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ICYMI: Location, location, location… what’s in a name?

The ABA Blog has been in existence for almost 7 years, and there’s a lot of good content back in the archives that deserves an audience now that it might not have received way back when. So, semi-regularly we will bring some of that stuff back. Here’s one by Jeff Bouton on a common name question that has still never seen resolution.



Palm Warbler, FL

Note the blurred tail in this early AM shot, caused by the Palm Warbler’s incessant and characteristic tail-wagging behavior

I photographed the Palm Warbler above in a palm tree the other day and thought, “Ah, as it should be”.

If only birding were this simple though. For beginning birders this image may not seem odd at all, but those who’ve been around the block a bit longer realize Palm Warblers are rarely found in palms and, despite the name, one wouldn’t really look for them here first. They are only in “palm country” in the winter months and even then, seem to prefer to feed on or near the ground in weedy patches and are much more likely on a low shrub or similar.

Warblers who feed by gleaning are much more commonly found in palm trees, searching the nooks and crannies for spiders and other morsels. The Yellow-throated Warbler would have been a much more appropriate “Palm Warbler” as they occur year round here in Florida – and other subtropical to tropical locales – and love feeding in palms.


Cape May Warbler… in Florida

Despite being digiscoped in a Coconut Palm, the bird above is NOT a Palm Warbler either. It’s a Cape May Warbler and as you may have guessed from the habitat, this individual is a long way from Cape May, NJ. I digiscoped this one in the parking lot of The Florida Keys Hawkwatch in Marathon, FL in October ‘1).

As an early birder, I expected I’d see my first Cape May Warbler on my first trip to Cape May. Imagine my surprise when I checked the range map and realized this species neither breeds nor winters anywhere near Cape May and is only expected here during the migration months. Oh yeah, and Virginia’s Warbler is named for a lady not the states sharing the same name!

Confused?!?… well if not it’s only because you’ve birded long enough to come to the realization that bird names should always be taken with a grain of salt. However, when you stop and reconsider it you can see how these inaccuracies make birding a lot more challenging than it perhaps should be.

28 RNDU pr 022507

Ring-necked Duck pair digiscoped in Port Aransas, TX, Feb 2007

While not related to geographic anomoly, the Ring-necked Duck has always topped my “poorly-named birds” list!

How about you, anyone want to rant about the WORST bird names in American birding? How about some of the best?

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Jeff Bouton

Jeff Bouton

Jeff Bouton began working as "binoculars for hire" as a teenager, working countless seasonal field research positions for varying state & federal agencies and non-for-profit organizations across the country. After a decade of the bird bum life, he decided he preferred sharing his passion for the outdoors with others and began guiding trips professionally; mostly in Alaska where he was living at the time. While guiding trips at the ABA convention in McAllen, Texas (May 2004), Jeff accepted the position as the birding naturalist rep for Leica Sport Optics, USA and now works as the Marketing Manager here. Over the past decade, Jeff has written more than 50 articles and had hundreds of his digiscoped wildlife images published in major birding magazines. He is a contributing author on past ABA Birdfinding guides to Alaska & Florida respectively, and the Houghton Mifflin title "Good Birder's Don't Wear White".