Joshua Malbin has been birding in Brooklyn, NY for more than 10 of his 15-plus years doing it so far. He’s been working as a writer and editor for almost 20, and has contributed fiction and nonfiction to more than a dozen online and print journals. He cohosts the independent comics review podcast Comics for Grownups and has self-published a novel about water wars in the western U.S. Another is in the works.
“Wait, why is this bird called ‘Red-bellied Woodpecker?'”
“Because, you see, it has this very faint, essentially invisible wash of red on its lower belly. No birder alive has ever seen it in the field. Apparently you can see it in museum specimens. Also occasionally in photographs, if the light hits it just right. Also it’s more of an orange than a red.”
“So it’s the bird’s most prominent feature? It must be really plain otherwise.”
“No, it has bright red on the back of its neck.”
“So there’s a bunch of other woodpeckers named red-naped, red-cowled, red-shawled, that kind of thing? All those names are already taken?”
“So it’s distinctive, then? Other woodpeckers don’t have red bellies at all?”
“No, plenty of them do.”
“So a red belly is unique in America? Or in its genus?”
“So it must at least distinguish it from very, very similar species?”
Most birds were named by now dead white men who didn’t appreciate that most of the species they were “discovering” had already been discovered and had names. Most of the birds so named were named by men with the dead remnants of a bird in their hand and often the men doing the naming had never seen the bird in life. Geographic, honorific, horrific, and overly specific names abound much to the detriment of those who would like names to actually fit the creatures being described. And we poor birders have to use those names because otherwise no one will know what bird we are checking off our list and bragging about having spotted to fellow birders, bored families, and unimpressed romantic interests. Well, no more! We here at 10,000 Birds have decided to right some wrongs and improve the birding world by renaming birds the way they should have been named from Linnaeus to the present. (Or, at least, pointing out some names that suck.) Welcome to Bird Renaming Week, our week-long exploration of the names we put to birds and how they can be improved!