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Bird Names: Color

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Jan 28, 2009 | by Adrian Binns

Common names are usually used to describe a certain attribute, body part or physical appearance of a species that can differentiate it from another member of its genus. A great many names use coloration to make this distinction such as Chestnut-sided Warbler, Rufous-backed Robin, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Purple Gallinule, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red-tailed Hawk, Scarlet Tanager, Reddish Egret, Purple Finch and Roseate Spoonbill are a few that come to mind.

Out of 810 species in Sibley’s Guide to Birds I counted no less than 254 with a color in some part of its name. I found 53 different colors mentioned! Ruddy, fulvous, violet, clay, crimson, slaty, sooty, pink, vermillion, lilac, yes even Lazuli is a color, not someone’s name or an exotic location in the Mediterranean. The winning color….black, 48 of them, followed by red (30), white (28) and yellow (25).

Two birds get their name from the color of their plumage. Coincidently both of them come from the church. The Cardinal is named for the red male who resembles the red robes a Roman Catholic cardinal wears. The other bird is the Prothonotary Warbler (photo). Its common name along with its genus Protonotaria comes from the Latin protonotarius, a Vatican notary or scribe who wears yellow robes.

photo © adrian binns

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