The Advisory Boar
I've read many pieces about the people after whom birds are named, and
it struck me recently that most of them are male. Not surprising, since
there must have been many more male ornithologists than women; but there
are nevertheless many birds named after women. Because of the regularity
of Latin grammar, we can find a considerable number just by looking for
names that end in -ae.
Alas, the majority of matching names are toponyms. Some of these names
are obvious, like novaehollandiae and novaeseelandiae,
which account for 23 species between them. But many more are obscure,
and there's no way to exclude them en masse. One must go through
the list one entry at a time to discard the place names. One notable
example of this genre is adeliae, which refers to Adélie
Land, named after Adélie Vicomtesse Dumont d’Urville, wife of a
French Antarctic explorer. Another problem comes from male names which
have been Latinised as -ae (e.g. Matsudaira, Fea). When these and other
complications are eliminated, we are left with just under a hundred
Only a handful of these names belong to women whose contributions to
ornithology are well-documented.
Maria Emilia Ana Koepcke, a famous German ornithologist and explorer in
Peru, has a Screech-owl, a Cacique, and a Hermit named koepckeae
The Dot-winged Antwren Microrhopias [quixensis] emiliae is named
after Henriette Mathilde Maria Emilie Snethlage, another German
ornithologist in Brazil, and the Director of the Goeldi Museum.
Eleonora's Falcon Falco eleonorae is named after Giudicessa
Eleonora d'Arborea of Sardinia, who made a law protecting goshawks and
falcons at their nests… in the fourteenth century!
Marion A. Johnstone, an English aviculturalist, has three birds named
johnstoniae after her.
Therese Charlotte Maria Anna Princess of Bavaria, a zoologist and
explorer, has two birds named theresiae after her.
British ornithologist Beryl Patricia Hall had a bird named hallae
after her (but I can't figure out what species it was).
The Jos Plateau Indigobird Vidua maryae is named after Mary Dyer
for her field work on indigobirds in Nigeria.
The delightfully-named Elfin-woods Warbler Dendroica angelae is
named after New Zealand zoologist and conservationist Dr. Angela Kay
The Afghan Snowfinch Pyrgilauda theresae was named after Theresa
Clay, a British expert on bird lice.
The Golden-rumped Flowerpecker Dicaeum annae is named after Anna
A. Weber van Bosse, a Dutch botanist and collector in the East Indies.
Otus ireneae and Metallura odomae are named after Irene
Morden and Babette Odom, sponsors and bird-watchers in Kenya and Peru
Lulu's Tody-tyrant Poecilotriccus luluae is named after Lulu May
von Hagen in recognition of her support for research in avian genetics.
The remainder of the names belong to queens, princesses, and minor
nobility; and wives, sisters, and daughters (with many overlaps; the
wives of nobles inclined towards nature being especially likely to have
birds dedicated to them). In particular, many species described in the
nineteenth century mania for hummingbirds and sunbirds were named after
women. A couple of people named birds after their mothers. I do not know
the extent to which any of these ladies were themselves interested in
ornithology, but more than a few of them are known to have participated
in collecting expeditions to unexplored places; and one can only wonder
how much more credit may have been due to them that they did not get. In
any case, the list of women ornithologists above is certainly
The commonest female eponyms are victoriae, helenae,
mariae, and johannae.
French mothers with birds named after them outnumber all others (Dutch,
Two queens of the Netherlands (Wilhelmina Helena Pauline Maria, Juliane
Louise Emma Marie Wilhelmina), and the queens of Russia (Sophia Maria
Alexandrovna), Saxony (Carola Friedrike Franziska Stephanie Amalie
Cecilie), France (Eugénie), and England (Victoria) have birds
named after them (mostly one each, despite the profusion of easily
Latin-isable names between them).
A dozen princesses are represented, mostly from nineteenth-century
Europe, which had no shortage of them; but my favourite name belongs to
the mysterious White-eyed River-martin Pseudochelidon sirintarae,
named after Princess Sirindhorn Thepratanasuda for her interest in the
wildlife of Thailand. Another fine example is Stephanie's Astrapia
Astrapia stephaniae, after Stephanie Princess of Belgium.
- The Aztec emperor Montezuma's sister Papantzin and four other
sisters have birds named after them, including Grace's Warbler
Dendroica graciae after Grace Darling Coues, sister of
ornithologist Elliott Coues.
- The daughters of ornithologists are likewise very well-represented.
Some of my favourites (names, not daughters) include the Thekla Lark
Galerida theklae after Thekla Brehm, White-browed Rosefinch
Carpodacus thura after Thura Nilsson, and Mountain Serin
Serinus estherae after Esther Finsch.
- The mother, sister, and niece of explorer Captain Boyd Alexander all
have birds named after them (not to mention a few boydies named
after the good Captain himself).
- The two wives—Clémence and Zoë—and two
daughters—Cécile and Anaïs—of French naturalist René
Lesson, have a hummingbird, an imperial pigeon, a ground dove, and a
myna named after them.
- Likewise, Jules Bourcier named hummingbirds after his daughter
Francia and wife Aline (and more than a few other people's wives and
- Two seabirds are named after explorers' ships (traditionally
female): Vega Gull and Magenta Petrel
The wives of explorers and ornithologists are by far the most numerous
source of eponyms. (Update 2015-11-01: I started writing this in
March 2011, and gave up on doing justice to the list of wives four and a
half years later.)
Many genera were named after women (Berenicornis,
Dulciornis, Ethelornis, Rosina), but have been
renamed since. A few such names have survived. Enriqueta Iñez
Cherrie, daughter of ornithologist George Cherrie, lends her name to a
genus of four South American Tyrant Flycatchers (whose common names are
also Inezia). Prince Bonaparte, a French ornithologist, named a genus
after daughter Bathilde, an imperial pigeon after his other daughter
Charlotte, and a dove after his wife Zénaïde. The latter
name is now given to a genus of doves, including the Zenaida Dove
Zenaida aurita. Two Antshrikes Mackenziaena spp. are named
after Helen Mackenzie McConnell, wife of English collector Frederick
McConnell. Claudia Reinard, wife of German ornithologist Ernst Hartert,
had both her names given to birds: Claudia and Reinarda,
but neither name is still in use today.
Edithornis and edithae were names given to unrelated
species after unrelated Ediths (the latter being British botanist and
entomologist Edith Cole). Neither is still in use. But Lady Mary
Macgregor, wife of explorer Sir William Macgregor, apart from being one
of the mariae mentioned earlier, also gives her last name to a
Bird-of-paradise Macgregoria pulchra and a Bowerbird
Amblyornis macgregoriae. (But the Small Niltava Niltava
macgrigoriae is named after an unrelated Jane MacGrigor, daughter of
an Army doctor.) Elizabeth Gould, artist and wife of prolific
trochilidist John Gould, had a finch Gouldaeornis gouldiae and a
sunbird Aethopyga gouldiae named after her (many of Gould's South
American hummingbirds are given female names whose origins are unknown).
There are many female eponyms that do not end in -ae, while others are
no longer in use. Such names can be discovered only by stumbling across
them. I've included some of them in the list above. There are also many
female names whose origins are untraceable. Some examples are
adela, catharina, eva, francescae,
georginae, heloisa, lydiae, and werae. The
last is a subspecies of the Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola,
Wera being the Polish form of Vera.
I have no useful data about subspecific female eponyms, but I know there
are a few. One example I happened upon is Spelaeornis troglodytoides
indiraji, named after Indira Gandhi, a former Indian Prime Minister.
Another name I like is Strix [leptogrammica] indranee, but Sykes
did not explain its origin, and it's probably named after the mythical
wife of the god Indra, not a real woman.
Mythology, mostly Greek, is another rich source of female names both
generic (e.g. Alcyone, Atthis, Sappho) and specific
(e.g. amphitrite, andromedae, antigone). But, like
indranee, mythological names are technically not eponyms but
autochthonyms, or indigenous names. (Speaking of ancient Greece,
Xanthippe, wife of Socrates, had a bird named after her too.)
Finally, an inversion of the principle—the painter (of birds, among
other things) Dafila Scott
was named after a bird, Dafila being the genus of Pintail ducks
(now absorbed into Anas as a subgenus). I know of bird-watcher's
daughters named Irena (from Greek mythology) and Yuhina
(from a Nepali name). I wonder if there are any women named after birds
who were named after women.
If you know of other names that belong on this page, please write to me.
contributed by Edward Buckley to John Ray's
"Synopsis Methodica Avium
et Piscium", the first one whose identity is not reasonably obvious
is the "Madrass Jay", in the bottom left corner. From the illustration,
I guessed that it was a Brahminy Myna, but a glance at the description
showed that it could only be an Indian Pitta Pitta brachyura.
I wrote to the
to ask for photographs of an Indian Pitta to post on this web page, and
once again, Sharad Sridhar sent me a selection of photos (including one
from Tamil Nadu, although the one below is from Karnataka).
Here is Buckley's description, followed by my translation:
One of the many treasures on
archive.org is a copy of the 1713
"Synopsis Methodica Avium et Piscium"
by the British scientist John Ray (or "Joannis Raii" in Latin). The book
is interesting not only because it predates and influenced Linnaean
taxonomy, but especially because it includes a few illustrations and
descriptions of "Indian birds about Fort St. George" (near Madras) at
the end, contributed by Edward Buckley, a surgeon at the Fort.
There are twenty-four captioned illustrations, most of which can be
identified easily (e.g. the Madras Sea-crow is obviously an Indian
Skimmer). But the illustrations aren't very lifelike—beaks in particular
being suspiciously similar—and some species (e.g. "Small Blue Jay" and
"Red Jay-Dove") aren't readily recognisable. Some of the descriptions
are quite detailed, however, and I tried to translate a few of them just
to see if I could identify the species involved. I meant to post some of
these translations, but never got around to it.
One of the species described is the Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula
benghalensis, which the book calls the Partridge Snipe. This is a
common species that I somehow missed seeing for many years until Hassath
and I encountered a pair in a puddle by the road at Basai. It is one of
the few species where the female has a much more striking plumage, and
is polyandrous to boot, with the offspring being raised by the male. I
was reminded of the description in the book by the lovely photographs
Sharad Sridhar sent me today.
One of the most interestingly-named birds regularly seen around Delhi is
Cisticola Cisticola juncidis. It has an onomatopoeic common
name—its call being a loud "zit zit"—that includes its Latin generic
name Cisticola, from the Greek name kistos for the "rock
rose" (a small red-flowered shrub) and Latin cola for "dweller"
(from colere "to dwell"). The specific name is from the Latin
iuncus for reed. (For some reason I can no longer remember, I
used to think that cistus meant basket, and referred to the bird's
basket-shaped nests, but I was wrong.)
Cisticola is the most familiar such name, but there are many
other birds named after their dwellings (a special case of bionyms).
Thanks to a borrowed copy of James A. Jobling's wonderful "Dictionary of
Scientific Bird Names", I can look up all of the -cola names
(both generic and specific) extracted from a checklist. Here's a
selection of the interesting ones.
Speaking of bird-watching and poetry, I've noticed that bird-watchers,
at least on the few Indian bird-watching lists I subscribe to, adore
purple prose. They applaud it when they see it in other people's trip
reports, and do their best to put it in their own.
It is always entertaining to see things like this written with no
apparent sense of irony (in this case, about a photograph of a pair
of Himalayan Bulbuls):
Reminded me, in fact, of a pair of elegant aristocrats, somewhat
puffy-chested with ‘stale airs’, a touch stern in demeanour,
necks and crests craning back with a stiff pride.......
As if, As if.... somehow the couple is steeling to bear the gathering
autumn of an erstwhile many-splendoured life, now stripped of privy
privileges, purses and titles!
Very picturesque, but when I think of an aristocrat
privy privileges, I can't help but imagine an old butler, neck
stiff with spondylosis, saying
I'm sorry, Sir Neville, but they
took away the outhouse.
But any literary allusion, no matter how trite or overused, is cause for
celebration. Comparisons to poetry are frequent followups; and sometimes
a phrase catches someone else's imagination, and reappears in their own
reports. Someone once responded to a post, which was relatively subdued
in comparison to the above, with a comment that Ruskin Bond was quaking
in his boots, presumably from fear of competition (though the post
didn't rule out, say, uncontrollable laughter).
I came across a quotation from Nissim Ezekiel's poem, "Poet, Lover,
Birdwatcher" in a book, and the title was so interesting that I just
had to look it up. I found it
the minstrels archive, and it's such an intriguing poem that I'm
quoting all twenty lines here.
Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher
To force the pace and never to be still
Is not the way of those who study birds
Or women. The best poets wait for words.
The hunt is not an exercise of will
But patient love relaxing on a hill
To note the movement of a timid wing;
Until the one who knows that she is loved
No longer waits but risks surrendering—
In this the poet finds his moral proved
Who never spoke before his spirit moved.
The slow movement seems, somehow, to say much more.
To watch the rarer birds, you have to go
Along deserted lanes and where the rivers flow
In silence near the source, or by a shore
Remote and thorny like the heart's dark floor.
And there the women slowly turn around,
Not only flesh and bone but myths of light
With darkness at the core, and sense is found
But poets lost in crooked, restless flight,
The deaf can hear, the blind recover sight.
— Nissim Ezekiel
I have read
poems by Nissim Ezekiel (one was a part of my high school English
curriculum), but I can't remember another one that made me sit up and
pay attention. I love the idea of tying poetry, love, and bird-watching
together through the patience and caring that each requires; and I love
the unhurried, graceful way the poem segues between each activity and
the feelings it evokes. I think the ending is a bit forced (did anyone
heart's dark floor or were they too busy eyeing up
the slowly turning women?), and detracts from the light tone established
by the first stanza. I notice, too, that poetry, love, and bird-watching
are presented as implicitly male pursuits.
Myths of light with darkness at the core? Not so much. But
patient love relaxing on a hill is a different feeling, one that I can
recognise and will remember.
My recent comment on
names which mean the same thing in different languages reminded me of
something slightly different: generic and specific names that mean the
same thing; one in Greek, the other in Latin.
The Common Raven Corvus corax, revered in ancient cultures around
the world, bears its own name in both languages, Corvus being the Latin
name for the Raven, and corax likewise the name in Greek (even the name
"Raven" comes from an ancient Proto-Germanic name applied to the bird).
The related Carrion Crow Corvus corone and Hooded Crow Corvus
cornix both take their specific names from Greek words for "crow".
All three names were assigned by Linnaeus in 1758.
The Slender-Billed Scimitar Babbler Xiphirhynchus superciliaris
has always felt somewhat mystical while flipping through the Babblers in
any field guide. I've never seen one, but the photographs posted to the
delhibirdpix list by Sujan Chatterjee in May 2008 and Ramki Sreenivasan
a year later, both taken in Arunachal Pradesh, have stayed in my memory.
Unfortunately, I can find only one of these photographs on Google Groups
now, and I can't figure out any sane way to link to that post here. But
Google Images finds
of the species, including
Anyway, Xiphirhynchus superciliaris was somewhere at the back of
my mind when I recently encountered a casual reference to the unrelated
South American genus of Woodcreepers: Xiphorhynchus. These are
essentially the same word, derived from the Greek xiph- (for "sword")
and -rhynchus ("snout" or "nose", meaning beak)!
A long time ago, I was delighted to notice—by accident—that the
Yellow-Footed Green Pigeon Treron phoenicopterus has, as its
specific name, the same name given to the genus of Flamingos. And what
a name it is! Phoenicopterus, meaning "crimson-wing", from the Greek
φοίνικ- (phoenic-, for "blood red", the
root of Phoenix and
derived from φόνος, fonos, for "slaughter") and
pteron (for wing).
This weekend, armed with a not-terribly-recent checklist of birds and a
little spare time, I wrote a small Perl script to look for other names
given to both a genus and a different species (that is to say, I
ignored the relatively better-known examples of one bird having the same
generic and specific name, such as Coccothraustes coccothraustes
and Pica pica). Here are some of the most interesting results.