Sunday, 13 August 2017


Dogs last week and, for the many birds I saw on the same short break, our avian friends this. Of course no gull could ever be considered a friend, they always look very angry.

Albatross - interestingly an alteration of the Spanish or Portuguese alcatraz 'large web-footed sea bird', although originally referring to the pelican. This comes from the Arabic al-ghattas 'sea eagle' and related to Portuguese alcatruz 'the bucket of a water wheel'.

Auk - from the Old Norse alka originally imitative of its cry.

Bantam - a place name, a Dutch settlement on the island of Java.

Blackbird - it is well known the female is brown, however correctly the male is not actually black but a very dark brown.

Blue tit - again named for its colour.

Booby - the adjective referring to a person means 'stupid', this considered a reasonable description of these ungainly seabirds.

Budgerigar - a native of Australia named from budgeri 'good' and gar 'cockatoo'.

Bullfinch - a composite of 'bull', a description of its head and neck, with 'finch' a Germanic word imitative of its call.

Bunting - derived either from a Brythonic word for 'plump' or a Germanic bunt or 'speckled'.

Bustard - often said to come from Old French bistarde and itself from Latin avis tarda but this 'slow bird' does not accurately describe the creature.

Canary - named for it being found on Canary Island, itself named for the Island of Dogs.

Chaffinch - another finch, named for its call, this time the prefix points to its habit of eating the chaff from grain on farms.

Chicken - a Germanic name, the root imitative of its call.

Cockatoo - from a Malay or Austronesian word kakatua 'elder sibling' and tua 'old'.

Condor - from the Quechua cuntur, simply their name for this bird.

Cormorant - from Late Latin corvus marinus 'sea raven'.

Crane - from Proto-Indo-European gere 'to cry hoarsely'.

Crow - an Old English word, imitative of the bird's cry.

Cuckoo - again, imitative of the bird's cry.

Curlew - from Latin currere 'to run quickly', ultimately Proto-Indo-European kers 'to run'.

Cygnet - came to English from French cigne 'swan' and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European keuk 'to be white', which a cygnet isn't.

Dipper - aptly named for its repeated action in fast-moving water.

Dodo - is from the Portuguese doudo 'fool, simpleton'.

Dove - a Germanic reference to its flight as it comes from the root for 'dive'.

Eagle - named as the 'dark-coloured' bird, as it is so often seen in silhouette.

Eider - a kind of duck named from the Old Norse aethar or 'duck'.

Falcon - from the Latin falcis 'curved blade, pruning hook, sickle, war scythe'.

Finch - again the name imitative of its call.

Flamingo - from the Greek phoinikopteros literally meaning 'red-feathered'.

Goose - is from the Proto-Indo-European ghans 'goose, swan'.

Grebe - some of the species of grebe are crested, hence the name from Breton krib 'a comb'.

Gull - effectively its name means 'one who will swallow anything'. Yes, that's the gull.

Hawk - ultimately from Proto-Indo-European kap 'to grasp'.

Hen - derived from Proto-Indo-European kan 'to sing'.

Heron - from an Indo-European root imitative of its cry.

Jackdaw - both elements are imitative of the bird's cry.

Jay - again named from its harsh cry.

Kestrel - again imitative of its cry, but this time related to the Latin crepitare 'to rattle'.

Kingfisher - self-explanatory.

Kite - once again imitative of its cry.

Kiwi - named by the Maoris as what they perceived as its cry.

Lapwing - has a Germanic root meaning 'leaper-winker'.

Lark - from Proto-Indo-European leig 'to play'.

Magpie - the two syllables describe the 'chattering bird'.

Mallard - it fundamentally means 'male'.

Merganser - from Latin mergus 'waterfowl, diver' and from mergere 'to dip, immerse'.

Merlin - simply means 'small hawk'.

Nightingale - is Germanic for 'night singer'.

Oriole - named from a Latin root meaning 'gold'.

Ostrich - effectively from the Greek strouthos megale 'big sparrow'.

Owl - a Germanic origin imitative of its call.

Parakeet - thought to be from the Italian parrocchetto literally 'little priest'.

Partridge - comes from the Greek perdesthai 'to break wind' and a reference to the whirring sound made by the bird's wings in flight.

Penguin - named from the Old Welsh for 'white head' and yet look at any penguin and you will see it has a black head. What the name first referred to was the great auk, which did have a white head.

Peregrine - comprised of per ager 'away from the land'.

Pheasant - from the Greek for 'Phasian bird', the birds were particularly numerous along the river Phasis leading to the Black Sea.

Pigeon - is an Old French word meaning 'young dove'.

Plover - from the Latin plovarius 'belonging to the rain'.

Ptarmigan - of uncertain origin but likely realted to the Greek pteron 'wing'.

Raven - another Germanic name imitative of the bird's cry.

Redstart - basically means 'red tail'.

Rook - from roots such as Gaelic roc 'croak' and Sanskrit kruc 'to cry out'.

Rooster - literally 'the roosting bird'.

Shrike - from Old Norse referring to 'the bird with a shrill call'.

Sparrow - from the Greek spergoulos 'small field bird'.

Swan - from Proto-Indo-European swen 'to sing, make sound'.

Tercel - the male falcon, thought to be named from Latin tertius 'a third' as the male is a third smaller than the female.

Tit - an old word for any small animal, be a bird, rodent or anything else.

Vulture - from the Latin vellere 'to pluck, tear'.

Whippoorwill - imitative of its call.

Woodpecker - of obvious derivation as indeed is the dialect name in the East Midlands of 'nicker'.

And before anyone asks, no I didn't see all these birds.

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