
Names of birds are often related to color or description, which can also lead to some confusion. A good example is the red-bellied woodpecker that has been spotted in the Lakes Region with regularity these last three years. You would expect the bird to have a red chest or belly. In fact, the most conspicuous red on the female is a spot on the back of the neck. On the male, it is a red hood. The belly actually has only a very slight tinge of pink. Go figure!
Many birds carry the name of the person who is credited with the bird’s discovery, such as the Bullock’s oriole.
The Lewis woodpecker is named for the famous explorer Merriweather Lewis. The bird was first discovered by him in July, 1805 near Helena, Montana on his epic cross-country trip with William Clark. The next month on the same trip, Captain Clark discovered another bird in Idaho. It is now known as the Clark’s nuthatch.
It is not necessary to become an ornithologist to enjoy your feathered friends, but it is fun to discover the source and understand the logic of bird names, both common and scientific. At least, it may provide some confusing entertainment along the way.
Enjoy your birds.
Wild Bird Depot is located on Rt 11 in Gilford, NH. Steve is a contributing author in major publications, a guest lecturer at major conventions in Atlanta and St. Louis as well as the host of WEZS 1350AM radio show “Bird Calls” with Lakes Region Newsday @ 8:30AM. Wild Bird Depot has donated over $5,000 to local rehabilitators and local nature centers since 1996. Be sure to check out our blog “Bird Droppings” via our website www.wildbirddepot.com. Like us on Facebook for great contests and prizes.