Why Do Skagway Birds Have Such Weird Names?
Oh man, I forgot about the Ptarmigan. That’s a weird name for sure. Oh well, you’ll have to look this one up on your own.
Birds are interesting. They fly around and hang out in our yards eating seeds, worms, and whatever else it is that birds eat. It’s natural to see a bird and think, “I wonder what kind of bird that is.” So, you whip out your phone and identify the bird only to wonder why it has such a weird name. Today, we are going to try and figure out why Skagway birds have such weird names.
In all fairness, there aren’t really any “Skagway birds.” The birds living in Skagway can be found in many other places. However, this blog is about Skagway so I’m writing about Skagway birds.
What’s in a name?
Most animals have names based on an old word from another language. Bird names seem as though they were concocted by drunks unfamiliar with the English language. In truth, birds may be named after people, habits that the birds display, or for some other arbitrary reason. I don’t know why. Probably because humans really like naming things but often run out of good ideas.
Let’s talk about some weird names of Skagway birds
I am going to list some Skagway birds and tell you about their weird name. Then maybe we should all try and think of some new names for each bird. Fun!
Cooper’s Hawk – You may see a Cooper’s hawk in Skagway and wonder how it got its name. It’s named after a naturalist named William Cooper. Ornitholigists (bird nerds) will tell you that Cooper was the first person to describe this common bird but that’s just stupid. Countless generations of indigenous people saw this bird and certainly had names for it. Then along comes some bird nerd who feels compelled to start naming everything they see after themselves. Ridiculous.
Puffin – What? Was this bird named by someone indulging in the Wacky tobacky? The name “puffin” was apparently given to this bird because they look puffy. You read that right. This was the best name someone could come up with. “Hey Fred, check out that puffy little bird! What should we name it?” People are weird.
Brown Creeper – This little bird can be seen on trees in Skagway and Dyea. It got its name from being brown and creeping along tree trunks looking for food. Clever. Actually, this is probably one of the more aptly named birds in Skagway, so I am okay with it. I’m surprised some bird nerd didn’t name it red creeper just to be a jerk.
Bohemian Waxwing – Have you ever seen how people used to seal letters with a drop of red wax? Well, Bohemian waxwings are annoying little birds with red patches at the tip of their wings. If you’re somewhat blind, these patches kind of resemble red wax. Two hundred years ago, someone saw this bird and red letter wax was the first thing that came to their mind. Okay. Nobody knows why it’s called a “Bohemian” waxwing but some speculate the person that named it thought the bird liked to travel a lot. I think the person that named it was a lunatic.
Surf Scoter – Few things are as irritating as trying to figure out where the word “scoter” comes from. If you look it up, it refers you to the name of this duck. But when you try to find out how this silly looking bird was named “scoter,” it’s a total dead end. You can see large flocks of surf scoters in Skagway during the springtime. They like to scoot along in the surf, which makes me think the genius that named this bird misspelled the word and was too embarrassed to admit it. And who would even know since so many birds have silly names? This bird is colloquially called “old skunkhead” because it has a white stripe on its head. That makes even less sense than calling it by its misspelled name. I guess it’s still way better than puffin.
I could do this all day but I have other things to do
The more I dive into bird names the more I believe that humans actually hate birds. Maybe we resent their ability to fly or get annoyed by their constant squawking. Whatever the reason, humans give birds names that seem to mock them in every conceivable way. I guess that will teach them a lesson for pooping on our cars!