If you enjoy bird watching, you’ve probably come across some birds with weird names. Whether they sound like slang terms or just seem ridiculous, some bird names can be quite amusing! If you’ve ever wondered how their names came to be, this is the article for you. Let’s dive right into some of these birds with weird names and see if we can uncover their origins.
14 Birds with weird names
While the origins of some names started with lore from local peoples and are mostly lost in history, sometimes silly names are more simple. Often, the sound a bird makes or something unique about their plumage is the origin of their weird name.
1. Gray Go-away-bird
Scientific Name: Corythaixoides concolor
The grey go-away-bird is a medium-sized bird that lives in arid to moist habitats of the southern Afrotropics. They sometimes also go by the names grey lourie or kwêvoel, but their name “go-away birds” comes from one of the sounds they make. In fact there are more species of go-away birds in Africa such as the bare-faced go-away-bird and the white-bellied go-away-bird. These species are known for being noisy, especially their low, nasal call that sounds like “go-awaaaaay”.
These birds have smoky gray feathers with a long tail and head crest. They’re social birds that frequently gather in groups to forage in trees for leaves, flowers, fruit, buds, and occasionally small insects. They are also known to roll on the ground to take dust baths.
Scientific Name: Coereba flaveola
Bananaquits are small birds with longer, down-curved bills. You may think they get their name from their banana yellow belly, but actually it comes from their fondness for very ripe bananas that have fallen to the ground. They often live near where bananas are planted, so they can get their favorite sugary fruits whenever they want.
There are some slight color variations based on location, but most have a dark back and head, a thick white stripe over their eyes, a pale throat, and yellow belly. Bananaquits can be found throughout much of the northern half of South America, Central America, the Yucatan and Caribbean Islands. Some may occasionally be spotted in southern Florida. These birds of open fields and rain forests consume fruits and nectars and will often hang upside down from a branch to feed on a flower.
3. Exclamatory Paradise-Whydah
Scientific Name: Vidua interjecta
The magnificent Exclamatory Paradise Whydah can be found in parts of central Africa such as Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Guinea. They’re most commonly seen in open wooded areas with tall grasses and bushes.
These birds eat grass seeds that they find on the ground. Outside of the breeding season, both males and females are fairly plain, with brownish backs, pale undersides, and short tails. But then during the breeding season, males transform. Their plumage turns velvety black, with a golden throat and nape, white belly, and incredibly long black tail feathers. So long they seem out of place. We couldn’t find the reason behind their name, but perhaps it is because the impressive tails of the breeding males make you exclaim “wow!”
4. Rough-faced Shag
Scientific Name: Leucocarbo carunculatus
The Rough-faced Shag, also known as the New Zealand King Shag, is a bird found only in a particular area of New Zealand. It lives in the coastal waters of the Marlborough Sounds and breeds on low rock plateaus and steep rock ridges. This species is distinguished by its black and white coat and large pink-colored feet.
Shags are in the same family of aquatic birds as cormorants. In fact the terms shag or cormorant are used interchangeably in certain parts of the world. These two terms were originally used in Great Britain. One given to the great cormorant, and the other to the common shag, who had a shaggy crest on its head. As people came across these types of birds, they often stuck with cormorant or shag based on if the bird had a head crest or not, but that wasn’t always the case. You can see this here with the rough-faced shag, who doesn’t have really have a crest despite its name.
The “rough-faced” title comes from two yellow, warty bits of skin at the base of their beak called caruncles that breeding adults have. The diet of the New Zealand king shag consists almost entirely of deep-sea fish. They’re excellent divers, capable of foraging up to 50 meters beneath the surface.
5. Masked Booby
Scientific Name: Sula dactylatra
A masked booby is a seabird with a wide range in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. The term “masked” in its name comes from the black feathers that cover their eyes and encircle their face. It is hard to say exactly where the term “booby” came from. It is generally believed to have its root in the Spanish slang term “bobo”, meaning stupid. They have a peculiar way of walking on land that looks a bit silly. Also, they are rather tame birds without much fear of humans, and apparently used to land on sailing ships and the crew was able to easily capture and eat them.
This booby species is the largest of the booby family, reaching 2.8 feet in length and 5.5 feet in wingspan. The masked booby’s diet consists primarily of fish and squids, and they hunt for food by diving underwater to depths of 30 meters.
6. American bushtit
Scientific Name: Psaltriparus minimus
The American bushtit is a small, beautifully plumed bird that lives in temperate forested areas along the west coast of North America. Its unique name came from an Old Icelandic word, “titr”, which means small. The term “tit” is often used in Europe for a type of small bird, whereas in the U.S. we tend to call these types of birds chickadees.
American bushtits have a long slender tail, round body, grayish plumage, and weigh only 5.5 g. They primarily feed on insects, spiders, and seeds. These hyper little birds are always hopping around through trees and bushes.
7. Great tit
Scientific Name: Parus major
The Great Tit is a bird native to Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and parts of Africa. Their name refers to their large size, relative to other members of the tit family. As we said above, in North America we tend to call tits chickadees, and in this species you can really see the similarities, including the black head with white cheek patch.
They’re common in woodlands, forest edges, and gardens, where they spend the entire year but will migrate if the winter is harsh. Their diet consists of insects and small invertebrates such as grasshoppers, snails, crickets, and bees. In the winter when insects are more scare, they will add in berries and seeds. They will readily come to a bird feeder with peanut pieces and sunflower seeds.
8. Satanic nightjar
Scientific Name: Eurostopodus diabolicus
A Satanic nightjar, also called the diabolical nightjar, is a bird belonging to the nightjar family Caprimulidae. Nightjars are nocturnal birds with short legs, long wings, and pointed bills. This species has a greyish-brown back, a blackish head, and white wing patches and is about 27 cm long. This species lacks ear tufts in comparison to other nightjars, which is why it’s also known as the satanic eared-nightjar.
They can be found in Indonesia’s mountainous forests, particularly in Sulawesi. Supposedly, satanic nightjars got their names from the “plip-plop” sounds they make in flight, which local people thought sounded like pulling out someone’s eye, yuck. However it’s possible these nightjars aren’t the ones even making that noise. Whatever the origin, once the name caught on it really stuck, and some bird advocates even like that the same sounds shocking as it helps bring awareness to them and conservation efforts to help them.
9. Eastern Whip-poor-will
Scientific Name: Antrostomus vociferus
Whip-poor-wills are medium-sized nightjars with flattened heads, large eyes, and dark brown feathers. They can glide and fly without making any noise. They’re nocturnal like other nightjars and typically solitary, though they may gather in flocks during migration. Eastern whip-poor-wills winter in Mexico and along the Gulf coast, then head north to the eastern U.S. to breed.
You can find these birds in woods near fields and other open areas. They typically hunt flying insects seen at night, such as moths, beetles, mosquitoes, and crickets. Their name was derived from the males distinctive call, described as “Whip-poor-will.” Males will sing this over and over again through the night during the breeding season. These haunting songs heard on summer nights inspired many myths and legends, but it actually means that the bird is calling for mates. Unfortunately, their population has declined by over 60% since the mid 1960’s due mainly to loss of open-understory forest habitat.
Scientific Name: Spiza americana
The Dickcissel is a bird that’s indigenous to North America. They leave their wintering grounds in South America, Central America and Mexico and arrive around April in the central U.S. Their preferred habitat is grasslands, prairies, and agricultural areas. They have a sparrow-like look to them, with brown backs, white bellies and yellow chests. Males have a black V-shaped patch on their chest. Insects and seeds make up most of their diet, although they’ll consume grasses and willows when food sources are limited.
Their unusual name comes from their call, described as a high-pitched “dick-dick-dick” followed by a buzzing “ciss, ciss, ciss”.
11. Horned Screamer
Scientific name: Anhima cornuta
The horned screamer is a large bird, about 3 feet long. They have a bulky grey and black body, with a frilly black and white collar along their neck, long grey legs and a small head with a red eye. They reside in South America and live along rivers and in wetland areas where they feast on aquatic plants.
Their interesting name comes from both their appearance and their call. The “horn” in the horned screamer is a long, thin, spiny structure that sticks out from the top of the birds head. It is not a feather but is attached to the skull, and continually grows as the tip eventually breaks off. Unique in the bird world. Their name “screamer” comes from their rather loud calls. They don’t sound like human screams, rather like an echoing walrus or deep honking.
12. Hoary Puffleg
Scientific name: Haplophaedia lugens
The cute hoary puffleg is a hummingbird found in cloudforest, tropical forest and scrubland between Colombia and Ecuador. They prefer to get nectar from flowers closer to the ground rather than in trees, and will defend clusters of their favorite flowers.
One definition of the word “hoary” is grayish or whitish, especially due to age. The throat, chest and belly of this hummingbird have a gray and white scaly appearance, perhaps resembling an older persons hoary salt and pepper hair. Adult males have a white puff of feathers at the top of their leg, which can stand out from the darker surrounding feathers. Females have smaller and less conspicuous leg puffs.
13. Noisy Friarbird
Scientific name: Philemon corniculatus
This interesting bird almost looks like a miniature vulture. They have a completely featherless head with gray skin and a red eye. Despite this vulture-like appearance, they are actually members of the honeyeater family and eat only nectar, fruit and insects. Southern New Guinea and eastern Australia are the only places you’ll find them.
They are known to be quite noisy, hence part of their name. They make strange sounds, continuously chattering and cackling, and it can get quite loud when they show up in groups. Their bald head atop a collar of neck feathers somewhat resembles historical friars who shaved the tops of their heads bald, leaving a circle of hair at the base.
14. Sandwich Tern
Scientific name: Thalasseus sandvicensis
Sandwich terns are common along the coast of both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. They have a white body, gray wings and black cap. Throughout most of their range they have a black beak with a yellow tip, although in the Caribbean and parts of South America they may have an entirely yellow beak.
They must get their name from stealing sandwiches from beachgoers right? Sadly no, they only eat fish, crustaceans, shrimp and insects. The name comes from the location, Sandwich, England, where they were first categorized by ornithologist John Latham in 1787.