Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Immaturely Funny Bird Genera

I’ve touched on immaturely funny bird names many times before, but there is an untapped goldmine of snickers and guffaws within the scientific names of birds. Today I will be focusing birds that have a funny genus. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of funny species names, but today we are just going to discuss genera.

Before I begin, I want to discuss the oddness of pronunciation that is inherent to all scientific naming conventions: how are they supposed to be pronounced? The problem is that we have a system that is based in Latin and Greek, but is full of names that are unrelated to any of them and are (often, but not always) Latinate. So do we pronounce them in the way of Classical Latin (my high school Latin teacher would approve of this)? Church Latin (basically Italian pronunciation)? Like it is English? Some odd amalgamate of Latiny English?

This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Consider just the letter ‘c’ in the genus for sage grouse Centrocercus. In English we would make the ‘c’ soft like an ‘s’ in front of ‘e’ and ‘i’, so it sounds like "Sentrosercus". However, in Classical Latin it would be pronounced hard no matter what vowel it was in front of, like "Kentrokerkus", but Church Latin would turn the soft ‘c’ into a ‘ch’ sound like "Chentrochercus". For years I worked on a beetle whose species name had this issue, and I always just pronounced it like Classical Latin, though most other people went with English pronunciation.

This whole thing is further compounded by non-English speakers assumption of pronunciation, and don’t even get me started on the variation in “ae” sound or the oddly Germanic ‘oe’ pronunciation that even more oddly turns a ‘c’ in front of it soft like in English despite being in Latinate names. Got that?

A simple rule of thumb is this: When in doubt, choose the pronunciation that would be the most immaturely funny. If you saw the genus for pine trees Pinus, you absolutely know pronunciation I am thinking.

The Most Funny North American Bird Genera (North American Edition):

(Spotted Sandpiper, etc.)
Agapornis (lovebirds, not native to North America per se, but sometimes seen in escapes)
Anas (many ducks)
Bubo (horned owls)
Clangula (Long-tailed Duck)
Coccothraustes (Evening Grosbeak etc.)
Coccyzus (Cuckoos)
Contopus (peewees etc.)
Crotophaga (Anis, giving it the double funny for both genus and common name)
Dumetella (Gray Catbird)
Euphagus (blackbirds)
Falcipennis (Spruce Grouse)
Fulica (coots)
Grus (cranes)
Heteroscelus (tattlers)
Lagopus (ptarmigans, but this also the species name of the arctic fox....odd)
Lampornis (some hummingbirds)
Nymphicus (Cockatiel, also not native rare escape, but come on, the name needs to be here!)
Pinicola (Pine Grosbeak etc.)
Puffinus (some shearwaters)
Strix (some owls)
Turdus (American Robins and related thrushes; the inspiration for the post!)
Uria (murres)

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