[CT Birds] English Names + Harriers

magpidarct magpidarct at aol.com
Sun Dec 13 13:12:28 EST 2009

December 13,2009
Steve Oresman
English Names + Harriers

    The above subjects have been discussed in recent postings but mostly with emphasis on personal opinion and local conditions. The International Ornithological Council has sponsored a list of recommended English names worldwide. Authored by Frank Gill, former President of the AOU and author of the standard text on ornithology and Minturn Wright, a Philadelphia lawyer and therefore well suited for arcane discussions of minutiae such as bird names. It took fifteen years to complete and had a board of regional editors including Bob Ridgely for Neo-Tropical species. It was published by Princeton in 2006 and includes an extensive discussion of the various factors that went into the naming decisions. It seems as if this should be the standard even though each of us might disagree on certain names.
    As for pronunciation that is another problem altogether. For example on pelagic trips off the West Coast local birders seem to pronounce Sabine's Gull to rhyme with cabin. When asked why they responded like Californians - because that's the correct pronunciation. Since Edward Sabine for whom the gull was named is long gone I have been unable to discover how he pronounced his own name however I have always heard it sounded as in alpine. The name is derived from Sabina  an ancient part of Italy with its own language of which only 50 words survive so that is not much help. There are numerous artistic representations of the abduction of the Sabine women by the Romans and art historians seem to pronounce it like alpine. However Sabine is also a not uncommon girls name, according to my Internet searches and the common pronunciation is say-been. This is a puzzler since the only English word that comes immediately to mind that ends in "ine" is latrine borrowed from the French according to the OED. Any solid evidence one way or the other related to the gull would be welcome.
    Chris Elphick is certainly spot on in referring to scientific names not Latin names as in another posting. Scientific names are created from both Latin and Greek as well as native languages of the countries from where the birds were first described. The best source for this is "A Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names", Jobling. Oxford 1991.
    There also has been local comment about Northern Harrier populations. I suggest the best source for sound scientifically based data is from the Raptor Population Index, a joint effort of HMANA, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and Hawk Watch International with substantial funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. the RPI uses the data from multiple hawk watch sites with best and longest data sets, including Lighthouse Point, and applies sophisticated statistical techniques to predict population trends. I do not know if 2009 data has been processed but the best source is probably the Executive Director of RPI, Ernesto Ruellas at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology or Chris Farmer at the Acopian Center for Conservation Learning at Hawk Mountain.

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