American Birding Podcast



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.

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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.