Thursday, March 20, 2014

How Our Birds Get Their Names

The staff gets asked many different questions at the summer bird programs World Bird Sanctuary presents at zoos.  What type of bird is that?  How old is the bird?  Can it fly?  By far one of the most common questions is what is the bird’s name?

Humans have an innate desire to name things.  This does not just include their pets, but also their houses and even their modes of transportation.  All boats have a name from the tiniest dinghy to the grandest yacht.  I’ve even named both the cars I’ve owned.  We humans just love to have something to call things other than what they actually are.

Vader the Black Vulture (photo by Gay Schroer)

While not all of our birds or animals can actually recognize their names (though many seem to), we need something to call them other than their species.  World Bird Sanctuary is home to over twenty Bald Eagles, which could get confusing.  Calling them by their species and then a number doesn’t work either, especially in a program setting.  “Ladies and gentleman, entering from the back of the theater is Bald Eagle number fifteen!”  That sounds a little ridiculous, particularly if you only have the one Bald Eagle in your show!  Hence, all of our animals have names, even our Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches.

Naming a bird can sometimes be tricky.  You need something that is clever, especially if the bird is a show bird, but also easy to say.  Remember this is a word you will need to repeat many times throughout the program.  When we obtained a black vulture we toyed with many names including “Noir” which is French for black and also an excellent film genre.  Of course once we practiced saying Noir over and over, we decided it might not be the best fit.  Likewise if you choose anything mythological or tribal you want to make sure it means what you think it means.

Osiris our Egyptian Vulture is named for an Egyptian god (photo by Gay Schroer)

Tsavo our fantastic Bateleur Eagle is named for Tsavo National Park in Africa.  Unfortunately the name “Tsavo” translates to “place of slaughter”.  Osiris an Egyptian Vulture is named for the Egyptian god of the underworld.  Osiris turned out to be a girl.

Hugnin our White-naped Raven (photo by Gay Schroer)

Our White-necked Raven Hugnin on the other hand is perfect.  In Norse mythology Odin had two ravens; Hugnin and Munnin, representing thought and memory respectively. Hugnin is an incredibly smart bird so her name actually works on two levels, like Scarlett our Red Shouldered hawk (named for Scarlett O’Hara and the color) and Jet our American Kestrel (because he kicks like Jet Li and is fast like a jet).

Scarlett the Red-shouldered Hawk (photo by Gay Schroer)

We not only scour mythology for names but also history as in the case of many of our Bald Eagles, like Lewis and Clark, or Timigen our Red Tailed Hawk named for the boyhood name of Genghis Khan.  Timigen was quite a force to be reckoned with when he was younger.

Timigen the Red-tailed Hawk (photo by Gay Schroer)

 Every single name we choose for our birds has a story or a reason, be it their personality (Mischief another White Necked Raven), literary reference (Poe our Common Raven), appearance (Reese a very orange Great Horned Owl), in memory of a wonderful volunteer(Kinsey a Turkey Vulture) or even where they were found (Sanibel a Bald Eagle found on Sanibel Island, Florida).

Every single bird has a name and every name has a story. So, next time you are at World Bird Sanctuary ask about the bird’s name, the answer may actually surprise you.

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

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