Last weekend, while on my birding trip, I met a Latin high school teacher. Now that’s a noble profession. She teaches in the Rochester school district. It was interesting to find out more about those Latin/scientific bird names.
The bird guides list the scientific name, which is based on Latin, in italics after the common name. First the genus, or family, will be listed, then the descriptive species name will follow. I’ve noticed that many of our birds up here in northern Minnesota have the word canadensis after the genus name. That Latin word refers to Canada, a certain amount of Latin words have been made up over the years to suit a purpose.
I asked her about the Merlin’s Latin name, Falco columbarius. Falco obviously means Falcon, but columbarius refers to a Dove. I thought there could be two explanations for that; it could refer to the old name when the Merlin was called a Pigeon Hawk, or it could refer to the way they fly, somtimes they can look like a Dove.
Another very interesting name that she told us about was the Latin name for Pileated Woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus, Dryocopus means large, powerful woodpecker and is the Genus name for several woodpeckers that occur in the world. The species name, pileatus, is a Latin word that means the felt cap worn by slaves that had been freed by the Romans. It was probably a red cap. It also means freedom/liberty and beret. What a grand name for our stately Woodpecker!
I caught this Pileated Woodpecker drumming on the wood duck house in my front yard. He was hitting the wood so hard with his beak, that he had to keep his balance by using his wings for leverage.
Pileated Woodpeckers love to eat ants. They especially like those pesky Carpenter Ants that are a log cabin’s nemesis. Many times a Pileated Woodpecker will be seen at the base of the tree drilling into the trunk. The big Carpenter Ants are the ones they’re going after. The old-fashioned name for the Pileated was the “log-cock”.