Bird Names

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Bird groups are organized by scientific classification, based upon their anatomical structure, geographic distribution, behavior, blood proteins, and a variety of other characteristics. Most recently, and probably most accurately, DNA hybridization has determined the relationships and supposed evolutionary history of all the bird groups of the world and most of the species. Learn more below and see Lecturespied wheatear for more detailed information.

Birds, Class Aves, are arranged into groups called Orders (ending in-iformes); these are such groups as the ducks and geese, loons, hawks and eagles, hummingbirds, kingfishers and rollers, herons and egrets, and penguins. The largest group, Passeriformes, is the songbirds. In each order are Families, ending in -idae. In Gruiformes, the Cranes are in Gruidae and Rails in Rallidae. Finally, birds have scientific names, the genus and species, such as Cathartes aura(Turkey Vulture) and the American Robin, Turdus migratorius.

What’s in a Name?

The Red-bellied Woodpecker does not have a red belly and some call those lovely goldfinches wild canaries and house finches linnets. The European Buzzard is similar to the North American Red-tailed Hawk, so you could potentially see the same kind of bird at one place as anotherl. Blue birds are not necessarily bluebirds and all black birds are not necessarily blackbirds. Not to mention there’s the issue of different languages, as how a bird is named in America could be different from how it is named in Paris. Food for thought if you ever take a trip to a hotel there. All birds have a scientific name (actually two names) derived primarily from the Latin or Greek.mallard decoyAnas platyrhynchos is the scientific name for the Mallard . Anas, the “genus” is Latin for duck, and indicates that the Mallard is related to other ducks such as the Pintail, Gadwall, and Black Duck. The species name, platyrhynchos, is Greek for flat bill, referring to the typical ducklike bill. (The species name for the Pintail is acuta, referring to the “acute” or pointed tail.) So the genus Anas, being the same for both species, tells us these ducks are related but distinct species with distinct species names. Note that the genus and species are always in italics and that species is both singular and plural. The American Ornithologist’s Union has created a standardized checklist of the common English names of American birds, so we can use them to discuss and compare birds that we have seen on balconies outside hotels in Chicago to those perched on Floridian golf courses. But scientists continue to use scientific names in order to avoid any confusion, to better show avian relationships, and to communicate with colleagues across the world whose common names are in their native languages. Perhaps the best source of common and scientific names is the International Ornithologists Union IOC Bird List.

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