Bank Holiday book review – The Bird Name Book by Susan Myers

This is an interesting book which explores the origins of bird names from accentor to Zeledonia. I’m interested in names, and in birds, and birds’ names, and the more I dipped into this book the more and more I liked it. The 400+ pages are packed with information and are well-referenced.

I hadn’t appreciated that accentor came from cantor and means ‘one that sings with another’. Whereas Zeledonias are named after Jose Castulo Zeledon (1846-1923), a Costa Rican ornithologist.

Let’s consider G-birds. I would really like to see a Gyr Falcon and if I ever do then I’ll know that its name is probably not to do with it circling around (cf gyrating) but comes from a German word for greedy, as a predator. This also suggests that it is ‘jurr’ rather than ‘jire’ (but if I ever see one that’ll be the last thing on my mind).  I have seen gerygones, gonoleks and gulls but I learned interesting things about their names in these pages.

There are many (approaching one each page) illustrations which range from classic artwork to excellent photographs. The book feels weighty in the hand and has a serious tone of scholarship but it is also a pleasure to look at its pages and the text in places is truly fascinating.

The book quotes original sources from many languages and many centuries.

The cover? It’s a Slaty-headed Parakeet by Richter from Gould’s Birds of Asia and is quite classy, I think. The range of small photos on the front and back illustrate some birds with names that make one pause and think. I’d give it 7/10.

The Bird Name Book: a history of English bird names by Susan Myers is published by Princeton University Press.

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