Birds are incredibly diverse and come in many forms, from tiny nectar-drinkers to large carnivorous raptors. Some of these birds seem to be named by ornithologists who just had a bad day or were just in a hurry. Here are some birds with names that we didn’t just make up.
Someone’s thinking dirty thoughts
Possibly named after the Spanish slang bobo (“stupid”), they had a habit of landing on sailing ships, where they were easily captured and eaten. The most famous species is the Blue-footed booby, which has bright blue feet.
These tiny European birds are stocky, with short, stout bills are also referred to as chickadee or titmouse. There are many species of tits, including the Great Tit, Elegant Tit, Sombre Tit, etc.
Woodcocks are wading birds that live in woodlands. The Funky American Woodcock (aka timberdoodle, bogsucker, or hokumpoke) is known for its funny ‘bobbing dance’ when searching for food.
Native to South America, male cocks-of-the-rock are magnificently bright orange or red plumage (with black wings), with fan-shaped crests. They spend a lot of energy in leks, or competitive dancing to compete for mates.
Shags are goose-sized black, fish-eating long-necked birds similar to cormorants, with many variants, including the oddly-named Rough-faced Shag.
Harry Potter-inspired names
A South American hummingbird found in mid-elevation Andean cloud forests, pufflegs are known for their dense snow-white leg puffs which consist of feather tufts that resemble woolly underpants.
Found in Australia, this black bird with its characteristic forked tail can mimic the sounds it hears and sometimes makes astonishingly entertaining calls that sound like a sneeze.
Found in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea in tropical moist forests and moist montane forests, feeding primarily on insects and some seeds. Its cousins include the Weebill and Shy Heathwren.
Fairywrens are tiny birds with blue plumage, with names like Splendid Fairywren with its (almost) completely electric blue plumage, Superb Fairywren where the males sing to their eggs, and the Lovely Fairywren.
Some badass birds
The name “Tyrant” reflects the aggressive nature of some species. There are over 400 species of these insect-eating songbirds, including the Great Shrike-tyrant, the largest of the tyrant flycatchers.
This rare, nocturnal bird is a species of Nightjar or Nighthawk family. Its habitat is restricted to Sulawesi, and as if ‘Satanic’ isn’t bad enough, it’s also known as the Diabolical Nightjar and the Devilish Nightjar.
Endemic to New Guinea, this bird has the body of a parrot with a bright red underside and the black head of a vulture. Its call ranges from a “harsh and rasping growl,” to a “drawn-out scream” when it’s in flight.
They’re fast-flying relatives of gulls with a piratical lifestyle, preying mainly on birds and their eggs. This bird is parasitic not from sucking blood, but from “kleptoparasite” because it steals their food from other animals.
Related to ducks, the horned screamer’s call, as its name suggests, is a very loud echoing sound. These unicorns of the bird world grow long, white “horns” on their foreheads over the course of their lives – some approaching 6 inches. No other birds on earth have anything like it.
Birds that sound like food
This small brown owl found in New Zealand and Tasmania is named for its distinctive “more-pork” call which is thought to be a good sign in Maori culture. Despite its name, it feeds on large invertebrates and small birds, rats, and mice.
Rather than a fruit, this is a large, hummingbird with an iridescent dark green-turquoise plumage. It’s endemic to the main island of Puerto Rico, where they usually feed on the nectar of Heliconia flowers.
This tiny, active, warbler-like bird is nicknamed “Sugar Bird” for its attraction to sugar and nectar. Its yellow underparts is probably why it’s called ‘banana’.
This pale, medium-sized seabird has a distinctive yellow tip on its black bill and feeds by plunge diving for fish. They’re named after the first place they were first identified: the town of Sandwich in the UK.
When a bird is so boring…
There’s nothing sad about a Sad Flycatcher. Its scientific name is Mylobius tristis – tristis means sad in Latin – which referred to its song that was described as “a wailing note, particularly sad to hear.” Endemic to Jamaica, its local name is Little Tom Fool because it tends not to move even when people get close.
It is found in Ecuador and Peru, the males often sing a short series of buzzy notes. With its dull brown-grey colour, it’s probably why it’s called ‘drab’.
This diving bird is commonly found in Canada and the USA – so common, that it’s the provincial bird of Ontario and appears on Canadian currency, including the one-dollar “loonie”.
It’s probably so called because it’s described simply as “a medium-small, compact lark with a small bill, a plain face, and an indistinct eyebrow.”
An Indonesian endemic, it’s a flightless bird confined to swamp forests and wetlands, with a drum-like call that ends with a loud scream. It’s related to the Snoring Rail, which has a call that’s a short wheez followed by a distinctive snoring ee-orrrr.
These African birds have drab grey and white plumage, named for their raucous alarm call, “Kuh-wei!”, which sounds like “Go Away!”. It’s thought to alert other species to the presence of predators or other dangers.
There’s a ton of other birds with funny names that we just can’t fit in here. Many of them are probably named after how annoying they are – see the Screaming Piha, as well as a motley collection of birds simply named ‘Noisy’, like the Noisy Pitta, Noisy Friarbird, Noisy Scrubbird, and Noisy Miner.
Bird names are a neverending source of entertainment! One has to wonder what the ornithologists were doing when they named them.