Willy Fantails

To: 'Greg and Val Clancy' <>, 'Geoff Ryan' <>, "" <>
Subject: Willy Fantails
From: Philip Veerman <>
Date: Thu, 19 Jan 2017 23:12:38 +0000
I knew that was coming (about 'Ground Butcherbird'). Just a matter of who.
Yes it would be nice if common names reflected relationships in some way.
But not every one does. From Emu, Kiwi, Cassowary to Redthroat, there are a
whole range of individual names that don't suggest any relationship. If
Willie Fantail was the one that worked, it would probably be better. What is
behind the suggestion to go from Willy to Willie? They undeniably wag their
tails (a moot point about that their tails are usually fanned when they do).
The confusion only arises by virtue of the whole other group called
wagtails. But the main purpose of names is to be understood and then
usefully be at least a bit descriptive.  About Ground Butcherbird, does it
really matter for common names that our magpie is closer related to
butcherbirds than magpies? Yes in a technical sense. But Ground Butcherbird
does not cut it. An arbitrary decision for now in that set of opinions to
extend the genus boundary of Cracticus to include Gymnorhina does not make
the magpie less distinctive in its overall form and thus any less deserving
of its own name. That the name given is already occupied by a separate group
is very unfortunate and based in history (as with most of these problems).
But that is what people relate to. Can you imagine Collingwood fans cheering
for the Ground Butcherbirds? Indeed mostly it gets shortened to just "the
pies". The group name Butcherbird refers to the habit of hanging prey in a
fork of a tree or similar (apparently they do not impale food on thorns, as
shrikes do, though the habit is otherwise similar). The Magpie does not do
this, so on that basis Ground Butcherbird is a rather silly option because
it describes something they don't do. I don't know what mag means but the
pie refers to being black & white, so that is ok. Then there are the
completely ridiculous names like Cuckoo-shrike (that are neither and are
also pompous). I advocate deleting these and inventing new words that offer
no wrong connections. A shortening to Cush as a group name would have the
advantage of sounding nice and simple, yet maintaining a historical
connection to a prior (silly) popular group name. One other thing I noted is
that the new book "Backyard Bird Sounds" (Fred Van Gessel) lists the name of
Magpielark as one of the birds featured and this begs the question where
that comes from. It does mention its other names, with notably no mention of
Magpie-lark. I have never seen Magpielark offered as a name before. Indeed I
suspect that Magpielark is a better name than Magpie-lark because by
deleting the hyphen, it conjures up an entirely new word, thus at least
attempting to delete the connection to those other 2 groups, giving a name
to a unique entity that is not a magpie or a lark. Pity though that without
the hyphen it sounds the same.


-----Original Message-----
From: Birding-Aus  On Behalf Of
Greg and Val Clancy
Sent: Friday, 20 January, 2017 8:44 AM
To: Geoff Ryan; 
Subject: Willy Fantails

Well said Geoff.  Now lets try to change the Australian Magpie to 'Ground
Butcherbird' now that it is in the genus Cracticus - it still is isn't it???


Dr Greg. P. Clancy
Ecologist and Birding-wildlife Guide
| PO Box 63 Coutts Crossing NSW 2460
| 02 6649 3153 | 0429 601 960

-----Original Message-----
From: Geoff Ryan
Sent: Friday, January 20, 2017 7:32 AM
Subject: Willy Fantails

Surely it is more sensible to change anachronistic and confusing common
names even if it upsets our possessive addiction to those names in common

I know several people who still insist on calling the Australian
Black-necked Stork a Jabiru. The up-coming generation of birders will not
thank us oldies who refuse to adopt sensible common names. I grew up
calling White-faced Herons - 'Blue Cranes'; Black-faced Cuckoo Shrikes -
'Bluejays'; Rufous Whistlers - 'Eechongs' and still have trouble not
calling Magpie Larks - 'Peewees'. I am glad more appropriate and less
confusing common names have been adopted for these species.

Common names listed in Field Guides and species lists are not just used by
parochials but by international birders - the less confusing and ambiguous
the better.

I'll probably be using the name Willy Wagtail up until the day I die but
hope that the more sensible choice of Willy Fantail has replaced Willy
Wagtail on the adopted lists of common names.


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