Friday 14 August 2009

Names Games, part 2: North America

In part 1 of my translation series I have provided examples from Europe, but how about German names for North American birds?
Yes, in case you are wondering: all the world’s bird species were given a German name. You may wonder further, asking what sense that makes when all the field guides will only contain English and scientific names and thus all conversation – even amongst Germans – about those foreign bird species will probably rely on the English names? But even though you might make a good point and it might not make very much sense, a few people apparently considered it interesting enough to be worth their while and here we are with German names for all the birds in the world except some recent splits and discoveries.

In contrast to European bird names, those names from strange and foreign lands (strictly from a German view point) did not evolve through common usage amongst the ordinary people over a prolonged period of time or underwent multiple changes as the names evolved (e.g. Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starlings from Africa simply weren’t at the centre of people's every-day conversations in 18th century Germany). Sadly, these German names were actually made up by birders and / or scientists rather recently and therefore are often characterized by a clear lack of aesthetics and fantasy. Most are actually – in my opinion – rather boring, like “Messingglanzstar” (Brass Glossy Starling) which is the lovely Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starling.
This lack of creativity sadly also applies to many of the German names of North American bird species. However, using the fabulous BabelBirdy site, I have found a few examples that might fill your heart with joy or your head with ache. These German names were translated into English as in part 1 and I am more than curious to learn from my (North American) readers what they think and like or dislike:

The German names of selected North American Bird Species, translated into English

There is not much excitement in the big, large non-passerines as most groups also occur in the old world, so there was no need to make up a lot or create some serious nonsense. People simply took the German name for the group and added the specific part. Here’s what I found to be quite charming:

Anhinga = American Snake-necked Bird
Yellow-crowned Night-heron = Crab Heron
Roseate Spoonbill = Pink Spooner
Wood Duck = Bride Duck (no idea!)
Bufflehead = Bufflehead Duck (oh, the cowards! Why did they have to add “Duck” to one of the coolest bird names of all time? Why Büffelkopfente and not just Büffelkopf?)
Harris’s Hawk = Desert Buzzard
Laughing Gull = Aztec Gull
Black Skimmer = American Scissorbill
Dowitchers = mudwalkers
Greater Roadrunner = Road Cuckoo

Now we get to the smaller birds, and these include quite a few groups that don’t have any representatives in the old world. Here, people had to get at least a bit more creative and I have found a few interesting translations.

The Tyrant Flycatchers are called tyrants in German and there sadly is not a lot of variation or alterations within the group – all tyrants:
Olive-sided Flycatcher = Spruce Tyrant
Northern Bearless-Tyrannulet = Chaparral Fly-piercer (my goodness, the only exception to tyrant but what an awful one. Germans are no better than the rest. We owe the bird, we all do, all the languages in the world, every nation. We owe a lot.)
Empidonax flycatchers = mostly Tree Species + Tyrant (e.g. Yellow-bellied = Birch Tyrant), interesting: Pacific Slope Flycatcher = Bank Tyrant

Vermilion Flycatcher = Purple Tyrant (crap)
Eastern Kingbird = King Tyrant (wow, if the Eastern Kingbird gets split some day, maybe we can have a King Dictator Tyrant and then a King Dictator Sith Tyrant Overlord – what an evil creature in the Land of the Free)
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher = Scissor Tyrant (the definite anti-climax of my research, how lame, what a sorry excuse for a bird name)
Great Kiskadee = Bentevi (what? I have no idea whatsoever! Looks like a random combination of letters to me)
Phainopepla = Mourning Silk Snapper (the snapper as a reference to flysnapper = the German expression for a flycatcher)
vireos = basically the German translation of the English name + Vireo e.g. Hutton’s Vireo = Huttonvireo (can you spell b-o-r-i-n-g?)

Gray Jay = Tit Jay (wait, the Paridae, not the structures that define mammals)
Tree Swallow = Swamp Swallow
Tufted Titmouse = Native American Tit (in German, we use the politically incorrect term for the ethnic group which is however not politically incorrect in German as the “Indianer” are very highly respected, almost adored here thanks to the Karl May books and movies)
bluebirds = cottage singers (interesting!)
Townsend’s Solitaire = Townsendklarino (please, don’t ask where the Klarino comes from unless you want a useless response of a clueless guesser. It sounds Italian, well, definitely nothing even remotely resembling a German origin - your job, Rick)
Varied Thrush = Necklace Thrush
thrashers = mocking thrushes

wood warblers = forest singers
Prothonotary Warbler = Lemon Forest Singer
Blackburnian Warbler = Spruce Forest Singer (another chance wasted! The poor creature)
Nashville Warbler = Ruby-spot Forest Singer (Not bad, ey? Not bad)
Northern Parula = Tit Forest singer (yet again, the Paridae, not the …)
Yellow Warbler = Gold Forest Singer
Cape May Warbler = Tiger Forest Singer (YES !!! Strrrrrrrike!!)
Yellow-rumped Warbler = Crowned Forest Singer
American Redstart = Flysnatcher Forest Singer (well, as I said: Flycatchers are Flysnatchers)
Common Yellowthroat = Little Willow Yellowthroat
Ovenbird = Pipit Forest Singer

The birds formerly known as North American Tanagers (likely to become Tanager-Cardinals) = Tangaren (oh no, I’ve been betrayed by my own language!)
Dickcissel = Dickzissel
Blue Grosbeak = Azure Bishop
Painted Bunting = Pope Finch (yes, I swear it is true!)
Pyrrhuloxia = Slender-billed Cardinal

All the Emberizine sparrows and their allies are correctly called Buntings in German (har har har):
all towhees = Ground Buntings
Chipping Sparrow = Buzzing Bunting
Field Sparrow = Clapper Bunting
Vesper Sparrow = Evening Bunting
White-crowned Sparrow = Badger Bunting
Dark-eyed Junco = Winter Bunting (I love that one)
The other “sparrows” are mostly a direct translation of their name’s specific part + bunting, e.g. Baird’s Bunting, Henslow’s Bunting, Grasshopper Bunting, White-throated Bunting, Harris’s Bunting etc.

Icterid orioles = Trupiale (yet again, why oh why?)
Icterid meadowlarks, grackles, cowbirds and blackbirds = in German, an alteration of the word starling is used ("Stärling", although the German word for Starling is “Star” without the –ing, but the root is the same), so it is comparable to calling these species not starlings but maybe steerlings, stoorlings, steurlings, stierlings, stairlings, etc. in English. Even though I find it sad to name all the Icterids (except for orioles which are Trupiale and some grackles being Grackels) “Stärling” without any variation or diversity, I do recognize the creativity behind simply making a new word up for such a large group. The only interesting example for a species I found:
Great-tailed Grackle = Jackdaw “StXXrling” (so you know where to look for vagrant Jackdaws in North America now)

American Goldfinch = Gold Siskin
Pine Siskin = Spruce Siskin (yeah, we love to cause some confusion)
redpolls = Birch Siskins

What's that you say? Oh, I can't hear you, just write it down in the comments section, will you?

Monday 10 August 2009

Names Games, part 1

I have recently found that I often reflect on language, particularly the English one (in which I blog despite the fact that German is my first language), and more specifically about the ways in which English relates to German and how it all shows in the birds and the birding we do - an obvious connection.
In this post, I will pick up that thread once again and combine it with another one of my favourite topics, bird names.
One of the most interesting aspects of knowing two (or more) languages is the possibility to compare the different terms used for the same thing or issue. I don't mean the plain translation of ordinary terms, like "house" being "Haus" and "teacher" being "Lehrer" and "bird" being "Vogel". That is boring. What I am interested in is the different (or identical) ways in which languages use descriptive terms.
For example, the blossoms of a willow are not just called "willow blossoms" in English but are "willow catkins". Now, if we translate the German term "Weidenkätzchen", we get to "willow kittens" which is quite remarkable.
Another example, this time without the happy ending:
A screw driver in German - when the exact term is translated to English - is a screw puller and thus exactly the opposite of the English term (Germans are fond of disassembling while the English prefer to construct? Who knew...).
Now, as I have promised, I will combine that aspect of languages with my passion for discussing bird names, specifically the descriptive ones. What I will therefore do in this first of two posts is present the German name of European birds as it translates directly into English (some also occur in North America, e.g. the Loons/Divers) and see where the most striking differences are. In a second part due to be posted soon, I will do the same for some North American birds.
So here we go, part 1:

The German names of selected European Bird Species, translated into English

Common Loon/ Diver = Ice Diver
Black-throated Loon/ Diver = Gorgeous Diver
Red-throated Loon/ Diver = Star Diver (not the fame but the celestial bodies - wonder why? Winter plumage!)
storm petrels = storm swallows
shearwaters = storm divers
petrels = storm birds
Great White Egret = Silver Heron (all the Ardeidae except for the bitterns are "herons", no differentiation in e.g. herons and egrets)
Little Egret = Silky Heron
Bittern = Reed "Dommel" (I am not entirely sure what the root of the word "Dommel" is but would guess it comes from drumming = trommeln, making the bogbumper a Reed Drummer. An older, inofficial name is Reed Ox)
Glossy Ibis = Sickler
Mallard = Stick Duck (probably from some strange hunting technique / background)
Tufted Duck = Heron Duck
Common Pochard = Table Duck (apparently it tastes really good and was therefore often presented at festive dinner table events)
Goosander / Common Merganser = Goose Sawer (the size plus the fiercely toothed bill)
Lesser Spotted Eagle = Screaming Eagle
Golden Eagle = Stone Eagle
Common Kestrel = Tower Falcon (all Falconidae are falcons, no differentiation in kestrels, falcons)
Hobby = Tree Falcon
Corncrake = Quail King
Avocet = Saberbill
plovers = rain whistlers
Calidris sandpipers = beach walkers
Tringa sandpipers = water walkers
Common Sandpiper = Riverbank Walker
A Riverbank Walker doin' its thing on a riverbank
Red Phalarope = Thor’s Little Chicken
Red-necked Phalarope = Odin’s Little Chicken
skuas/jaegers of the genus Stercorarius = robbery gulls
terns = sea swallows
Puffin = Parrot Diver
Barn Owl = Veiled Owl
Eurasian Kingfisher = Ice bird
House Martin = Flour Swallow (no differentiation in martins and swallows, all are swallows)
This Flour Swallow either got itself a bit dirty (they are supposed to be white) or is of the wholemeal variety

Barn Swallow = Smoke Swallow
Well, if it was "smoked" instead of "smoke" I'd postulate a certain resemblance to bacon but frankly I have no idea whatsoever where the smoke comes from

Winter Wren = Fence King
Bohemian Waxwing = Silktail
Dipper = Water Ouzel
Cetti’s Warbler = Silksinger
Phylloscopus warblers = leaf singers
Acrocephalus warblers = reed singers
Marsh Reed Singer (palustris) - yes, I am sure. I mean, look. it is so distinctly coloured, there's no mistaking it.
Locustella warblers = buzzers (Field, Reed and Beat buzzer, can you figure out which is which?)
Hippolais warblers = mockers
Sylvia warblers = grey slippers (Not the shoes, the movement – derived from an old German expression. In modern German this reads as "grass gnats" by a funny yet pure coincidence:
gra smügge = old/ancient German for grey slipper while gras-mücke is modern German for grass gnat - all you have to do is move the "s" a bit and the Sylvia Warblers, which are called Grasmücke, have a very obscure name)

nuthatches = gluers (as they often narrow tree holes that are too large for them by gluing clay around the rim)
Red-backed Shrike = Ninekiller (derived from the myth that it would kill 8 animals and store them on thorns before eating its ninth victim)
Great Grey Shrike = Robbery Strangler
Hawfinch = Stone Biter (as in cherry stone biter, its former and now unofficial name)
Bullfinch = Dome Cleric or alternatively (now official) Dolt
Pine Grosbeak = Hooked Dolt
Yellowhammer = Gold Bunting

And then the many "Little X-throats":
Whinchat = Little Brownthroat
Stonechat = Little Blackthroat
Bluethroat = Little Bluethroat
Robin = Little Redthroat
Siberian Rubythroat = Little Rubythroat

Little Brownthroat should actually be called Little Buffythroat and then we could call another species Brownthroat, like e.g. some North American or tropical species. Wait, what's that you say, brown as a bird colour is largely restricted to Europe? Well, crap!

So let's hear it in the comments: which ones do you like, dislike, think are nice or funny or boring or should be opposed? Have an unlimited and uncensored go at it!

Beating a Dead Horse - or was that a Harrier?

Quite recently, the one and only blogdad Charlie Moores posted a very emotional article about his views on hunting that sparked a very interesting discussion in the comments section here.
In the course of the discussion I made the following comment highlighing what in my opinion was the most important of Charlie's points:

"Birders/conservationists are often asked/expected to tolerate, respect or even support (duck stamps) hunters and cooperate with them for the “greater good” of nature conservation which supposedly is a common goal.
But how much does the “other side” (the hunters) tolerate, respect and support us, the non-hunting or non-fishing nature enthusiasts?
If birders buy duck stamps, do hunters donate to nature conservation organizations?
If birders respect hunting seasons by staying away from certain areas at certain times, do hunters step back from certain hunting opportunities to allow for better birding in those areas during certain times?
The more I think about it (and I know at least the German hunting scene quite well as I grew up in a forester/hunter family), I’d say tolerance, respect and cooperation amongst birders and hunters is very much a one-way street."

Here's a bit of news that would seem supportive of my scepticism (make sure to read the comments).

Possibly someone from the UK's hunting lobby with whom we supposedly share the common goal of conservation could provide the figures to the following questions:

How many Red Grouse are there in England?
On how many square kilometres is the hunting of the Red Grouse allowed?

How many Hen Harriers are there in England?
How large are their combined breeding ranges where the hunting of Red Grouse might not be quite as easy as elsewhere?

If hunters completely refrained from hunting within the territories of Hen Harriers, the loss of hunting area to them would amount to how many % of the total Red Grouse hunting area in England?
Why would this be inacceptable to hunters, as is shown by the apparently continued illegal shooting of Harriers in England and elsewhere in the UK?

But of course, it needs to be stressed here that there is a common ground for hunters and birders.

Thursday 6 August 2009

New I and the Bird is up - this time including the Me-I, not just the Others-I

Between the booty of a mariner and the Cheyenne bottoms, the English language with its many twists and tweaks and double meanings is a constant well of refreshing insights. The full extend of its linguistic excellence however is only unveiled to a chosen and privileged few who not only happen to be birders and are thus appreciative of beauty and quality in ultimate perfection but who also have the constant courage and graze to blog about their birding adventures and thoughts.
As a natural result of the bird bloggers' supremacy and in celebration of their literary excellence, the blog carnival I and the Bird was initiated by Mike Bergin exactly four years (and a month) ago, a very fine anniversary that needed to be solemnized accordingly.

Corey (here is the link to his profile, but the picture near the end of this post conveys a far more realistic image of the man who claims to be Corey Finger) has lived up to the challenge of the occasion and crafted a fine new edition of I and the Bird. This newest edition just so happens to also include a link to my submission (and I had no idea it was an anniversary edition) , the first in a horribly long time (or not long enough time, depending on who you ask, right Corey?!).

Cheers, enjoy, and I had no idea about the dog poop. The things you learn from reading 10,000Birds.