Names rarely tell the whole story

Bird Watching (UK) - - Meet The Family -

A fur­ther com­pli­ca­tion to grasp­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween dif­fer­ent bird species comes with the nam­ing of species. You might think that the hum­ble House Spar­row, for ex­am­ple, is closely re­lated to the Song Spar­row, com­mon and wide­spread in the USA. You’d be wrong. New World spar­rows are, in fact, much more closely re­lated to our bunt­ings. There are nu­mer­ous other ex­am­ples, es­pe­cially in those parts of the world for­merly colonised by Bri­tain. Set­tlers had a habit of nam­ing the birds they saw in their new homes af­ter sim­i­lar-look­ing species back home, re­gard­less of any ac­tual tax­o­nom­i­cal con­nec­tion be­tween the two. So, Aus­tralian Mag­pies were so called be­cause they were black and white, and had sturdy bills, like their Euro­pean name­sakes. In fact, though, they’re not corvids – they’re ‘butcher­birds’. If you’re bird­watch­ing abroad, then, be­ware – names are no more than a rough guide to re­la­tion­ships be­tween species.

AUS­TRALIAN MAG­PIE They’re butcher­birds, not corvids

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