26 March 2009

Gunners' Name Gamebirds on the Historic North Atlantic Coast

A couple of lists giving common names of birds used during the mid-1800s along the north Atlantic coast, convey particularly interesting and pertinent details important for any consideration of historic ornithology.

One list is from a locale prominent in the first history of the eastern seaboard, as hearty pilgrim's did establish a settlement centuries ago. The contributed list being considered is from the renowned Clark's Island - where hearty pilgrims from a small boat called Mayflower had settled - was for 1852, though submitted by F.C. Browne more than two decades after his observations based on a gathering of details during a single season of residence. And the list was published again, a few years later as if to convey again, the details to make certain they were known to the readers of Forest and Stream.

"It is interesting to see how the mind in many cases seizes the striking point about the bird and names it from that salient feature," according to comments made by the editor who prepared the published list. It has a number of unique and interesting attributions, with the identity of the species possible since a scientific name is given. Here are the details published in an issue of Forest and Stream, a sportsman's journal.

Fulix marila, Troop fowl.
Melanetta velvetina. White-wing.
Pelionetta perspicillata. Surfer.
Oidemia americana. Coppernose.
Somateria mollissima. Sea duck.
Bucephala americana. Whistler.
Harelda glacialis. Quandle.
Bucephala albeola. Dipper or dopper.
Dafila acuta. Sprigtail, English duck.
Spatula clypeata. Spoonbill.
Mergus serrator. Sheldrake.
Colymbus torquatus. Adult, Pond loon; young, sheep loon.
C. arcticus. Grayback loon.
[C.] Ceptrionalis. Pegging awl or pegmonk.
Podiceps. All varities [sic.]. Water-witch.
Graculus carbo. Shag.
Mergulus alle. Pine knot.
Sterna. All varieties. Mackerel gulls.
Chroicocephalus philadelphia. Square-tail gull.
Rissa tridactylus. Square-tail, also bay.
Larus marinus. Daniel gull.
L. argentatus. Adult, white; young, gray gull.
Botaurus lentiginosus. Plunkett.
Charadrius virginicus. Squealer.
Squatarola helvetica. Bottle head.
Aegialitis melodus. Beach bird.
Haematopus palliatus? Brant bird.
Limosa? Humility.
Strepslias [sic.; = Strepsilas] interpres. Chicaric.
Tringa canutus. Adult, red-breast; young, gray-back.
T. alpina. Stile.
T. Bonapartei. White-tailed stile.
T. maculata. Marsh plover.
Ereunetes petrificatus. Oxeye.
Calidris arenaria. Skinner.
Gambetta melanoleuca. Large cucu.
G. flavipes. Small cucu.
Numenius longirostris. Sickle bill.
N. borealis. Doe bird.
Macrorhamphus griseus. Driver.

Some of these names are consistent with recognized attributions presented by other historic sources, though some of are obscure names not previously known for the lexicon of common names of the era.

Within the month of this first issuance on local people naming birds, a second informative article had been submitted by Robert T. Morris. He sent "the names of the same class of birds for the Connecticut shore, along which I have shot for a number of years, hoping that it may prove of interest to other gunners."

Anas obscura. Black duck; dusky duck.
Fulix marila. Scaup; big black-head; blue-bill; broad-bill.
Fulix affinis. Little black-head; scaup; blue-bill; broad-bill.
Pelionetta perspicillata. Surf duck; skunk-head.
Pelionetta perspicillata. Female and young of the year; gray coot.
Melanetta velvetina. White wing; bell tongue.
Oidemia americana. Scoter; butter bill.
Somateria mollissima. Eider; sea coot.
Bucephala americana. Golden eye; whistler.
Bucephala albeola. Buffel head; butter ball.
Harelda glacialis. Old squaw; south southerly; old wife; long tail.
Spatula clypeata. Shoveller; spoonbill.
Mergus merganser, Mergus serrator; Sheldrake; saw bill; merganser.
Colymbus torquatus, Colymbus arcticus, Colymbus septentrionalis. Loon.
Podiceps. All varieties. Devil diver.
Graculus carbo. Cormorant. shag.
Sterna. All varieties. Mackerel gull.
Larus marinus. Black-backed gull.
Larus. All other varieties. Gull. (Young) grey gull.

A few of the common names given are new, with details certainly helpful in presenting another published perspective for a time many decades in the past.

Both articles have particular details on historic bird names, each identities pertinent to the overall understanding of this subject. These little bits add to the original sources that help identify the variety of many names formerly used for different species for a limited area of interest. Such local contributions are so pertinent to adequately addressing the larger challenges to clarify applicable names used worldwide for times more than 125 years in the past.

Avian nomenclature has always been consistent in the views of the people that prepare some list or another. But is has never been stable, with no single authority. Changes have been and are consistent and constant, making it difficult to attribute accurate contemporary names. Its an obvious problem to follow naming schemes in a historic sense, even with the certainly appreciated and particular attention by authoritative writers that have issued articles focused on clarifying acceptable names and known synonyms.

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