WHAT'S IN A NAME!
by Sally Blanchard
- We are used to calling our parrots by the name that is common where we live but that doesn't really work in the rest of the world or in science. It is important for people to be able to understand what parrot, bird, animal, fish, insect, plant, etc. people from other countries are talking about. So in the mid-1700s, a scientist named Carolus Linnaeus refined a consistent system of taxonomy called binomial nomenclature that organizes and gives living creatures scientific names. This made it possible all over the world for people to know what species of parrot we are talking about when we mention the genus and species Psittacus erithacus. (African grey) - Some of the genus and species names which define a living creature are very description while others seem to be straight out of the “Gary Larsen School of Biology.”
- It is interesting to 'translate' the genus and species of parrots to see why they are called what they are. For example, Amazona aestiva is the genus and species name for the Blue-fronted Amazon. This translates as the Amazon of Summer because the beautiful parrot has the bright colors of summer. The sub-species of the Blue-fronted Amazon is Amazona aestiva xanthopterex which translates as Yellow-winged Amazon of Summer. Do you know which parrot is the Amazon of Fall or Amazona autumnalis?
- The Budgerigar is Melopsittacus undulatus. The genus translates as 'song parrot' and the species name means 'wavy'. This could apply to the fact that their flight is 'wavy' or it could be the feather patterns in their plumage. The name Budgerigar comes from a native Australian Aboriginal word betcherrygah, which means 'good parrot'. However, I have also read that it means “good to eat”.
- Calyptorhynchus is the genus for several Australian black cockatoos. The genus name was given for their habit of covering their beaks with their feathers when they are relaxed. The calypto part means veiled or hidden and the rhynchus means nose, or in this case beak. Of course, we know the White Cockatoos cover their beaks in this manner when they are relaxed especially when they are ready to go to sleep.
- The Brown-headed Parrot Poicephalus cryptoxanthus translates in an interesting way. Poicephalus means “made of head” and cryptoxanthus means “hidden yellow” for the fact that when these birds open their wings, the inside feathers are bright yellow.
- A lot of people have noticed strong similarities between certain conures and the macaws. Many of the Companion Conures we know and love are in the genus Aratinga which translates as “little macaw”.
These are just a few examples of the fact that a lot of the parrot families' Genus and species names describe them with accuracy.