Back home after a couple of weeks in hospital to find a bewildering
accumulation of emails re bird names. Can't be sure if I've absorbed all of
them, so my apologies if I'm repeating anything that has already been said.
Marvellous animal is Homo sapiens, distinguished from all others by having a
language that can convey such detailed information ... and everything that
has flowed from that.
And surely the primary purpose of a bird name is just that: to convey
information: to enable the reader or hearer to identify the bird named.
It seems to me that it is of little consequence if an Australian
communicating to an Australian uses "Magpie" for a bird that is in no way
related to northern hemisphere "magpies", if both know what species is being
In writing, if there is likely to be any misunderstanding as to the precise
identity of a bird referred to by a vernacular name, simply add the
scientific name, and if there remains any possibility of taxonomic changes,
simply quote the source from which you took the name. Then anyone
sufficiently interested will be able to track it down.
If a word from an Aboriginal language is substituted for an existing English
word, this will confuse rather than inform and reference to the scientific
name would be essential.
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