Dipper

The Dipper is like a big black-and-white Wren on steroids that spends its life on, in and around fast-flowing streams. It is highly unusual in that in addition to brief dips beneath the surface, this perching bird can swim underwater tilting against the current. Also, it can use its powerful feet and claws to cling to underwater rocks to stop it getting washed away.

An old name was Water Ouzel, ouzel being an old name for the Blackbird. With its superificial resemblance to the Ring Ouzel at least in pattern, you can see where it got its name.

The Dipper is also called the White-throated Dipper, to distinguish it from other dippers around the world. Our local subspecies has a chestnut band beneath the white breast, while nominate continental birds have a blacker belly and are known as ‘Black-bellied Dipper’, which are rare visitors to the UK.

Pic: Graham Ella / Alamy

Pic: Graham Ella / Alamy

American Robin

Pic Robert Harding World Imagery / Alamy Stock Photo

Pic Robert Harding World Imagery / Alamy Stock Photo

When pioneering Europeans colonised North America, they naturally named the creatures they encountered. And equally naturally, they named them after familiar birds from the European homeland. The diverse, little streaky emberizine bunting-like birds looked a bit like ‘real’ sparrows and the name stuck. The common icterids were mid-sized and black, so became ‘blackbirds’ and their black and orange or yellow cousins looked somewhat like ‘orioles’. Similarly, the starling like (or Jackdaw-like), longer tailed icterids where somehat like the old-world mynahs of the genus Gracula, and so shared the name grackle.

The little colourful thin billed passerines were somewhat like Old World warblers, so became warblers.

And, of course, the large abundant red-breasted thrush, which appeared to occupy the niches of the European Blackbird was called Robin after our familiar little redbreast.

The next time a fellow birdwatcher makes a fuss about calling a bird Bearded Tit (not a ‘real’ tit), Honey Buzzard (not a ‘real’ buzzard) or Hedgesparrow (not a ‘real’ sparrow), gently point out that the inconsistencies and repeated use of the same names for unrelated birds are extremely common, especially in North America.

Canada Goose

There are two types of ‘feral’ – or naturalised – geese found widely across the UK. The Greylag Goose is the ancestor of the farmyard goose, and has a genuinely wild, mainly-wintering population, found in Scotland. The Canada Goose is almost exclusively derived from introduced stock. These introductions of the larger race canadensis from the east side of North America, began as long ago as the later 17th Century, during the reign of Charles II. So, the birds have been around much longer than ‘accepted’ introduced species, such as the Little Owl.

Why Canada? The bulk of the original (natural) breeding population is in the northern half of North America, principally Canada. With naturalised populations in the UK, New Zealand and South America, there is a little slice of Canada all round the world.

Pic FLPA / Alamy

Pic FLPA / Alamy

Puffin

Pic: Mike Weedon

Pic: Mike Weedon

One of the quirky facts that enthusiastic young birdwatchers discover as they devour bird books, is that Puffinus puffinus is the scientific name of the Manx Shearwater, not the Puffin. The latter, also known as the Atlantic Puffin (to distinguish it from the Horned Puffin and Tufted Puffin of the Pacific) goes by the name of Fratercula arctica, which means little brother (or friar or monk) of the arctic.

Puffin derives from Middle English word ‘poffin’ or ‘pophyn’ which was used for nestling shearwaters cured for eating. The name later became associated with other burrow-nesting seabirds which were also harvested for eating, including the Puffin. But, the shearwater kept the name for its scientific name.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Pic FLPA / Alamy

Pic FLPA / Alamy

The Rough-legged Buzzard is a very widespread breeding bird, covering the arctic and subarctic of Eurasia as well as North America. It is a scarce winter visitor to the UK, occurring in variable numbers, with between 10 and 150 birds in most winters. The bird gets its ‘rough-legged’ name from the fact its lower leg is feathered. Its scientific name, Buteo lagopus, also derives from this feature, with the legs reminiscent of those of grouse (genus Lagopus), which in turn get their name from the resemblance of their legs and feet to the feet of hares.

Lesser Redpoll

The Lesser Redpoll is a small, brown, streaky finch with a black bib and a red patch on its forehead. It is, of course, this red patch which gives the bird its redpoll name (poll being an older name for head). They are the smallest ‘type’ of the redpoll complex, and are mainly found in the
UK and adjacent Western European areas.

Once upon a time, they were included with most others as the species Redpoll, within which they were regarded as a subspecies. But the species was ‘split’ relatively recently, so we now have Lesser Redpoll and Common Redpoll (this confusing name includes the Mealy Redpolls and Northwestern Redpolls). In addition, there are the Arctic Redpolls, which to add to the confusion, some regard as at least two taxa, Hornemann’s (Arctic) Redpoll and Coues’s (Arctic) Redpoll.

Goshawk

Pic: WILDLIFE GmbH / Alamy

Pic: WILDLIFE GmbH / Alamy

The Sparrowhawk hunts small birds such as sparrows, the Hen Harrier hunts game birds. So, it stands to reason that the Goshawk is also named after its potential prey item. Goshawks get their name from an Anglo Saxon word goshafoc, which means Goose Hawk. These huge, Buzzard-sized birds were historically flown in order to catch quarry the size of a goose. Indeed, they were traditionally kept as birds capable of providing food for the table.

In the UK, ‘wild’ Goshawks don’t tend to hunt large waterbirds much, as they are now primarily woodland birds. They are rare breeders in the UK with between about 300 and 450 pairs nationwide.

Honey Buzzard

Pic: Mike Lane / Alamy

Pic: Mike Lane / Alamy

The Honey Buzzard is a rare breeding bird in the UK, with fewer than 70 breeding pairs (though more pass through on passage to and from Scandinavia). One of the reasons for the UK being on the extreme of the Honey Buzzards is that their diet largely consists of larvae of colonial wasps and bees, which are in relatively short supply in the UK. 

This diet is also the source of the ‘Honey’ part of the bird’s name, though honey is not what these birds of prey are searching for when they rip open bees’ nests.

They have relatively weak bills and feet with long toes and claws adapted for digging and tearing at insects nests, often on the ground. Otherwise, in size, general shape and plumage, it is quite similar to the Buzzard (hence that part of the bird’s name), though is in fact more closely related to the kites.

Slavonian Grebe

This lovely, colourful, small grebe (not much bigger than a Little Grebe) breeds in tiny numbers (fewer than 40 pairs) in Scotland. The bulk of its breeding range, however, is across middle northern Eurasia, from Iceland and Scandinavia to far-eastern Russia as well as Alaska and Canada. But it doesn’t breed in Slavonia, which is a region of Croatia. It does winter off the Croatian coast (as well as many other coasts, of course). It really isn’t a peculiarly Slavonian bird, so the name is something of a mystery.


In North America it is called the Horned Grebe, which is perhaps a better name, but also a bit lame as many grebes have something resembling ‘horns’ in their plumage. Much more fun are old folk names which include Devil-diver, Pink-eyed Diver, and Water Witch.
But to British birders it will always be the Slav.

Pic: David Whitaker / Alamy

Pic: David Whitaker / Alamy

Savi’s Warbler

Pic: FLPA / Alamy

Pic: FLPA / Alamy

Savi’s Warbler is a rare summer visitor and breeder in tiny numbers in the UK. It is a Locustella or grasshopper warbler, with a buzzing song similar but distinctly different from that of the Grasshopper Warbler.

This unstreaked brown warbler was first collected and (recognised as something new) by Tuscan mineralogist and biologist Paolo Savi when collecting for the Pisa Museum in 1821. Previous specimens had been mistaken for Cetti’s Warblers, but Savi realised he had a new bird.