Saturday, June 30, 2012

Most Eponymous

Not too long ago I was talking with a friend about common English bird names and the people some of them are named after. We were also trying to tabulate who has the most North American birds named after them. John James Audubon seemed like a good guess but despite his notoriety, we could only come up with two species: Audubon's Shearwater and Audubon's Oriole. Perhaps the reason has something to do with Audubon's rivalry with Alexander Wilson and the politics of American ornithology in the 19th century.

Cassin's Finches - Jackson County, CO

Speaking of Alexander Wilson, by my count he shares the top spot with another 19th century ornithologist, John Cassin (both with five):

Cassin's Auklet

Cassin's Kingbird

Cassin's Vireo

Cassin's Sparrow

Cassin's Finch
Wilson's Storm-Petrel

Wilson's Plover

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson's Warbler

Cassin's Finch - Yellow Variant - Jackson County, CO
(extremely rare according to Sibley Guide)

You might be thinking that Wilson & Cassin named the birds after themselves, but there is an informal rule of nomenclature that you are not supposed to do that. There is only one exception to this rule for a North American bird as far as I know. William Gambel accidentally named Gambel's Quail after himself when he wrote his name on the specimen label of a bird he presumed to be a California Quail. When the bird was later determined to be a distinct species Gambel's name was applied to it.

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