While scientists have worked hard over the last three centuries to describe and classify living organisms such that each distinct species would be known by a unique name, there are many species which have more than one (and in some cases, several) common names. This isn’t really surprising since scientists use Latin as the language to apply official scientific names and regular folk like to use the regionally common name they have always used.

Colloquial names have also arisen from a tradition of long local usage and the publication of official names, as endorsed by a panel of eminent scientists who live somewhere else, is not going to end the use of colloquial names.

It’s one of the charming eccentricities of birdwatching that two birders can be arguing about some aspect of two similar birds, only they don’t realize they are discussing the same bird because they are referring to it by different colloquial names. Granted, this doesn’t happen very often anymore as the common names are becoming more standardized, thanks in large part to the explosion of bird guides that have been published over the past 50 years.

However, there are people who still refer to birds by their more colourful colloquial names. Here’s a list of the more commonly encountered colloquial names (in capital letters) along with the equivalent name that is used in bird guidebooks. (This list is based, in large part, on the names  recorded in The Birdwatcher’s Companion by Christopher Leahy)

Bee-Martin – Eastern Kingbird

BEETLEHEAD – hunter’s name for the Black-Bellied Plover

BLUEBILL – hunter’s name for Lesser Scaup, Greater Scaup or Ruddy Duck

BOGSUCKER – American Woodcock

BOS’N BIRD (Boatswain’s Bird) – seaman’s name for Jaegers and Tropicbirds

BULLBAT – nighthawks

BURGOMASTER – sailor’s name for a Glaucous Gull

BUTCHER BIRD – Northern Shrike, Loggerhead Shrike

BUTTERBALL – hunter’s name for the Bufflehead duck

BUTTERBILL – hunter’s name for the Black Scoter duck

BUZZARD – popular name for vultures, like the Black Vulture and Turkey Vulture.

CALICO PLOVER – hunter’s name for the Ruddy Turnstone

CALLITHUMPIAN DUCK – the Long-tailed Duck

CAREY CHICKS – Storm-petrels

CHAPARRAL COCK – Greater Roadrunner

CHEBEC – Least Flycatcher

CHEWINK – Spotted Towhee

CHUCKLEHEAD – hunter’s name for the Black-bellied Plover

CREAKER – hunter’s name for the Pectoral Sandpiper

DABCHICK – Pied-billed Grebe

DEVIL-DOWNHEAD – nuthatches

DIABLOTIN – Black-capped Petrel

DOUGHBIRD (or DOEBIRD) – Eskimo Curlew; any large bodied shorebird.

DUNK-A-DOO – American Bittern

ERNE – White-tailed Sea Eagle

FISH HAWK – Osprey

FOOL HEN – Spruce Grouse, Blue Grouse

GAREFOWL – Great Auk

GOONYBIRD – sailor’s name for Albatrosses

GRASSHOPPER HAWK – Northern Shrike, Loggerhead Shrike

GREENHEAD – hunter’s name for the Mallard duck

GREENLET – vireos

GROUNDBIRD – sparrows

GROUND WARBLER – Common Yellowthroat

GRUNTER – hunter’s name for the Wilson’s Phalarope

GUMP – hunter’s name for the Black-bellied Plover

HAGDON – sailor’s name for shearwaters

HARRYWICKET – Northern Flicker

HELL-DIVER – smaller grebes, such as the Pied-billed Grebe

HONKER – Canada Goose


ICE BIRD – sailor’s name for both the Dovekie and Razorbill

JIDDY HAWK – sailor’s name for the jaegers

LINNET – Eurasian Finch, House Finch

LOGCOCK – Pileated Woodpecker

LORD AND LADY – a pair of Harlequin Ducks

MACKEREL GOOSE – fisherman’s name for phalaropes

MACKEREL GULL – sailor’s name for terns, particularly the Common Tern, and Arctic Tern.

MAN-O’-WAR BIRD – frigatebirds

MARLIN – hunter’s name for godwits

MARLINESPIKE – sailor’s name for Parasitic and Long-tailed Jaegers

MOLLYMAUK – sailor’s name for the Northern Fulmar

MOORHEN – Common Gallinule

MOSQUITO HAWK – nighthawks

MOTHER CAREY’S CHICKENS – sailor’s name for storm-petrels, mainly Wilson’s and Leach’s Storm-Petrels

MUD HEN – Common Gallinule

MUTTON BIRD – Slender-billed Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater

NONPAREIL – Painted Bunting

OLDSQUAW – former name for the Long-tailed Duck

OUZEL – thrushes; or American Dipper

OXEYE – hunter’s name for small sandpipers

PEABODY BIRD – White-throated Sparrow

PEEP – hunter’s name for small sandpipers

PRAIRIE PIGEON – Franklin’s Gull

PREACHER – Red-eyed Vireo

QUAILHEAD – Lark Sparrow

QUANDY – hunter’s name for a female Goldeneye duck

QUANK – White-breasted Nuthatch

QUAWK – Black-crowned Night Heron

RAIN CROW – Black-billed or Yellow-billed Cuckoos

REDBIRD – Northern Cardinal

RICEBIRD – Bobolink

ROBIN SNIPE – hunter’s name for the Red Knot

SAWBILL – mergansers

SCISSORBILL – Black Skimmer

SEA HEN – sailor’s name for the Great Skua

SEA PARROT – sailor’s name for the Common Puffin

SEA PIGEON – sailor’s name for the Black Guillemot

SEA SWALLOW – sailor’s name for the terns, i.e., Common Tern, Roseate Tern, and Arctic Tern

SHAG – cormorants

SHITEPOTE – herons, i.e. Black-crowned Night Heron, Green Heron

SKUNKHEAD – hunter’s name for the male Surf Scoter

SMUTTY-NOSED COOT – hunter’s name for the Black Scoter


SNOWFLAKE – Snow Bunting

SOLAN GOOSE – Northern Gannet

SPECKLEBELLY – hunter’s name for the White-fronted Goose

SPRIG – hunter’s name for the Pintail duck

STIB – hunter’s name for the larger small-bodied sandpipers, such as the Sanderling and Dunlin

SWAMP ANGEL – Wood Thrush, Hermit Thrush


TEETER-BOB – Spotted Sandpiper

THISTLEBIRD – American Goldfinch

THROAT-CUT – a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

THUNDERPUMP – American Bittern

TICKLE-ARSE – sailor’s name for the Black-legged Kittiwake

TIMBERDOODLE – American Woodcock

TINKER – sailor’s name for the Razorbill

TITLARK – pipits

TURR – sailor’s name for the murres

WAMP – hunter’s name for eiders, particularly the King Eider

WATER HEN – American Coot

WATER WITCH – Pied-billed Grebe

WAVY – hunter’s name for the Snow/Blue Goose

WHALEBIRD – sailor’s name for the phalaropes found at sea, i.e., the Red Phalarope and  Northern Phalarope

WHIPTAIL – sailor’s name for the Long-tailed Jaeger


WHISTLER – hunter’s name for goldeneye ducks

WHOOPER – Whooping Crane

WIDE-AWAKE – Sooty Tern

WOBBLE – sailor’s name for the Great Auk

YELLOWHAMMER – Northern Flicker, particularly the yellow-shafted race of this species