Lapwings, Loons & Lousy Jacks: : The How and Why of Bird Names by Ray Reedman| Pelagic Publishing | Hardback | July 2016 | 292 Pages | Black & White Photos | ISBN: 9781784270926


The Publisher’s View: The Lapwing once had many regional names; the Loon has a British–American identity crisis and the respectable-sounding Apostlebird is often called a Lousy Jack. Why do bird names, both common and scientific, change over time and why do they vary so much between different parts of the English-speaking world? Wandering through the scientific and cultural history of ornithology takes us to the heart of understanding the long relationship between birds and people.

Lapwings, Loons and Lousy Jacks uncovers the stories behind the incredible diversity of bird names, explains what many scientific names actually mean and takes a look at the history of the system by which we name birds. Ray Reedman explores the natural history and folklore behind bird names, in doing so unlocking the mystery of the name Scoter, the last unexplained common name of a British bird species.

Other Views:In the stories behind the names we rediscover such as the Classical world and the history of exploration, in stories where even scandal and murder lurk. We find too that busy scientists may be fallible and that they sometimes contribute to confusion. The name ‘scoter’ (‘of unknown origin’ according to the OED) is finally explained using evidence from both America and France. Other such puzzles are resolved too. As for the more mundane and familiar, even the Robin has a colourful tale to tell. The Americans and Australians have their own unrelated ‘robins’, which remind us that, while linked by a common language, we each use it in different contexts. And if we Brits are offended by the international use of the word ‘murre’ for a ‘guillemot’, do we stop to consider that the American usage is Cornish while ours is French in origin? While most of the English name, which are used in a world context are rooted in Anglo-Saxon and French, those of Australia, North America and Trinidad also reflect the influence of diverse explorers, settlers and native peoples. For that reason those areas are examined more closely. The author is a linguist, a former teacher, and a lifelong bird-lover – as well as an Earley resident and frequent contributor to EEG activities, whose experiences and travels are reflected in the book. Join him on this journey of discovery which celebrates a wonderful world of words and birds.” – The Earley Environmental Group

The Author: Ray Reedman combines his love of birds and travel with a deep understanding of language and history. As a retired Senior Master of a successful independent school Ray rekindled a life-long love of the natural world by teaching courses on ornithology and travelling the world to watch birds.

Fatbirder View: It’s difficult for me to assess this book as I am a complete bird name nut. I’ve spent a big chunk of my spare time over more than a decade looking at the people whose names appear in either the common or scientific names of vertebrates in general and birds in particular. Along the way I’ve been fascinated by local names, and historical changes much of which this excellent volume covers. There must be something in the human psyche that drives our apparent need for conformity and for several centuries ‘authorities’ have sought to impose uniformity. These days it’s the job of the IOC to regularise common names across continents so that Brits, yanks, kiwis et al can all recognise what species is being talked about. Personally I can’t see the point as Linnaeus and others invented a system we all use of scientific names so whether I call a bird a yaffle or a green woodpecker makes no odds so long as I use the scientific name everyone can read off the same hymn sheet. I think it’s a shame that national names are under attack and that regional names are losing out to the standard common names in fieldguides. Having said that birders, if not ornithologists are stubborn fellows likely to go on calling a Great Skua a bonxie or even inventing their own names like spawk for Sparrowhawk or barwit for bar-tailed godwit.The richness of names is something I celebrate along with the author. Moreover, his depth of research has taught me things I didn’t know and I thank him for it. If I have to delve deep for a criticism it would be that once out of this country the areas covered are patchy depending on the author’s experience. If I were an American, Aussie or South African I might take up the challenge to give more depth to the common names used there and the rest of the English speaking world too. But, that is a minor issue and the bulk of this volume is full of fascination and fact that a great many birders will learn from and love.

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