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Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names an Online Searchable Database

Scientific bird names are mysterious to a lot of us. Unless you have a basic grounding in Latin or Greek, they tend to be meaningless to anyone except the researchers who use them regularly, just jumbles of letters as cryptic as a spell in a Harry Potter book. James Jobling tried to remedy that in 1991 with his Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names, reissued by the British publisher Helm in 2010. It was, and still is, one of the best books in my personal bird book library and I sing its praises to anyone who will listen.

But it was one book, and often hard to find or expensive besides, and the entries were increasingly obsolete or incomplete given the lightning fast changes in how we understand bird taxonomy and the new names for species and genera that requires. So a few years ago Jobling quietly moved the whole thing online, and I only found out about it yesterday. And boy, I’m pretty excited about it.

Handbook of Birds of the World, no stranger to massive bird-centric projects, is hosting Jobling’s masterpiece online as a searchable database. And it’s fantastic.

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 9.22.41 AM

Perhaps the best part of moving this online is that it is now free to grow and change in real time, as genera like Parkesia come and Dendroica go. And it’s really nicely done as searchable databases go, with suggestions to direct you away from the inevitable misspellings.

It’s a fantastic tool for birders who want to gain a deeper understanding of the how and why birds are named, the history of given names, and the forgotten ornithologists who are honored forever in names that are barely used.

Go and play around with it. You will not be disappointed.


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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
Nate Swick

Latest posts by Nate Swick (see all)

  • Robert Wein

    Really looked very good and was fun to see that Setophaga meant moth-eating. Had not known that, but when I looked for one of the few birds I knew by the scientific name Setophaga Coronata, I could’t find it. It was listed under Dendroica- which I believe is the old name. I checked Clement’s and, assuming they are right, Setophaga should have been there. How do we know whether it is up-to-date with latest changes?

    • Rick Wright

      I think you misunderstand: coronata is listed under Dendroica because it was the first species described in the genus, not because Jobling thinks it still occupies that genus.

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