“Regal” members of the bird world

ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_2027©Maria de BruynWe usually don’t know who gave a bird species its common name and sometimes may scratch our heads wondering how and why someone ended up choosing a particular name. But birders faithfully learn to identify birds with those names, even when they may seem illogical. For example, many people would have chosen to call red-bellied woodpeckers red-headed woodpeckers since the reddish belly feathers are much less obvious than the red on the back of their heads.

Sometimes we can guess at why a bird got a certain name, however. The species with some form of “king” in their names were apparently felt to have something regal in their bearing or behavior. These birds don’t look similar though.

Some are quite small, like the ruby-crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula). This tiny bird, which weighs only 5-10 g (0.2-0.4 oz), is a bit dull in color except for the ruby crown that the males occasionally display. They are very active and very cute and having them leave the forest and woody areas to visit your bird feeders is a real treat.

Ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_9834©Maria de Bruyn res - Copy ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_2762 MdB (2)
The golden-crowned kinglet (Regulus satrapa) is even smaller, weighing on average 4-7.8 g (0.14-0.28 oz). The males and females both have crowns, although the males can have an orange patch in the middle of their crowns.

Golden-crowned kinglet IMG_7486© Maria de BruynGolden-crowned kinglet IMG_5785II
The tropical kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus) is larger and has a crown stripe that is less obvious than the kinglet crowns.

Tropical kingbird IMG_8081X mdbTropical kingbird IMG_8113Z mdb

The belted kingfisher is larger still (Megaceryle alcyon) weighing 113-178 g (4-6.3 oz). The females are more brightly colored than the males, showing a reddish band across their breasts (both male and female juveniles have the reddish bands but adult males lose theirs).

Belted kingfisher IMG_5329©Maria de BruynresBelted kingfisher  IMG_9360f© Maria de Bruyn

Some birds don’t have regal names in English but do so in other languages. For example, in Dutch and German, wrens are called kinglets; in North Carolina, we talk about Carolina wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus).

Carolina wren IMG_7891©Maria de BruynresCarolina wren IMG_8909© Maria de Bruyn

And then we have the large raptor (weighing in at 0.9–2.1 kg (2.0–4.6 lb) whose regal background is expressed in its scientific name, Pandion haliaetus. Pandion was the name of the Greek king of Athens who was grandfather to Theseus, who was transformed into an eagle. Haliaetus comes from the Greek word for sea eagle. We call this regal eagle by the simpler name osprey.

osprey IMG_0230©Maria de Bruyn resosprey IMG_9909©Maria de Bruyn

So these kingly birds are all quite different, ranging from the tiny kinglets to the robust osprey. What they do have in common is their loveliness, displayed in diverse size, color and plumage, and our appreciation for their beauty.

ruby-crowned kinglet IMG_8787©Maria de Bruyn signed

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s