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THE TOP 10: Most Awesome Bird Names in the World

Birds are indeed dynamic beasts, and certain species stand out by virtue of their intriguing names. And in some cases the names are more colorful than the birds themselves. What follows is a distinctly subjective take on the most awesome bird names of species from around the globe. Please let us know your favorites and any that didn’t make the list. And see the honorable mentions at the bottom.

And if you like these names, join your fellow ABA Members on a thrilling adventure, the ABA South Africa Safari in October, 2014, where we’ll search for Secretarybird, Tractrac Chat (try sayin’ that five times fast), Swee Waxbill, Malachite Sunbird and Bateleur.


10.       Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco

Named for its discover, an Italian aristocrat named Prince Eugenio Ruspoli, this is a species with a colorful name, colorful plumage, and a colorful history. An endemic to Ethiopia, the species was an enigma for some 50 years. Prince Ruspoli was trampled to death by an elephant in the early 1890s, but amid his belongings was a specimen of this unknown and spectacular-looking bird. The only problem was that there was no information about where it was collected, and so nobody knew where he found it and its range was unknown for decades. Finally in the 1940s the species’s tiny range was discovered near the town of Negelle.

The Prince Ruspoli's Turaco of Ethiopia, in addition to owning a great name has an interesting history. (Photo by G. Armistead)

The Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco of Ethiopia, in addition to owning a great name, has an interesting history. (Photo © G. Armistead)

9.         Lazy Cisticola

The Old World Cisticolas, particularly in Africa, have an array of interesting names. The Lazy Cisticola resonated with me best of all, but there are no shortage of other great names including, Rattling Cisticola, Tinkling Cisticola, Wailing Cisticola, Croaking Cisticola, Churring Cisticola, Chirping Cisticola, Foxy Cisticola, Wing-snapping Cisticola, Bubbling Cisticola, and the most widespread of all the Zitting Cisticola. In most cases it could be argued that the names are more colorful than the birds.

One of Africa's many well-named and dull-plumaged cisticolas, a Tiny Cisticola in Ethiopia. (Photo by G. Armistead)

One of Africa’s many well-named and dull-plumaged cisticolas, a Tiny Cisticola in Ethiopia. (Photo © G. Armistead)

8.         Siamese Fireback

This pheasant from Southeast Asia, is great in name and appearance.

7.         Akiapola’au

Hawaii is home to some of the best and most baffling bird names in the world. As the northern point of the Polynesian Triangle the native bird names (like those in New Zealand, the southwestern point of the triangle) are awesome, and are comprised by a constellation of vowels with just the odd consonant thrown in for good measure. Other cool bird names from Hawaii include recent extinctions such as ʻUla-ʻai-Hawane and the Po’o-uli. (The state fish is no slouch either, named the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a!). Birders visiting Hawaii are often relieved to learn that the bird pictured below is also safely referred to simply as the “Aki”. Known for its woodpecker-like habits, it utilizes its highly specialized bill to procure insect larvae, feeding especially at koa trees.

The Akiaploa'au of Hawaii (Photo by G. Armistead)

The Akiaploa’au of Hawaii (Photo © G. Armistead)

6.         Sandy Gallito

Endemic to Argentina, and a species not especially gaudy in appearance, it does sport a snazzy name and offers palpable personality when seen in life. Within the tapaculo family (Rhinocryptidae), this species scurries about roadrunner-like, in sandy and sparsely vegetated scrublands, periodically popping up on a bush or a snag to issue forth its song (see a video here).  There are a number of ostentatious names in the tapaculo family, from the Moustached Turca to the Huet-huets, to the Vilcabamba Tapaculo and the Chucao. Not to mention that the word tapaculo itself basically translates to “covers the rear end”, probably for the fact that these birds often have their tails cocked. (Side note: A career highlight during my days as a professional guide was when I got to show Sandy Komito his lifer Sandy Gallito).

5.         Satanic Nightjar

Ol’ Eurostopodus diabolicus is also known as Diabolical Nightjar, and heck if that doesn’t sound like something that goes bump in the night… Supposedly named for its voice, this species was once believed by locals in its native Sulawesi to tear the eyes out of sleeping people. As you might well imagine, there is a distinct dearth of evidence to support this legend. Hopefully the name will endure, regardless.

4.         Greater Pewee

The best oxymoronic bird name in the ABA Area.

3.         Firewood-gatherer

Another brown bird from South America with a splashy name, they definitely have more personality than some more colorful birds, calling raucously from prominent perches and building giant stick nests, which would indeed be good for building a fire (provided they aren’t being used by birds of course).

The Firewood-gatherer is a bird of open scrubby habitats and pastureland in temperate South America (Photo by Alvaro Jaramillo)

The Firewood-gatherer is a bird of open scrubby habitats and pastureland in temperate South America (Photo © Alvaro Jaramillo)


2.         Invisible Rail

I once had someone ask me, ”Have you ever seen the Invisible Rail?” I smiled good-naturedly assuming they were yanking my chain. But then discovered its an actual bird from Asia. Click here for a picture of an Invisible Rail, if you can believe that such a thing exists. And it does… but how can it?

1.         Oleaginous Hemispingus

This name gets top honors in my book. It sounds like a horrible disease or some terrible strain of bacteria. In fact it is just a rather dull-green tanager from South America, not to be confused with the equally brow-furrowing Superciliaried Hemispingus.

Honorable mentions

There are so many great choices that listed here are a few honorable mentions. Indeed there are many more. What’d we miss?

-Forty-spotted Pardalote: More than once I’ve attempted to count the spots. It ain’t easy and I don’t think I’ve yet totaled 40.

-Predicted Antwren: Just described in 2013, and named as it was predicted to exist (based on heard vocalizations) before being formally described.

-Olive Warbler: An awesomely bad bird name (we’ll get around to doing a Top 10 worst bird names soon) as it’s not olive and not a warbler.

-Hummingbirds: This New World family has a host of awesome bird names including Bearded Helmetcrest, Frilled Coquette, Hyacinth Visorbearer, Lazuline Sabrewing, to name just a few.

-Tits: Many novice birders enjoy the name of the Tufted Titmouse, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is the Sombre Tit, the Blue Tit, the Great Tit, and even in other families there are tit-like birds like the penduline-tits, tit-spinetails, the Layard’s Tit-Babbler, or the Agile Tit-Tyrant. I’m not making this stuff up.

-Bird’s of Paradise: Certainly one of the most fascinating bird families, it also owns some great names like Wallace’s Standardwing, Trumpet Manucode, Arfak Astrapia, and the Growling Riflebird for example. And what’s the four-letter code for King of Saxony Bird-of-paradise?

-Cotingas: Another family with a host of great bird names: Handsome Fruiteater, Screaming Piha, Scimitar-winged Piha, Lovely Cotinga, Pompadour Cotinga, Crimson Fruitcrow, and umbrellabirds and cock-of-the-rocks.

-Tyrannids: The largest family of birds in the world is the tyrant-flycatchers (Tyrannidae) with some 400 species, including snazzy-named species such as, Warbling Doradito, Spectacled Tyrant, Paltry Tyrannulet and so many others.

A few final favorites: Nordmann’s Greenshank, Pitta-like Ground Roller, Van Dam’s Vanga

Like this Top 10 List? See more here!

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George Armistead

George Armistead

George Armistead is a lifelong birder and since April 2012 is the events coordinator for the ABA. George spent the prior decade organizing and leading birding tours for Field Guides Inc. He has guided trips on all seven continents, and enjoys vast open country habitats and seabirds most of all. Based in Philadelphia, he is an associate at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and spends much of his free time birding the coast between Cape May, NJ and Cape Hatteras, NC.
  • Laurent Fournier

    My favorite one, in french, is the “passerin non-pareil” (painted bunting). Which translates approximately into “unlike anything other bunting”

  • Matt Brady

    You left off the absolute best bird name: the Celestial Monarch. Not only is it all blue, with a lime-green eye-ring and a crest, it’s also apparently the ruler of heaven.

    • George Armistead

      Indeed that is a great one Matt, and one I was not familiar with. Thanks!

  • Simon R B Thompson

    Here’s one of my favourites…..Hairy-breasted Barbet!!!

  • Frank Izaguirre

    Fantastic list! Like everyone else, I can’t help contributing some of my own: fiery-eyed diucon, Inaccessible Island rail, ancient murrelet, Hudsonian godwit, and, of course, resplendent quetzal.

    And one more: I’m very partial to the Spanish name for collared redstart: amigo de hombre.

  • Kirby Adams

    I’m fond of the Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, a far more endearing bird than the apparent Southern Bearded Full-sized Tyrant.

  • Pat Hodgson

    Just among Peruvian hummingbirds, you’ve got bearded mountaineer and sapphire-vented puffleg. When your backside is a jewel, you are pretty special.

  • Diana Doyle

    Really great post! Imaginative and informative. Loved learning the stories behind the names.

  • KMAndersen

    Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – could be a Shakespearean insult.

    • Sapsucker

      Indeed! As someone who grew up with a “maiden” name that began with “sap”, an oft heard derisive remark from the kids at school was, “Hey, Sapsucker!”

      My mom tried to tell me it was really a compliment, because sapsuckers are such pretty birds, and that I should just thank those kids for flattering me.
      I never did. Why would I want to give them more reasons to make fun of me?

    • Peter Coo

      Well, Shakespeare did come up with “The devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon!” in Macbeth. (Though I think the word “loon” referred to people long before was applied to birds.)

  • Mike Hudson

    Zitting Citiscola has to take the prize for me, but I have to say that Satanic Nightjar and Invisible Rail come close.

  • William von Herff

    I’m surprised no one suggested Powerful owl. Not only does in rhyme (kind of) but it also is extremely accurate.

  • Carol A Mead

    Resplendent Quetzal!!! As spectacular as the name!

  • Bruce

    Lanceolated Monklet! An cute Puffbird.
    And the much lamented Morepork, an owl, which has been lumped out of existence in Australia.

  • Mark

    Black-necklaced Scimitar-Babbler

  • Juan

    Masafuera rayadito (Aphrastura masafuerae), very funny name.

  • Mike D

    Like Bruce, I’m surprised Lanceolated Monklet escaped inclusion on the list.

    Another fun top-ten list could be for interesting scientific names of birds. Off the top of my head, I’d include the Mottled Petrel’s Pterodroma inexpectata and the Roseate Spoonbill’s Ajaja ajaja (the latter sometimes spelled differently and sometimes placed in the less interestingly named genus Platalea).

    • Mary

      I like this idea. I keep a list of birds I’ve seen with double Latin names – like Ajaja ajaja, which is on the list!

      • Terry

        Here’s one with interesting both common and scientific names-
        Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher- Griseotyrannus aurantioatrocristatus.
        Now known as Empidonomus……..”?
        Either way, thanks to Paul Conover and Mac Myers, La has a record!

  • brentturcotte

    If you go to the world of dragonflies you will find lots of awesome names such as: Ebony Jewelwing, Powdered Dancer, Cyrano Darner, Dragonhunter, Harpoon Clubtail, Rusty Snaketail, Ski-tipped Emerald, but my favorite is Chalk-fronted Corporal.

  • Peter Coo

    I admit I do like some of these choices – Satanic Nightjar, Invisible Rail (aren’t they all…), and Oleaginus Hemispingus (it does sound like a medical condition! or perhaps an obscure body part: “I used to play tennis, but I ruptured my oleaginus hemispingus… never been on top of my game since” ) – but for my money, no such list could be complete without “Buffy Tuftedcheek”, a lovely, assonant name that rolls off the tongue like a one-line poem. (The bird’s even better!)


  • Mike Parr

    My vote goes to Marvelous Spatuletail.

  • Siamang son 48

    Bare faced go-away bird should be mentioned.

  • Daniel Lewis

    There’s nothing “recent” about the extinction of the ʻUla-ʻai-Hawane (Ciridops anna); the last confirmed sighting was in the 1890s on my native island of Hawai’i. It was a bird of great interest to naturalists collecting there in the late 19th and early 20th c. As Henry Henshaw wrote to Walter Rothschild in 1900, “Of Ciridops I have not been able to find a trace or to find any Kanaka [native Hawaiian] who ever saw it.”

  • Martina

    I’ll cast my vote with the Shining Sunbeam.

  • Simeon_078078

    I recently discovered the ‘Many-Colored Rush Tyrant’, which deserves a top three spot, I feel.

  • Joshua Forward

    What about the bared face go away bird. Don’t believe me? Check it out

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