HERE’S A BOOK I’m loving as I pursue my goal of learning more about birds this year.
As a Christmas gift, Barbara got me “How to Know the Birds: The Art & Adventure of Birding,” by Ted Floyd. This how-to guide is perfectly geared to someone like me, whom I would call a “knowledgeable novice.” Floyd, the editor of Birding magazine, tells about 200 birds in the context of 200 lessons about birds and birding. Each “lesson” is limited to one page, making this a volume I can pick up anytime I feel like a few minutes of birding education.
Floyd’s lessons are approachable and easy to fathom, geared to bird size, color, migration patterns, habitat and much more, without being too simple or condescending. For example, Lesson 29 discusses how birds get their italicized scientific names — what many inaptly refer to as the Latin name (some are Latin, but not all). Typically, whomever first discovers or studies any particular bird gets to choose its scientific name, and tradition has it that these names may not be changed or challenged. Floyd notes how “crazy” some of the names can be, “misspelled, mistranslated, misconstrued, biologically nonsensical, and politically incorrect.”
I got a smile out of his discussion of the scientific name for the Common Grackle, the slender and glossy blackbird on which Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) bestowed the scientific name Quiscalus quiscula.
Floyd explains that both words are misspellings of the Latin word quisqualis, which roughly translates to “What’s the deal?” or “Whatever!”
So was the grackle just unlucky enough to catch Linnaeus on a day when he was bored, out of sorts, tired of birds and not up to anything more original than the “Whatever whatever”? Nobody knows. But Linnaeus saw to it that the Common Grackle gets no respect, to this day.
I’m getting to know birds better every time I pick up this book.
“How to Know the Birds: The Art & Adventure of Birding,” by Ted Floyd, with pencil sketches by N. John Schmitt; National Geographic, 2019; hardcover list price $28, but marked down at this writing to $12.60 at the online National Geographic Store (less than Amazon’s price).