People in Bird’s Names: Having a bird (or other organism) named after you occurred mostly in the great period of explorations between the 18th and 19th centuries. It happened either because you went out and found it yourself, or you gave the name to your scientific colleague, financial sponsor, mentor, wife, friend (probably in that order). Here are brief details of some we came across in the common and scientific names of birds seen:
Abdim(1780 – 1827) was a Turkish governor of Dongola in Sudan who assisted Rueppell on his expeditions. The type specimen of the Stork named for him was collected in Sudan in 1823.
Amelia was the wife of French explorer Marquis Leone De Tarragon who visited South Africa from 1840-41 and dedicated his wife’s name in the scientific binomial of the Rosy-throated Longclaw.
Beesley It is odd that this most recent of species named for a person is one I can find little about other than a John Beesley, who recognised this lark as “new” in 1965. Who he is, where he is, or what he does is still to be discovered!
Blanchoti (born in 1790) was the French Governor of Senegal. Why he was commemorated in the scientific namne of the Grey-headed Bushshrike is not clear.
Boehm (1854 – 1884) was a German traveler and zoologist working in Zaire and Tanzania before his early death from Malaria. He is remembered in the scientific name of the Banded Parisoma amongst others.
Buchanan (1886 – 1954) was Captain Angus, a Scottish explorer who is commemorated in the scientific name of the Southern Grosbeak Canary.
Bullock (1773 – 1849) was a British adventurer and amateur naturalist and goldsmith. He once had a travelling museum of 3,000 skins and 32,000 “curiosities”. He travelled mostly in Central America, but is remembered in Africa by the scientific name of White-fronted Bee-eater.
Burton (1821 – 1890) was Sir Richard Francis, a British explorer and author (Kama Sutra, The Perfumed Garden and Arabian Nights!) who is remembered in the scientific name of the Thick-billed Seedeater. He travelled in disguise to Mecca and is the Burton famed for searching for the source of the Nile with Speke.
Cabanis(1816 – 1906) was the most influential European ornithologist of his day. He never visited Africa, but many collectors sent him specimens to the Berlin Museum where he was curator. His son-in-law was Reichenow who named the bunting after him. He is also commemorated in the scientific name of the Long-tailed Fiscal.
D’Arnaud (19th century) was a French explorer and big-game hunter in Africa, who looked for the source of the White Nile. Others obviously thought highly of him as they gave his name to the Barbet and the scientific binomial of the Grey-headed Social-weaver.
Dinemelli Was a collector in Ethiopia in the 1840s, but whom little is known other than that his name is commemorated in the scientific name of White-headed Buffalo-weaver.
EminBey (1840 – 1892) was the adopted name of Eduard Schnitzler a German administrator in the Ottoman service in Egyptian Sudan. He later changed his named again to Emin Pasha (a higher status and title than Bey!). He was an amateur collector and his name is remembered in the scientific name of the Chestnut Sparrow. He lived an exciting and colourful life, abolishing slavery in his area of jurisdiction, but was, ironically, beheaded by slave traders near Lake Tanganyika.
Fischer (1848-86) (Gustav – not the other Fischer who had Spectacled Eider named after him) explored East and Central Africa for 10 years until he died of fever back in Germany. He was buddies with Reichenow who named 6 species after him – both common and scientific.
Foss was a 19th century German collector in the Gabon who has the scientific name of Square-tailed Nightjar in his honour.
Fremantle – Major Guy Fremantle was a British Army officer in Somaliland in the late 1800s. Presumably collecting in his spare time, he was commemorated in the scientific name of the Short-tailed Lark.
Hartlaub (1814-1900) was a German academic and East African explorer, originally trained as a doctor. He also received and described large numbers of specimens from other explorers.
Heuglin (1824-76) was a German explorer of Central Africa who was strongly opposed to evolutionary theory, but the rest of his science was obviously up to muster and the courser was named after him as well as the scientific name of White-browed Robin-chat.
Hildebrandt (1847-81) was a German collector who travelled in East Africa, Comores and Madagascar – like most of the others exploring Africa at this time, he didn’t live long, but lives on in the Starling and Francolin to name but two.
Holub (1847-1902) was a Czech naturalist, trained as a physician. He travelled extensively in Africa and collected over 30,000 specimens. He died from Malaria after a disastrous second African expedition.
Hunter(1861-1934) was a big-game hunter (presumably British) who (presumably) collected for museums too – though whether he actually collected the cisticola named after him is not clear.
Jackson (1859-1929) was a “Sir” who was explorer, Governor/Administrator of various bits of the British Empire in Africa and keen amateur naturalist – the birds named for him were probably in his honour, rather than his own discoveries?
Jardine (1800 – 1874) was Sir William Jardine of Applegarth; a Scottish ornithologist owning a very fine private museum. He wrote numerous ornithological books and is remembered in the scientific name of Arrow-marked Babbler amongst many other species.
Kenrick was a British Army officer in Kenya, who, in 1894 collected the type specimen of the Starling in the Usambara Mountains of Tanzania and presented it to the British Museum.
Kittlitz (1799-1874) Originally a Polish army officer, gave it all up to travel the world on wildlife expeditions. He made a major journey to the Americas and around the ring of fire in the Pacific. He did start an expedition in Africa with Rueppell but had to abandon it in Egypt due to ill-health – but not before he collected and illustrated the plover that now bears his name.
Klaas was Levaillant’s Hottentot manservant for whom he named the cuckoo.
Leadbeater (1760 – 1837) was a British taxidermist and dealer in natural objects as well as a good ornithologist. He supplied famous naturalists such as Gould with specimens and, amongst others, has the scientific name of Southern Ground Hornbill named for him.
Levaillant (1753 – 1824) was a French traveler, explorer, collector and naturalist, born in Dutch Guiana, the son of a French Consul. Fascinated by birds from an early age he traveled in Africa (sponsored and for work) and sent over 2000 specimens to Temminck. He gave the common name of Bateleur to that species of raptor (French for a tight-rope walker who balances using a long pole – reminiscent of the wobbly way the bird flies) and it is also rumoured he may have “concocted” species from bits of other specimens.
Meyer (1767-1836) was a German physician with an interest in ornithology. He never went to Africa, so it is not clear how/why the parrot was named after him. (Not to be confused with A B Meyer who travelled extensively in S E Asia).
Montagu (1753-1815) was an apparently eccentric British aristocrat, court-marshaled from the services, living with mistresses and squandering fortunes. His studies of birds were purely within Britain and he was the first to describe the Harrier now named for him. He died of tetanus after treading on a rusty nail.
Narina –the trogon was named by Stephens in 1815 after a beautiful Hottentot girl who was probably Levaillant’s mistress. The name means “flower” in the Hottentot language.
Naumann (1744 – 1826) was a German farmer and amateur naturalist. His son Johann (1780 – 1857) was regarded as a founder of scientific ornithology in Europe, but it is the elder of the two whose name is remembered in the scientific name of Lesser Kestrel.
Pelzeln (1825 – 1891) was an Austrian ornithologist in charge of the bird section of the Imperial Museum in Vienna for 40 years. He apparently didn’t travel, but received specimens from all over the world and described them. Apart from numerous S. American species named for him he is commemorated in the scientific name of the Slender-billed Weaver.
Reichenow (1847 – 1941) was the German son-in-law of Cabanis who dominated German ornithology for many years and a leading expert on African birds. He has a long list of species named for him including the Seedeater we saw and the scientific name of Golden-winged Sunbird. He wrote many books on African ornithology, but only visited Africa once – which probably accounts for his great age!
Rueppell (1794-1884) was a German collector who made two long expeditions to east and north Africa. He has numerous birds and mammals named for him in both common and scientific names. Abdim Bey helped him in Egypt and got a stork named after him as thanks.
Schalow (1852-1925) was a German banker and amateur ornithologist who worked with Cabanis and Reichenow, but possibly never travelled in Africa, though had a turaco and wheatear named for him.
Sharpe (1847 – 1909) was a British zoologist working at the British Museum. With a particular interest in classification and phylogeny he described over 200 bird species. He was a prolific writer and founded the British Ornithologist’s Club in 1892. He has many species named for him including the Starling we saw and the scientific name of Black-lored Babbler.
Smith (1797 – 1872) was Dr. Sir Andrew Smith who was a ship’s surgeon and Director of Medical Services in Crimea. He was also a scrupulously accurate zoologist who made several expeditions to Africa. Later he became a Member of Parliament and gave his collection to Edinburgh University. Two of the birds he has been commemorated in is the scientific name of Wire-tailed Swallow and African Broadbill, where the entire genus – Smithornis – was named for him.
Speke (1827-1864)is famous for proving that Lake Victoria was one of the Nile’s sources, though he was apparently more interested in big-game hunting. After surviving the trials and tribulations of exploring Africa, he died when his shotgun went off and killed him as he stumbled over a stile back in England. The Weaver (and the bay!) were both named after him.
Temminck (1778-1858) was a Dutch ornithologist, illustrator and collector, who seemingly didn’t go to Africa but just received large collections from others and studied them as a director of the Rijksmuseum. He has huge numbers of animals named for him.
Ussher (1836 – 80) was at various times Governor of the Gold Coast, Tobago and Consul-General in Borneo, sending specimens to the British Museum and writing numerous papers and books on African ornithology. Numerous species of fish, insects and other animals – not just the scientific name of the Mottled Spinetail – have been named after him.
Verreaux (1807-1873) was one of three French collector/naturalist brothers. The whole family traded in large numbers of specimens and were heavily involved in taxidermy. Their zeal for preserving specimens perhaps went a bit far with the stuffing a deceased local African chief who went on display in Barcelona!
Von Der Decken (1833-65) was a German explorer of Africa where he was killed by Somalis. He was the first European to climb Kilimanjaro.
Wahlberg (1810-1856) was a Swedish collector who explored southern Africa and was killed by an elephant near the Limpopo River.
Waller was an English naturalist collecting in East Africa in the late 1800s. Apart from having various animals named for him he was also a signatory when the Sultan of Zanzibar ceded his mainland territories to the British East Africa Company in 1888.
Woosnam(1880 – 1915) was a Game Ranger in East Africa. He didn’t live long, but got lucky by being remembered in the scientific name of the Trilling Cisticola.
Whyte (1834 – 1905) was a government naturalist in Nyasaland (now Malawi), where he collected extensively. The scientific name of Red-faced Crombec is given to him.
Woodford (1761 – 1835) was a Colonel in the British Army in Europe, probably fighting with distinction at Waterloo. He was also a collector who dealt in bird art. The scientific name of the Wood Owl is named for him.
Meanings of other bird names:
Vitelline relates to yolks of eggs – and the bright yellow colour. So Vitelline Masked Weaver simply refers to its bright yellow body colour.
Isabelline is a dingy yellowish-grey colour and possibly refers to the colour of dirty underwear! Apparently Isabella, daughter of Philip II didn’t change her underwear for 3 years while Ostend was being fought over – whether as a protest or because she didn’t have the option of washing is yet to be researched!
Books & Websites:
- The Book with all the fascinating information about large mammal behaviour that I had on tour is: Estes, Richard Despard. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991. (Note: He has produced a “dumbed-down” version since, which, to my mind is nowhere near as good).
- This website is worth a look if you want to be amused by genuine, but humorous scientific names: http://www.curioustaxonomy.net/ I particularly like these found on the Etymology / Named after people page: Agathidiumbushi, A. cheneyi and A. rumsfeldi Miller and Wheeler, 2005 (slime mold beetles) Named after the U.S. president, vice president, and defence secretary.
The Checklist: In the following checklist of birds and other animals seen, an “x” in the column means seen but not counted. An “h” in a column means heard only. Numbers given are only very approximate.
“Cisticolas Forever” – Latest Clement’s Taxonomy: 45 species in bold
An African birder’s greatest prize,
Comes in one general shape and size.
Small and skulking and most elusive,
They chatter from bushes with calls abusive.
They’ve no feathers of blue, red or green,
A colourful cisticola would be obscene.
Most folks are blissfully unaware,
That the modest cisticola is even there.
Their interest fast turns to boredom,
Within minutes of the first time they saw them.
But the birding elite – the cognoscenti,
Crave to see these birds a-plenty.
“Siffling Cisticolas” may sound like a bad disease!
But “cisticologists” know they’re sure to please.
Being plain or streaky does not detract,
From the fun in finding the drab Black-backed.
The chunky Chubb’s, and Aberdare,
Both so obscure – are they really there?
Stunning Dorst’s, and fine Pale-crowned,
Lurk in thick cover where they’re seldom found.
Rarely seen, the exotic Chirping,
Makes a call like someone burping.
Bright Golden-headed and bold Carruther’s,
Look the same – just like twin brothers.
The endemic Madagascar and cute Red-faced,
Stay low to the ground when being chased.
The dingy, skulking, obscure Red-Pate –
With this on your list, you’ll feel just great!
As for Desert, Socotra or raucous Winding:
There’s no greater pleasure than in their finding.
Finding the Tabora or the Levaillant’s
Will complete your list of daily wants.
High in the sky is the odd Wing-snapping
See one of these and there’ll be cheers and clapping.
Oh the fun of locating a lowly Wailing:
Yes -Cisticola enjoyment is never failing!
The dinky Churring and the fine Black-lored,
With such a choice we’re never bored.
Want a Boran, Ashy, Tiny or Stout?
Yes please -do bring the whole genus out.
The duetting Hunter’s and Pectoral-patch,
Are my favorites of the batch.
While Rufous, Piping and gorgeous Trilling,
Are without question the most thrilling.
Red-headed, Foxy and Slender-tailed?
– my joy in their presence has never failed!
Mere thoughts of Rock-loving and the Tana River,
Sets my very heart a-quiver.
Tinkling, Singing, Whistling, Croaking –
Seen enough? – you must be joking!
Is your knowledge of Cisticolas just a smattering?
Unsure if you’ve just seen a Chattering?
Trying to decide if you’ve had a Bubbling
May become an irksome troubling.
And the challenge of all that ID battling,
May make you wish they were all just Rattling.
Don’t mix Cloud-scraping for the similarCloud,
Their identification will make you proud.
There’s no better satisfaction than finally fitting,
The correct call and features to a real, live Zitting.
See all 45 species and you’ll feel so clever,
That you’ll shout a heartfelt “Cisticolas Forever“!
The Silence of the Giraffe
The Giraffe is known for being tall
But did you ever hear one call?
Despite a neck that is 9 feet long
Did you ever hear one sing a song?
Wildebeests grunt and Hyenas laugh
But no sound comes from the poor Giraffe.
Elephants, Lions and lowly Jackals,
Have their trumpets, roars and cackles,
But though Giraffes are awfully cute
They will remain forever mute.