Common Goldeneye Duck
Common Bird Names
The image this week is of a duck that I always knew as a Whistler. So named because of the sound the wings made when flying, the Whistler is a very common bird in Nova Scotia in the winter, and a favourite for late season hunters.
The name Whistler, though, is not the correct scientific name. The duck should actually be called the Common Goldeneye or even more accurately the Latin Bucephala clangula. A beautiful, small diving duck, the Goldeneye is a winter bird here in the Province, and the whistling of the wings that gave it its common name is unforgettable once heard.
Similar common names are quite descriptive – the Canada Jay is known as a Whiskey Jack, named for its habit of hanging around camps and stealing food. Another winter duck, the Scaup is known commonly as the bluebill, which is certainly descriptive. But, some names have been changed due to changing societal norms which make sense and so the Oldsquaw duck now goes by the name Long Tailed Duck, the former name supposedly recalling what the duck sounds like – a group of older women – a good name change indeed!
Some of the common names, though I think are more descriptive – the Mug Wump is the sound the American Bittern makes (Mug-WUMP) in the spring, and I love the Timber Doodle – the common name for the Woodcock, which lives in hardwood swamps and flies so erratically.
In the end, we all need to know which bird we’re talking about – and so scientific names are preferred and need to be standardized.
Still, few of us would disagree that it is easier to say I’ve seen an Evening Grosbeak rather than a Coccothraustes vespertinus, and who could really argue with Poecile atricapillus being more commonly known as the Black Capped Chickadee?
Sometimes, the common names make a lot of sense!
Happy winter birding!