Cleaning up bird names

There’s been an initiative in the USA to change the names of birds named after historical figures, some of whom were racist. The only example changed as yet seems to have been McCown’s Longspur, now called Thick-billed Longspur. The American Ornithological Society made the change.

The Bird Names for Birds site proposes that birds should not be named after people, whether they were white men (usually) or not. Here is a list they created of all the persons named: Historical Bios Index.

Birdwatching (Your source for becoming a better birder) writes:

The practice of naming species after people was common in the 1800s, when white naturalists honored their friends, family members, or colleagues (often other white naturalists) with eponyms — birds or other animals or plants named in their honor.

Today, many of those names are fraught with ethical problems.

McCown’s Longspur, for example, was named for an officer of the Confederacy who defended slavery and also battled multiple Native American tribes. Townsend’s Solitaire and Townsend’s Warbler bear the name of John Kirk Townsend, a naturalist who stole human remains from graves of Native Americans. John James Audubon, revered for his art, nevertheless also owned enslaved people and collected skulls of Mexican soldiers from a Texas battlefield* — a fact that casts a shadow over the oriole and shearwater named for him.

The topic was taken up in February 2021 by Titus Arnu in Süddeutsche Zeitung, in Skandal im Anflug, although the names in German are not so much those of white ornithologists, but more ones using Mohr, Hottentot and so on. The examples of actual changes are few. The Mohrenlerche (literally Moorish lark, English black lark) has been renamed Schwarzsteppenlerche (literally black steppe lark) and the Ziegenmelker (literally goat milker, English nightjar, but also goatsucker) renamed Nachtschwalbe (literally night swallow) – this last change was more because the bird is not thought to suckle goats.

The journalist gets rather carried away, understandable:

Stehen nach den Skandalen in der katholischen Kirche bald auch Papstfink, Purpurkardinal, Türkisbischof und Dompfaff auf der Abschussliste? Sind alle Neuntöter Serienkiller? Darf man noch Türkentaube sagen und erwähnen, dass der aus Asien stammende Vogel einen Migrationshintergrund hat? Auch der Stummelschwanz-Zwergtyrann, der Raubwürger und der Basstölpel wären wohl nicht undankbar für harmlosere Bezeichnungen. Manchen Vögeln würde man imagemäßig Auftrieb geben mit einem frischen Namen. Die Hottentottenente kann ein Lied davon klicken.

Seagulls at Folkestone

I can’t remember if I’ve posted these before. They were taken with a small camera in the Eurotunnel terminus at Folkestone in July 2013. Standing in the queue for coffee I looked up and saw them standing on the canvas roof. Unfortunately maybe the roof has changed, but at all events there is now, or was last time I was there, a fake hawk flying above to frighten the seagulls off.

LATER NOTE: Here is a photo sent to me by Victor Dewsbery – it seemed difficult to add it in a comment. – I meant to mention his useful post on terminology in the construction industry recently but somehow never got round to it

Weasels have their name blackened

At Marder she wrote, Martin Crellin confirms what I originally suspected – the animal that shut down the Large Hadron Collider was not a weasel (Wiesel) but a beech or stone marten (Steinmarder).
I must admit that I began to research the story when I read the report, but the only German versions I read did (incorrectly) say Wiesel.
And this is not the pine marten found in the British Isles, but another one, well known for chewing through car cables but apparently not eating them. I remember on the drive back to Fürth from Vienna we once had to abandon the car at Regensburg after flames came out of the bonnet, later detected as marten damage.

Sheep and lamb

Here’s a photo taken earlier this week by my friend in Donzdorf, on the Schwäbische Alb. The shepherdess is carrying a newborn lamb up the hill to the place where the sheep are put in an electric fence. The mother ewe apparently headbutted the sheepdog aggressively. Up the hill, the lamb stood up and began to bounce around.


Even in the middle of Fürth I have seen shepherds and sheep – see earlier post. But I haven’t seen them moving along the roads.

Cat ownership cases

Wikipedia refers to splitting the baby as a legal term:

The expressions “splitting the baby” or “cutting the baby in half” are sometimes used in the legal profession for a form of simple compromise: solutions which “split the difference” in terms of damage awards or other remedies (e.g. a judge dividing fault between the two parties in a comparative negligence case).

But I suppose the judgment of Solomon would not work with cats.

A German judge, in Central Franconia of course, perhaps not a cat owner, tried two techniques to discover who owned a cat. First she took all the parties onto a car park roof and had the cat released to see who it would run to. The cat ran under a car, where it remained for a while. Secondly, she had both parties hold the cat to see who the cat preferred. The cat liked them both.

Auf Anordnung des Amtsgerichts musste die Frau die Katze nun zur Verhandlung mitbringen. Auf dem Parkdeck des Gerichts sollte sie das Tier dann frei laufen lassen. Die Richterin wollte damit feststellen, ob sich das Tier bei einem der Beteiligten zutraulich zeigt. Das ging jedoch schief, denn die Katze flüchtete sofort unter ein Auto und blieb dort auch erstmal. Erst nach längerer Zeit konnte sie hervorgelockt werden.

Eventually the original owner was able to prove ownership of Lumpele (‘Little Rascal’) with photos.

George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had his phone number put on Freya’s collar. See
I rescued George Osborne’s cat and put homelessness on the map. Freya was microchipped anyway, but this didn’t prevent her being looked after as a stray for three years some time earlier.

They gave up hope long before moving into Downing Street last year, assuming the cat had got lost – or worse, been run over.

So they transferred their affections to the family budgie, Gibson, named after RAF Dambusters hero Guy Gibson, and two goldfish.

It appears, however, that Freya is a better mouser than the original official mouser, Larry. David Cameron was obliged to dismiss him (he was more tolerant with Andy Coulson).

But microchipping doesn’t always prevent court cases.

Hello World


This blog has just been moved from Serendipity to WordPress. It was hard work, not done by me but by the organ grinder at kalebeul.

There is a script to move from s9y to wp online. This stopped after moving all the posts but comments stopped at 2007, and categories and comments weren’t linked. If I understand it right, Trevor succeeded in moving the rest by clearing out a lot of stuff from the databases, emptying things like spam comments from tables to reduce the amount to be migrated. Even the images came over, which I wasn’t expecting, but this was probably down to coding work on his part.

I’m hoping that if I get a wave of spam comments which the blog fights off, it won’t shut down the server again like it has done twice in the past. The system looks easier to use. It looks as if I don’t have to do so much by hand on an upgrade. Serendipity was in bad English (domainfactory offers an instant wp install, into bad German). I should probably write down all the steps for customizing the blog, since my brain doesn’t seem to retain them.


Winter bird count/Die Stunde der Wintervögel

Stunde der Wintervögel. Birds spotted by me in the Stadtpark (lower level) on Sunday from 13.10 to 14.10 (largest number at one time) in a break from the rain, river running high, no sun:

Blackbird Amsel 7
Fieldfare Wacholderdrossel 1
Magpie Elster 3
Blackheaded gull Lachmöwe 4
Mallard Stockente 7
Coot Bläßhuhn 2
Moorhen Teichhuhn 2
Greylag geese Graugans 39
Great tit Kohlmeise 2
Bluetit Blaumeise 150
Tree sparrow Feldsperling 2
Carrion crow Rabenkrähe 7

The online list to register these birds is heavily garden-biased. Thank goodness I didn’t see any peacocks. Here are the most common birds in (a mere) 182 Fürth gardens a year ago (but the results for this year do show the greylag geese – don’t know where the Canada geese had gone):

House sparrow Haussperling
Great tit Kohlmeise
Blackbird Amsel
Bluetit Blaumeise
Greenfinch Grünfink
Tree sparrow Feldsperling
Magpie Elster
Jay Eichelhöher
Robin Rotkehlchen
Chaffinch Buchfink
Nuthatch Kleiber
Carrion crow Rabenkrähe
Collared dove Türkentaube
Great spotted woodpecker Buntspecht
Wood pigeon Ringeltaube
Goldfinch Stieglitz
Rook Saatkrähe
Long-tailed tit Schwanzmeise
Siskin Erlenzeisig
Crested tit Haubenmeise

The British equivalent is called the Big Garden Birdwatch