from North American Bird Folknames and Names by James K. Sayre

Copyright 1996. All Rights Reserved.




Birds have fascinated people for thousands of years. Their flight, their colorful plumage, their beautiful songs have all been of great interest. Since the coming of the Europeans to the New World several hundred years ago, birds have played an important part in man's perception of the natural world. Birds are the most colorful, noisy and visible part of the animal kingdom. Early settlers named some of the new birds they saw after familiar species which they had seen in their old world homelands. A good example is the American Robin, which was named after the English Robin, although it was a completely different species. The English Robin, Erithacus rubecula, is about five inches in length, while the American Robin, Turdus migratorius, is about ten inches in length.


With the coming of modern mass communications in the 20th Century, birds have assumed a less dominant role in the everyday consciousness of the average person. The coming of daily newspapers, radio, movie theaters, television, and video has led to the natural world becoming a smaller and less dominating part of everyday life. The advent of refrigeration, air-conditioning, private automobile travel and excellent local weather forecasting has also contributed to this trend. The great migration from the countryside into the industrialized cities lowered the contact that the average person had with the natural world. Farmers had to focus on the natural world, and especially the weather for their survival and prosperity. In the cities, the natural world is often just a minor impediment in the lives of its residents.


Part of this passing Americana, is the decline in the use of local and regional folknames for our native birdlife. This book will attempt to list and document some of these names.


American birds have many interesting, funny and fanciful names from our dim and distant past. Birds have been named after their appearance, their song, their behavior, their nesting style and other characteristics.

At the end of the text, a bibliography lists all of the original sources of the names gathered in this list. The interested researcher is referred to the original texts for some detailed analysis of the origin of bird names in North America. The first settlers (the North American Indians) had their own names for birds. The English and other European settlers brought over their knowledge and memories of English and European birds; some names were transferred to similarly appearing American birds. Some French Canadian and Gaelic Canadian bird names have been included in the listings. Some Mexican Spanish and Caribbean Spanish bird names are included as they were listed in the source literature. Local folknames for North American birds which winter in the Caribbean are also included. This book covers the birds that breed or regularly visit north of the US/Mexico border, including United States, Canada, and Alaska. The birds that reside in the Hawai'ian Islands have also been included, due to the islands long association with United States.


Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Please feel free to Email the author at sayresayre@yahoo;com.

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Web page last updated on 8 June 2003.