There are two kinds of bird names in this world. There are names assigned by a single person at a single point in time, including all the binomial scientific nomenclature and most of the common names that involve the bird being named after someone’s friend, sponsor, or sister-in-law. And there are folk names, which often sound super-weird, disproportionately involve onomatopoeia, and invite embarrassing folk etymologies.
Pratincole seems at first blush like it should be the latter, and yet somehow it is the former. According to the all-knowing oracles of the internet, this English name was first adopted for the Collared Pratincole in 1773 by Thomas Pennant, who based it on the Latin name pratincola coined by Wilhelm Heinrich Kramer from the Latin for “meadow inhabitant”.
Though the Collared and indeed all Pratincoles are vagrant in Britain, they did manage to accrue another common English name more suited to tradition – Swallow Plover, an apt description of these oddly-adapted, short-legged, flight-hunting Charadriiformes. No onomatopoeia needed.
Featured Image: Oriental Pratincole by Surendhar Boobalan, used under CC BY-SA 4.0
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