Common names for birds really suck and should be reviewed to make them universally relevant.

Why for example, call a gull with a brown head, “Black-headed Gull“? And why use religious honorifics such as Cardinal, Bishop, or Priest to distinguish sectarian divisions in the bird world?


Did you know for example that the Barnacle Goose was so-named because scientists originally believed that it hatched from a barnacle? Now that we know that this is nonsense, should the common name not be changed to reflect a more enlightened discipline?

Below I have given just a few erroneously named birds. Incorrect by dint of diet, size, geography, colour, religion or simply downright misleading. If you agree that it is time to overhaul the common names for birds, join the movement and sign the petition at the bottom of the page.

Let’s start with colour. Have you ever seen a Green Heron, I mean a green Green Heron? There are so many examples in this section; Purple Sandpiper, Magnolia Warbler, Purple Finch, Black-headed Gull, Green Sandpiper, Silverbird….none of which conform closely enough to the colour charts to warrant the title.


Who amongst you would seek tax-return advice from a Fiscal Flycatcher?

The Eurasian Oystercatcher seldom indulges in ostrephagia, preferring cockles and mussels. It may, like its American cousin, occasionally partake but does that really justify maintaining the fallacy that the main constituent of its diet is oysters? If that is not enough, I ask you to consider the Sandwich Tern!

And why Belted Kingfisher? A belt is usually worn around the waist. Only Simon Cowell or Jaleel White wear them higher. Band-breasted Kingfisher…. there now, that’s better isn’t it?


Mallard. Surely the biggest betrayal of a simple halcyon childhood stripped away by a faceless appellator. How many children spoke their first words in a local park at the duck pond? Those words were “duck duck“. This is the name by which Mallards should be universally known.

Do Nunbirds and Friarbirds adhere to vows of silence and chastity, I wonder?

Killdeer? Really? Hands up anyone who has seen a wading bird take down an elk. Anyone?


Prothonatory Warbler? A what now?

Why is a Great Tit smaller than a Little Egret?

……and another thing! Why can I not find a Kentish Plover in Kent? Has anyone from Philadelphia ever seen their eponymous vireo?

What do we know about Bearded Tits? Well, they are not tits for a start, neither are they bearded. The Common Names Committee noted this misnomer and adjusted the name to Bearded Reedling. I am still left with the nagging feeling of a job half-done.

Can a Secretarybird take shorthand?

Butcherbirds are an Australian family of pied, crow-like birds that run a meat delicatessen franchise. Unless you know different.

How many Bohemian Waxwings appear in eBird lists from the Montmartre hotspots?

One more thing. Great Grey Owl? it’s a Stupendous Grey Owl!

Make common names universally relevant! Sign the petition now!

Written by Redgannet
Redgannet worked for more than 35 years as a flight attendant for an international airline. He came to birding late in his career but, considering the distractions, doesn't regret the missed opportunities. He was paid to visit six continents and took full advantage of the chance to bird the world. He adopted the nom de blog, Redgannet, to avoid remonstrations from his overbearing employer, but secretly hoped that the air of mystery would make him more attractive to women. Now grounded, he is looking forward to seeing the seasons turn from a fixed point.