1 May 2019

Names of Birds

Brown-eared Bulbul © HIH Princess Takamado
Brown-eared Bulbul © HIH Princess Takamado
By HIH Princess Takamado

'Through the Lens', Fujingaho Magazine, May, 2019

Click here to view pdf

Photos and text: Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado

English Translation: Asia Club, a WBSJ Volunteer Group (YOKOYAMA Kazuko, KASE Tomoko)


In my childhood I was brought up to respect names. As for birds, they have local names given in the countries they live, as well as scientific names that are universally used. As most local names are based on the birds’ local characteristic appearance and behaviour, those of widely distributed birds tend to vary differently by countries. Although we could never tell how they feel about their names given by humans, I would like to introduce three confusing examples of bird’s naming.


Blue Rock Thrush © HIH Princess Takamado

Blue Rock Thrush © HIH Princess Takamado

The first photo is of a Brown-eared Bulbul (hiyodori, Hypsipetes amaurotis), which is so bustling that it is sometimes disliked for its audacity. Actually it looks fashionable, but its ear-piercing peet-peet voice is certainly too noisy. The next one is of a Blue Rock Thrush (iso-hiyodori, Monticola solitarius), with beautiful voice and appearance. Some 20 years ago, wondering why these two birds are so different even though both are named “hiyodori” in Japanese, I looked up a field guide and found that the English name of the latter is “Blue Rock Thrush”. Thrush is tsugumi in Japanese. Finding it interesting, I told many people about a bird called hiyodori although it is actually tsugumi. However, a few years ago, scientists checked its DNA and found that it belongs to the family Muscicapidae. It is too complicated a story for me only to laugh at.


The next example is of an American Robin (koma-tugumi, Turdus migratorius), of which I could not find a proper photo to show you. It is a common bird in North America but somehow the only photo I could find was of the bird struggling with a large earthworm between its beaks. Sorry to bother you, but please search for that photo with the keywords “American Robin, images” if you are interested. The American Robin is literally translated into Japanese as America (American) komadori (robin), but it does not belong to the family Erithacus. In fact , the colonists who immigrated to America from Europe in the 16th century found this bird and named it as American Robin, because it had an orange-red breast like the European Robin they were much accustomed to see back at home. Even at present just a “robin” means “American Robin” in the USA, and “European Robin” in Europe.


Ryukyu Robin © HIH Princess Takamado

European Robin © HIH Princess Takamado

Lastly let me tell you a story well-known in the ornithological world of mis-entry concerning Japanese Robin (komadori, Larvivora akahige) and Ryukyu Robin (akahige, Larvivora komadori). The specific name of the Ryukyu Robin is L. komadori, and that of the Japanese Robin is L. akahige. It happened when these two birds were mis-entered to “Nouveau recueil de planches coloriées d'oiseaux (New collection of colored boards of birds)” by a Dutch zoologist, Coenraad Jacob Temminck in the 18-19th century. This mis-entry has been kept long, because the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature stipulates that “any name should not be discarded later as an improper reason”. It aims to avoid the confusion of scientific names, but several years ago, generic names of both the Ryukyu Robin and the Japanese Robin were changed: Erithacus komadori and Erithacus akahige became Larvivora komadori and Larvivora akahige. To be honest, I wondered why they didn’t change all, as far as they could change that part.


In Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, there is a famous line as follows:
“What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Birds’ names would not change by their voice, appearance or behavior, and it is true that we would surely continue to adore them as attractive and lovely regardless of their names.


Recently a lot of bird-lovers visit our country from abroad, and we often see them try to remember common scientific names, which are in quite a few cases found with changed generic names. I would like to try to keep prepared to the fact that names I have long remembered might be changed any time and take it as “interesting” so that I wouldn’t be left behind the change of scientific names which have been considered unchangeable.



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