Bird Names: The Philadelphia Connection – Part 2

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Jan 10, 2009 | by Adrian Binns

Charles Lucien Bonapatre was Napoleon’s nephew. He was a French naturalist who lived in Philadelphia for only a short time, but made a huge impact. He is considered to be the “father of systematic ornithology” and is commemorated with the Bonaparte’s Gull. Interestingly his wife, Zenaide, has a dove and its genus named after her.

There were many other naturalists living in the city of brotherly love and associated with the Academy during that period. These included John Bachman (sparrow and now extinct warbler); Spencer Baird (sandpiper, sparrow); John Townsend (warbler and solitaire); William Vaux (swift); Adolphus Heermann (gull); John Lawrence Le Conte (thrasher) and Thomas Nuttall (woodpecker and in the scientific name of Common Poorwill).

William Bartram was known as the “grandfather of American ornithology” because of his influence on Wilson. Though the Upland Sandpiper was originally named Bartram’s Sandpiper, the genus name Bartramia is still retained. William Gambel’s name comes up in association with the quail (photo below) as well as a subspecies of Mountain Chickadee, Loggerhead Shrike and White-crowned Sparrow. All three of these where originally named Gambel’s…… We also have Dr. Richard Harlan for whom Audubon named Harlan’s Hawk, the dark morph of the Red-tailed Hawk. Ed Harris was a good friend and benefactor of Audubon’s (hawk, sparrow) and Thomas Say, like Zenaide Bonaparte, is recognized with a common name Phoebe as well as a genus, Sayornis.

All these naturalists played their part in our rich ornithological history, from collecting specimens to describing them, to drawing them in detail and placing them in a systematic order. An amazing feat, when you consider that they got the vast majority correct. Their names are now forever honored and etched into our birding vocabulary.

photo © adrian binns

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