The International Ornithological Congress (IOC) established its world bird list to resolve a widespread problem amongst ornithologists worldwide: there were many examples of different bird species having the same English name. Now in its ninth year, the birdlist, which is hosted on the IOC’s World Bird Names website, is currently at Version 9.1.

Since its inception, the birdlist has gradually expanded its role to become a database of consensus about bird species taxonomy. However, I thought it would be appropriate to write a series of blog posts about the English names in the database, to recognise the IOC’s contribution to this particular aspect of ornithology.

The posts will be light-hearted and casual, appearing from time-to-time amid my more regular news items. I hope you enjoy reading this first one as much as I enjoyed researching and putting it together.

So let’s begin with Primary Epithets. These are words that appear first in the English names of bird species, usually to distinguish them from other, similar species. Many are hyphenated, such as:

Black-throated, Curl-crested, Long-billed, Ochre-breasted

believe it or not, there are six species in v9.1 of the IOC birdlist with the primary epithet Ochre-breasted!

There are 3,315 different Primary Epithets in v9.1 pf the birdlist. 1,933 of them are used only once.

The most common primary epithet is Black, used as the first word in the English name of 90 species. Including all the occasions where Black- is used as a qualifier (such as in Black-backed, Black-and-white, Black-winged) this number increases to 538 species. There are also nine species that are Blackish, one that is Blackish-blue, one Blackish-grey and one Blackish-headed.

The longest primary epithet in v9.1 of the birdlist has 23 characters. The species which has this distinction is the Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill (Bycanistes subcylindricus).

Looking at relative geographical epithets: 70 species are described as Northern but just 55 as Southern, while there are 63 Western species but only 51 Eastern. Why this should be is a mystery!

A similar discrepancy occurs elsewhere. For example, there are 120 bird species which are named as being Great, Greater or Large, but only 68 that are described as being Lesser, 6 that are Small and 11 that are Least. Curiously there are no species considered to be ‘Greatest’ or ‘Largest’.

The names of continents and countries appear frequently. For example, there are 66 African, 28 American, 32 Indian and 20 Japanese species. Countries or islands that have endemic species also feature prominently: 14 birds have English names commencing Jamaican and 18 begin with Andaman. The names of countries that no longer exist also linger in the database – there are still 14 species described as being Abyssinian!

Birds named after people include 4 with the primary epithet Abbot’s, another 4 that are Elliot’s and 8 Finsch’s, while at the other end of the alphabet there are 6 species named as being Swainson’s, 6 Swinhoe’s and 7 Temminck’s. There are many instances of a person’s name appearing only once. Can you complete the English names of the species that start with: D’Arnaud’s, D’Orbigny’s, David’s, Davison’s and Deignan’s? Or how about Güldenstädt’s?



Some details …


Each of the ATWB 2019 Companion Guides has a number of important features, including:

– A complete taxonomic listing of bird species

– An indication of where each bird family and species can be found in its native state

– Spotlighted species that have a restricted regional or worldwide range


However, perhaps the key feature of all eBooks in the Companion Guide series is the way you can quickly and simply access relevant, up to date online information about every featured bird species. If your reading device is connected to the internet, a single click will take you to a search results page for a species, from where you can continue to search for additional information to whatever level of detail you desire.


The ‘All the World’s Birds’ series of Companion Guides derives its taxonomy, English names and scientific names from The IOC World Bird List, an open access resource maintained by the International Ornithological Congress (IOC). The IOC bird list is hosted on a dedicated World Bird Names website, which provides access to the list in various different formats. The version of the IOC bird list used in the ‘All the World’s Birds 2019’ series of Companion Guides is Version 8.2, published June 27 2018.




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About Charles R Stubbs

Charles has earned his living by writing for more than 15 years. His first two mystery thriller novels, 'Web of Deceit' and 'Retribution', have been published as Kindle eBooks on Amazon. In addition, Charles has published more than 50 eBook birding companion guides, released under the "All the World's Birds" title - search ATWB in Amazon Books. Previously a senior executive in the UK telecommunications industry, since 2001 Charles has crafted sales and marketing literature for major organisations – some of them household names – enabling them to improve their business performance.

Posted on June 1, 2019, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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