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Bird Names: The Philadelphia Connection – Part 1

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Jan 10, 2009 | by Adrian Binns

As I allude to in an earlier blog, Philadelphia was the center of North American ornithology in the late 18th and 19th century and indeed it is still relevant today. A number of people played an important role and have been acknowledged with species named after them. Though most of these people are recognized in the common name some also have been commemorated in the scientific name.

Alexander Wilson was a Scot who arrived in 1794. There is a phalarope (photo left), plover, storm-petrel, warbler and more recently a snipe named for him as well as the genus Wilsonia. While Wilson was considered the “scientific father of American ornithology”, John James Audubon is known as the “artistic father”. Funny enough, for as well known as Audubon is, his name is only associated with a couple of species, a shearwater and an oriole, and we often refer to the western sub-species of Yellow-rumped Warbler by its old name, Audubon’s Warbler.

Tied with Wilson for the most number of North American birds named after a person, five, is John Cassin the 1st curator at the Academy of Natural Sciences and a renowned authority on world birds. He described almost 200 birds, but as the rules for naming birds go, you are not allowed to name one after yourself. His name is associated with an auklet, finch, kingbird, sparrow and vireo.

photo © adrian binns

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