Birdwatchers are fortunate when it comes to the naming of birds. While every living species on earth has a unique scientific name, most of them have no associated common name. Which means that if you want to discuss some obscure fish or an insect, chances are you will have to refer to them by their scientific names, all of which are in Latin.

Birds are the only animal group in which virtually all of the species are referred to more by their common names than their scientific names. This is due to the popularity of birds and birdwatching; non-scientists insist on using common names. Not only are they easier to remember but they also provide the birds with a more personable familiarity.

Plus which, common names can endow the birds with geographical significance (as is the case with the Northern Parula) or be used to honor famous bird scientists of the past (as in McCown’s Longspur).

The names given to birds are assigned by taxonomists; these are scientists who specialize in determining the relationships between species. Bird species can be closely related, like the chickadees, or more distant relatives, as is the case with ducks and sparrows. Part of a taxonomists’ role in biological science also includes assigning names to each species.

Once a taxonomist has assigned a scientific name to a species, that name is unlikely to ever change. But the common name of a species can change, as unsuitable names are discarded and more appropriate names achieve acceptance.

Here’s a sampling of some North American birds whose common name has changed over the last century (from a list compiled by Richard Banks, of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center). The first name is the currently accepted name, followed by the obsolete name for that bird.

Common Loon — Great Northern Diver

Horned Grebe — Hell-diver

Double-crested Cormorant — Farallon Cormorant, White-tufted Cormorant, Shag

American Bittern — Bog Pumper, Dunk-a-doo, Indian Hen

Greater White-fronted Goose — Specklebelly

Northern Pintail — Sprigtail

American Wigeon — Baldpate

Redhead — American Pochard

Ring-necked Duck — Blackhead

Scaups — Bluebill

White-winged Scoter — Velvet Scoter

Common Goldeneye — Cobhead, Whistler

Goldeneyes — Garrot

Bufflehead — Butterball, Spirit duck

Hooded Merganser — Cock Robin

Common Merganser — Goosander, American Sheldrake

Ruddy Duck — Sleepy Duck

Sharp-shinned Hawk — Little Blue Darter

Cooper’s Hawk — Big Blue Darter

Ferruginous Hawk — Rusty Squirrel Hawk

Merlin — Pigeon Hawk

Sage Grouse — Sage Cock

Sora — Ortolan

American Coot — Mudhen

Black-bellied Plover — Bullhead

Black-necked Stilt — Lawyer

Greater Yellowlegs — Tell-tale

Lesser Yellowlegs — Yellowshanks

Marbled Godwit — Marlin

Ruddy Turnstone — Calico-back

Red Knot — Robin Snipe

Least Sandpiper — Oxeye

Dunlin — Purre, Black-breast

Shortbilled Dowitcher — Brownback

Common Nighthawk — Bull-bat

Northern Flicker — Golden-winged Woodpecker, Yellowhammer

Pileated Woodpecker — Log-cock, Black woodcock

Bank Swallow — Sand Martin

Black-capped Chickadee — Long-tailed Chickadee, Yukon Chickadee, Western Titmouse

Mountain Chickadee — Bailey’s Chickadee

Boreal Chickadee — Brown-capped Chickadee

American Dipper — Water-ouzel

Mountain Bluebird — Arctic Bluebird

Townsend’s Solitaire — Townsend’s Ptilogonys

Bohemian Waxwing — Bohemian Chatterer

Cedar Waxwing — Cherry-bird

Loggerhead Shrike, Northern Shrike — Butcher-bird

Red-eyed Vireo — Greenlet

Orange-crowned Warbler — Lutescent Warbler

Yellow Warbler — Golden warbler, Mangrove Warbler

Spotted Towhee — Chewink, Ground Robin

Chipping Sparrow — Hairbird

Vesper Sparrow — Bay-winged Bunting

Dark-eyed Junco — Snowbird

Snow Bunting — Snowflake

Lark Bunting — White-shouldered Blackbird

Bobolink — Reedbird

Red-winged Blackbird — Bicolored blackbird, Red-and-buff-shouldered blackbird, Swamp Blackbird

Common Grackle — Bronzed Crow Blackbird

Brown-headed Cowbird — Cow Blackbird, Dwarf Cowbird

Common Raven — Holarctic Raven

Hoary Redpoll — Mealy Redpoll

Source: Obsolete English Names of North American Birds and Their Modern Equivalents. Compiled by Richard Banks (USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center).