Book review: The Bird Name Book by Susan Myers

How did a familar marshland bird, the snipe, get its name?

Or, for that matter, the shrike? Or the phalarope? Or the shag?

These questions are explored by Susan Myers in an absorbing and handsomely-produced publication, The Bird Name Book.

During her work as a tour leader with a wildlife holidays company, Wings, the author became increasingly intrigued at how species came to be given their unique identities.

Her subsequent research, obviously painstaking and comprenensive, resulted in the production of this fascinating volume which spans alphabetically - from accentor to zeledonia - all the bird groups of the world.

Accompanying the text are many of the author's own superb photographs - her mountain bluebird is a particular gem - plus numerous gorgeous paintings, both oils and watercolours, many from a bygone era.

This is more of a reference book than one to be read at a couple of sittings, but, once you check out one bird, it sets the starting point of a trail leading to many others.

Added depth to the narrative is provided in the form of potted biographies of ornithologists of the past who played influential roles in the naming of birds.

These include, for instance John Gould, John Latham and, most notably, a Cambridge professor Alfred Newton.

But back to the snipe. The name is apparently derives from an old German word, 'snipon', meaning a long, thin object - just like the bird's bill.

The Bird Name Book, published by Princeton University Press at £30, will be available from  October 25 but can be pre-ordered wherever books are sold.

  • Didnt Gruyter Reedman and Barry all cover this a while back in their separate books?

    I think one was voted bird book of the year as well..?


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