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 tenth year, the birdlist, which is hosted on the IOC’s World Bird Names website, is currently at Version 9.2 and is shortly to be up-issued to Version 10.1.

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. This is the third such post (the first two were published in May and October last year).



In v9.2 of the IOC birdlist there are 10758 extant bird species. 150 of those have a single-word English name.

1940 other species have an English name that has a unique primary epithet. This is the first part of the English name that describes the species in a way that distinguishes it from other, similar species.

Many of these unique primary epithets are derived from the names of people, such as Dunn’s Lark, Ansorge’s Greenbul and Goldman’s Warbler. There are no other species in the IOC birdlist that have an English name derived from Messrs Dunn, Ansorge and Goldman.

Other unique primary epithets are geographical in nature. For example, Assam Laughingthrush is the only bird species named after the state of Assam in north-east India. Guadeloupe Woodpecker is endemic to the French overseas region of Guadeloupe in the eastern Caribbean and is the only species to have this primary epithet as part of its English name. Just one species, Java Sparrow, has the primary epithet ‘Java’, named after the island in south-west Indonesia (although there are 23 other species with English names beginning with ‘Javan’, such as Javan Cuckooshrike and Javan Sunbird).

The most fascinating unique primary epithets are those that refer to a physical characteristic of the bird species.

Surprisingly, only one bird species is thought to be notable because of its grey legs – the Grey-legged Tinamou of north-western South America. And only one species is described as being both red and yellow – the Red-and-yellow Barbet of eastern Africa. Here are a few more colour-based uniques:

Blood-colored, Red-stained and Red-cockaded – all Woodpeckers; Vinaceous-breasted and Red-spectacled Amazon parrots; Red-vested Myzomela – a species of Honeyeater; Cream-eyed, Cream-striped and Cream-vented Bulbul; Cream-browed, Cream-throated, Ashy-bellied, Pearl-bellied, Black-ringed and Yellow-ringed – all White-eyes.

Unique primary epithets that refer to a bird’s appearance include Small-headed Elaenia, Crow-billed and Hair-crested Drongo, Spike-heeled and Short-clawed Lark, Hairy-breasted Barbet, Hairy-crested (not Hair-crested) Antbird and Hairy-backed Bulbul.

Some unique primary epithets refer to a bird’s behaviour, as in Terrestrial Bulbul, Ant-eating Chat and Rock-loving Cisticola, while others describe their song – Chirruping and Chiming Wedgebills, for example, and Monotonous Lark (not very complimentary!).

But species don’t need to be exotic or restricted to a small range to have a unique primary epithet. There is just one Long-eared bird species and one Short-eared species – yes, those Owls that are familiar to many of us!

So how many bird species in your lifetime list, I wonder, have a unique primary epithet?


Some details …


Each of the ATWB 2020 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 2020’ series of Companion Guides is Version 9.2, published June 22 2019.




Sign up to this blog to be informed about releases of new titles in the All the World’s Birds Companion Guide series, and of developments in the IOC bird list.


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 January 19, 2020, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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