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20 Birds Named After People

Many of the bird species we are familiar with today were named in the 1700’s and 1800’s by the early naturalists. Ornithologists and explorers have discovered countless species, often bestowing upon them names that honor fellow scientists, patrons, royals or notable figures of their time. So if you’ve ever wondered about the reasoning behind a name, read on to discover 20 birds named after people, from Cooper’s Hawk to Anna’s Hummingbird. 

1. Cooper’s hawk

coopers hawk on deck railing
Cooper’s hawk | image by S0MEBODY 3LSE via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Accipiter cooperii

The Cooper’s hawk is a medium-sized hawk native to North America, recognized for its adept songbird hunting skills in both open and wooded areas. In 1828 Charles Bonaparte named this hawk in honor of his friend and fellow ornithologist William Cooper. Cooper was a founding member of the New York Academy of Sciences.

This bird showcases a slate-gray back with a reddish-barred chest and a long, banded tail, adapting well to various environments, from dense forests to suburban neighborhoods. Cooper’s Hawks are known for their remarkable agility, chasing birds and small mammals through trees with swift, precise movements. They does mean that you may see them in your backyard stalking your bird feeders for doves! 

2. Henslow’s sparrow

Henslow’s sparrow
Henslow’s sparrow | image by Don Henise via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Centronyx henslowii

Henslow’s sparrow is a small, elusive bird known for its preference for tall grass habitats. While the bird was first recorded by Audubon, he named it after English botanist, geologist and priest, John Stevens Henslow. Henslow is often remembered as one of Charles Darwins mentors.  

This sparrow has dark brown streaks along it’s back, sides and head. They are brown overall with a pale belly and slightly olive-hued head. 

Henslow’s sparrows are found in the central and eastern United States, particularly favoring grasslands and meadows where they can find insects and seeds for food. They are ground nesters, often constructing hidden nests in dense grass. This species is of conservation concern due to habitat loss, making efforts to preserve its grassland home critical for its survival.

3. Wilson’s plover

Wiilson’s plover
Wiilson’s plover | image by Jason Crotty via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Charadrius wilsonia

Wilson’s plover is a small shorebird recognized by its stout bill and distinctive black band across the chest. Named after the Scottish-American ornithologist Alexander Wilson, this bird is known for its preference for coastal habitats, including sandy beaches, salt marshes, and mudflats from the United States through to South America.

Wilson’s plovers feed on invertebrates, which they pick from the wet sand and mud. Their nests are simple scrapes in the ground, often lined with shells and debris, camouflaged within their beach surroundings. This species is notable for its territorial behavior during breeding season and its call, a sharp whistle that can be heard over the sounds of the waves.

Wilson was a prominent name in early American ornithology, and the Wilson’s Warbler, Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Phalarope and Wilson’s Storm Petrel are also named after him. 

4. Ross’s goose

Ross’s Goose
Ross’s goose | image by Rita Wiskowski via Flickr

Scientific Name: Anser rossii

Ross’s goose is a small, white goose with a distinctive short neck and stubby bill, making it easily distinguishable from other geese. It is named as a tribute to Bernard R. Ross, who was affiliated with the Hudson’s Bay Company in the Northwest Territories of Canada. It was members of the Hudson’s Bay Company who became the first Europeans to uncover the arctic nesting grounds of Ross’s geese.

They breed in northern Canada, mainly in the Queen Maud Gulf Migratory Bird Sanctuary, and winter in the southern United States, particularly in California’s Central Valley and the southern states’ wetlands.

Ross’s goose is known for its impressive migratory flights in large, noisy flocks. It primarily feeds on grasses, grains, and occasionally insects, often foraging in agricultural fields during the winter.

5. Bullock’s oriole

Bullock’s oriole
Bullock’s oriole | image by Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Icterus bullockii

Bullock’s oriole is a colorful species, showcasing orange and black plumage, with males flaunting a vivid orange body contrasted by a black throat and eye-line, while females sport a more subdued yellowish-orange and gray. This bird, named after William Bullock, an English amateur naturalist. William and his father were both notable for their contributions to the study of birds and natural history in the early 19th century.

Bullock’s oriole inhabits open woodlands, particularly areas with scattered trees and shrubs across western North America. They breed from southern Canada through the western United States and winter in central and southern Mexico. Bullock’s oriole is known for its intricate hanging nests, woven from fibers and suspended from tree branches. Its diet mainly consists of insects and nectar, and it is particularly fond of fruit.

6. Bewick’s swan

Bewick's swan
Bewick’s swan | image by Maga-chan via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 2.5

Scientific Name: Cygnus columbianus bewickii

Bewick’s swan is a small, elegant swan with a more petite frame and shorter neck compared to other swan species. It features a distinctive yellow and black beak that contrasts it’s all-white plumage. This swan was named for Thomas Bewick, an English engraver and natural history author that was well known for his beautiful and details illustrations of birds and animals. His accurate and attractive drawings laid the groundwork for early field identification guides. Bewick’s Wren is also named after him. 

This swan breeds in the Arctic tundra of Siberia and winters in parts of western Europe and eastern Asia, favoring wetlands, lakes, and marshes. Bewick’s swan is known for its long migratory journeys, remarkable loyalty to its family and partners, and the ability to fly thousands of miles to reach its wintering grounds.

7. Wilson’s Bird-of-paradise

Male Wilson's Bird of Paradise perched on a branch
Wilson’s bird-of-paradise (male) | image by Serhanoksay via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientific Name: Cicinnurus respublica

The Wilson’s bird-of-paradise is a vibrant and distinctive bird found exclusively in the rainforests of Waigeo and Batanta islands in Indonesia. Known for its striking colors, the male boasts an electric-blue crown, emerald green throat, and a pair of long, curled tail feathers, making it one of the most visually stunning birds. Females are less colorful but share the species’ overall beauty.

These birds are renowned for their elaborate courtship dances, where males clear a patch of forest floor to perform for potential mates. The species was named after a different Wilson than we mentioned above. It was named in honor of Edward Wilson, an English ornithologist.

8. Townsend’s Solitaire

townsends solitaire
Townsend’s Solitaire | image by:

Scientific Name: Myadestes townsendi

Townsend’s Solitaire is an attractive, smooth gray bird with a white eye ring. Their song can be heard in the mountainous western U.S., where they live year-round. While many birds only sing during the breeding season, Townsend’s Solitaire keeps its song going all year. They eat insects in the summer, then switch to berries in the winter. Their berry of choice is the juniper, and research suggests they eat thousands upon thousands of them to help them survive the winter season. Other berries they consume include buckthorn, holly, serviceberry, elderberry and winterberry. 

They are named after ornithologist John Kirk Townsend. He was a trained physician and pharmacist that developed an interest in natural history and bird collecting, and in the mid 1800’s traveled across the western U.S. with other scientists and recorded many new species. Townsend’s Warbler is also named after him. 

9. Lawrence’s Goldfinch

Lawrence’s goldfinch | image: ALAN SCHMIERER

Scientific Name: Spinus lawrencei

Lawrence’s Goldfinch is almost entirely gray or brownish-gray. Their yellow coloring is only found on their wings, and on the chest of males. Males have a black face, which differs from the other goldfinches who have black just on the top of their head. 

Lawrence’s Goldfinches have a much smaller range than their American and Lesser cousins, making their home in dry, scrubby areas. They enjoy open oak woodlands and the Mediterranean climates of the chaparral of coastal California. They may also be seen in southern Arizona and New Mexico during the winter.

Lawrence’s Goldfinch is named after George Newbold Lawrence, a 19th-century American businessman and amateur ornithologist. Lawrence was known for his extensive studies in ornithology, particularly in the classification and description of new bird species from North and Central America. 

10. Anna’s hummingbird

anna's hummingbird
Anna’s Hummingbird | image by Becky Matsubara via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Calypte anna

Anna’s hummingbird, named in honor of Anna Masséna, Duchess of Rivoli. She was the wife of François Victor Masséna, the 2nd Duke of Rivoli and a 19th-century French nobleman who was also an avid ornithologist. While many birds on this list are named after naturalists and scientists, naming birds after royalty was also popular.

This a vibrant hummingbird is a resident of the western coastal regions of North America. Males are renowned for their iridescent rosy-pink head and throat feathers. This bird exhibits unique flight behaviors including hovering in mid-air and executing dramatic dives during mating displays. Unlike many hummingbirds, Anna’s hummingbird is less migratory and can be found year-round in its range along the Pacific coast of the U.S., frequenting open woodlands, gardens, and parks.

11. Hartlaub’s gull

Hartlaub's gull
Hartlaub’s gull | image by Bernard DUPONT via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Chroicocephalus hartlaubii

Hartlaub’s gull, named after the German ornithologist Gustav Hartlaub, is a small gull found along the southern African coastline. Characterized by its striking grey back, white underparts, and red bill and legs, this bird is easily identifiable. Hartlaub’s gull is unique for its adaptability, thriving in both coastal and urban environments, where it often scavenges for food.

Unlike many gull species, it is relatively sedentary, preferring to stay close to its breeding sites year-round. These sites are typically located near the coast, on offshore islands or sometimes in urban areas, where the birds nest in colonies.

12. Gould’s sunbird

Gould's sunbird
Gould’s sunbird | image by Jason Thompson via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Aethopyga gouldiae

Gould’s sunbird is a vibrant, small bird named after the British ornithologist John Gould. It stands out for its colorful plumage, with males typically displaying a dazzling combination of blue, green, and red, while females are more subdued in color. This bird is found across various parts of Southeast Asia, thriving in open forests, woodland edges, and gardens.

Gould’s sunbird is known for its acrobatic flight as it feeds on nectar, often while hovering, and also consumes insects. Its distinct long, curved bill is perfectly adapted for extracting nectar from flowers, making it an important pollinator in its ecosystem. Sunbirds are filling the nectar-feeding role in their habitat that hummingbirds fill in other places. 

13. Brewer’s Blackbird

brewers blackbird 2
Brewer’s Blackbird (male) | image by dfaulder via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Euphagus cyanocephalus

Brewer’s blackbirds are adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats, including urban areas, agricultural fields, and grasslands. Their range extends from the western United States into parts of Canada, with populations spreading eastward across the Great Plains. 

This blackbird species is named after Thomas Mayo Brewer, a 19th-century American naturalist and ornithologist. Brewer was known for his work in studying the birds of North America, contributing significantly to the field of ornithology during his lifetime. Brewer’s Sparrow is also named after him. 

Male Brewer’s blackbirds have glossy black plumage with deep purple or green iridescence that shines in the sunlight, and a bright yellow eye. Males are slightly larger and have a longer tail than females, who are brown. They have a sharp, pointed beak that they use to feed on insects, seeds, and fruits. These birds are social and often seen in large flocks during the non-breeding season. 

14. Elliot’s pheasant

Elliot's pheasant
Elliot’s pheasant | image by Snowyowls via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 1.0

Scientific Name: Syrmaticus ellioti

Elliot’s Pheasant, also known as the Bar-backed Pheasant, is named after the American ornithologist Daniel Giraud Elliot, who made significant contributions to documenting bird species in the 19th century. This bird is native to China and is not commonly found in the United States.

The male displays a mostly brown upper body contrasted with a white underbelly, a silvery head, a vivid red face, and a striking long pale gray tail marked with thick russet bands, while the female appears in a muted version of the male’s pattern, being smaller with a shorter tail. Elliot’s Pheasant prefers dense forests and bamboo thickets where it can forage for seeds, fruits, and insects.

15. Steller’s Jay

Steller's jay
Steller’s Jay | image by Veronika_Andrews via Pixabay

Scientific Name: Cyanocitta stelleri

The handsom Steller’s Jay cuts a distinctive silhouette in western North America. They are named after the German naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller, who was the first European to record them in 1741. Steller studied animals and plants in Russia and Alaksa, and has other species named after him, including Steller’s Eider and Steller’s Sea-Eagle.

Steller’s Jay is prevalent across the western United States, notably in forested areas from Alaska to Nicaragua. Males and females share similar physical characteristics, featuring a prominent crest, sooty head and chest and a deep blue body. Depending on the location, they have either white or light blue stripes on the front of their head between the eyes.

The Steller’s Jays are known for their intelligence, mimicking the calls of other birds and even human-made sounds. They primarily feed on nuts, seeds, and insects, often visiting backyard feeders. These birds prefer coniferous forests, especially those with a mix of pine and oak, and they play a crucial role in seed dispersal for their habitats.

16. Clark’s Nutcracker

Clark's nutcracker
Clark’s nutcracker | image by Donald Hobern via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Nucifraga columbiana

Clark’s Nutcracker is named after William Clark, of the Lewis and Clark expedition. This bird is commonly found in the mountainous regions of the western United States, including the Rockies and Sierra Nevadas. Both males and females have similar plumage, featuring a primarily gray body with black and white wings and tail, showing no significant color difference between genders.

This bird species has a unique relationship with pine trees; it feeds on their seeds and plays a crucial role in seed dispersal. It is known for its remarkable memory, able to recall the locations of thousands of seeds it buries each fall. These birds inhabit coniferous forests at high elevations and are year-round residents of their range.

17. Baird’s sandpiper

Baird's sandpiper
Baird’s sandpiper | image by Dominic Sherony via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Calidris bairdii

Baird’s Sandpiper is named in honor of Spencer Fullerton Baird, a 19th-century American naturalist, ornithologist and museum curator. He was an influential figure in the study of American birds, and aided greatly in the expansion of the National Museum of Natural History’s bird collection. Baird’s Sparrow is also named after him. 

This small wader is commonly found across the United States during its migration periods, particularly favoring the Great Plains and western states as it travels between its Arctic breeding grounds and South American wintering sites. They can make this amazing 9,300 mile journey is as little as 5 weeks. 

These sandpipers feature a scaly brown and black pattern on wings and back, along with a warm, buffy chest and pale belly. They are sometimes known as “grasspipers” due to their tendency to look for food in drier, grassy habitats than other shorebirds.

18. Audubon’s shearwater

Audubon's shearwater
Audubon’s shearwater | image by Dominic Sherony via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Puffinus lherminieri

If you’re a bird enthusiast then you’ve surely heard of John James Audubon. Audubon was an American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter, renowned for his detailed illustrations of American birds in their natural habitats. His major work, “The Birds of America,” published in the early 1800’s, is considered one of the finest ornithological works ever completed, featuring life-size prints of North American bird species. 

His legacy is preserved in the National Audubon Society, a conservation organization named in his honor, dedicated to the preservation and study of birds and their habitats. Many bird species carry his name as well, like Audubon’s Oriole and Audubon’s Shearwater.

Audubon’s Shearwater is a modest-sized seabird, with contrasting black and white plumage, a relatively long tail and somewhat rounded wings. This species is prevalent in tropical and subtropical waters, including areas around the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

These birds are known for their distinctive flight pattern, which includes glides and flaps close to the water’s surface. They feed primarily on fish and squid, often foraging at night. An interesting feature of their behavior is their nesting habit; they nest in burrows or crevices on isolated islands.

19. Zenaida dove 

Zenaida Dove | image by Dick Daniels via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientific Name: Zenaida aurita

The Zenaida dove’s apperance is quite similar to a mourning dove, with a deeper brown coloring and white wing edge visible during flight. This dove is found across the Caribbean islands and parts of the Yucatán Peninsula, preferring open woodlands, gardens, and coastal areas for its habitat.

The Zenaida Dove is named after Zénaïde Laetitia Julie Bonaparte, the wife of Charles Lucien Bonaparte, who was a French naturalist and ornithologist. Zénaïde was also a princess by marriage and a niece of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Known for its gentle cooing, similar to that of the Mourning Dove but more melodious, the Zenaida dove is a symbol of peace and tranquility in its native regions. It feeds on seeds, grains, and occasionally insects, often foraging on the ground in pairs or small groups.

20. Cassin’s Finch

Cassin’s Finch (male) | image by PEHart via Flickr | CC BY SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Haemorhous cassinii

Cassin’s Finch is a stocky finch with a conical bill. The males have a rosy-red crown, head and breast, blending into a brown back and wings. They look very similar to the house finch, but their coloration is more of a raspberry, purplish-red. Females and immature birds have streaked brown plumage with hints of red on the crown and rump.

These finches primarily inhabit the mountainous regions of western North America, from southwestern Canada through the western United States, including the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada, down into northern Mexico. They inhabit both coniferous and mixed forests, particularly in areas with a high density of pine trees, which provide both food and nesting sites.

The Cassin’s Finch is named after John Cassin, a 19th-century American ornithologist. Cassin was noted for his extensive work on birds, particularly those of North America, and contributed to the description and classification of new bird species. He was a curator at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and made significant contributions to ornithological literature, including his work on the Birds of California and his contributions to the Pacific Railroad Surveys. Several species are named in his honor, including Cassin’s Auklet, Cassin’s Kingbird, Cassin’s Vireo and Cassin’s Sparrow.

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