Mrs. Moreau’s Warbler: How Birds Got Their Names

Stephen Moss. . Faber & Faber, $26.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-7833-5090-2
Noting that some bird names are intuitive—“Cuckoos do indeed call out their name”—and others more obscure, British naturalist and lecturer Moss (A Bird in the Bush: A Social History of Birdwatching) breaks down the guidelines of and patterns in how birds are named in this fascinating examination. Early chapters deal, for instance, with sounds birds made that might have influenced their names—such as “crow” and “dove”—and with how some names eventually and inevitably changed as the English language itself changed. When labels based on color (e.g., red grouse, grey heron, goldfinch) became too general to be useful, ornithologists began to use “more complex and subtle shades” as well. The more species they discovered, the more visually descriptive the names got. These include the pied flycatcher and pied wagtail, the snowy owl, and the buff-bellied pipit and buff-breasted sandpiper. Subsequent sections deal also with eponymous birds, creatures named after people, primarily men, honoring themselves or paying tribute to others. The titular warbler, for example, is “an obscure and endangered songbird” named in 1938 by Reginald Ernest Moreau, an expert in bird migration, for his wife and fellow bird enthusiast, Winnie. It is one appealing story among many in a comprehensive volume certain to interest scientific readers and general audiences alike. B&w illus. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 10/15/2018
Release date: 12/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 242 pages - 978-1-78335-092-6
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