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Good Reads  Ornithology  Taxonomy & Nomenclature

Lapwings, Loons & Lousy Jacks The How and Why of Bird Names

By: Ray Reedman(Author)
292 pages, b/w photos
Lapwings, Loons & Lousy Jacks
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  • Lapwings, Loons & Lousy Jacks ISBN: 9781784270926 Hardback Jul 2016 In stock
Price: £19.99
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About this book

The Lapwing once had many regional names; the Loon has a British–American identity crisis and the respectable-sounding Apostlebird is often called a Lousy Jack. Why do bird names, both common and scientific, change over time and why do they vary so much between different parts of the English-speaking world? Wandering through the scientific and cultural history of ornithology takes us to the heart of understanding the long relationship between birds and people.

Lapwings, Loons and Lousy Jacks uncovers the stories behind the incredible diversity of bird names, explains what many scientific names actually mean and takes a look at the history of the system by which we name birds. Ray Reedman explores the natural history and folklore behind bird names, in doing so unlocking the mystery of the name Scoter, the last unexplained common name of a British bird species.

Customer Reviews


Ray Reedman combines his love of birds and travel with a deep understanding of language and history. As a retired Senior Master of a successful independent school Ray rekindled a life-long love of the natural world by teaching courses on ornithology and travelling the world to watch birds.

By: Ray Reedman(Author)
292 pages, b/w photos
Media reviews

"[...] This volume is certainly not for the faint-hearted, but readers willing to persevere when the going gets tough will find themselves rewarded with some genuinely compelling insights."
– Nigel Hopper, Ibis 159(1), December 2016

"[...] This is definitely a book to dive into, to find some fascinating stories of the origin of bird names. It is illustrated with numerous photos, but only black-and-white, and of questionable quality. But it is the text that is the important part. A fascinating read."
– Derek Toomer, BTO book reviews

"a book you'll keep picking up to discover more"
– Kelly Brenner, The Metropolitan Field Guide

"He writes as a birder, but also, as is very evident, as a man whose professional life has revolved around languages and literature, and I fear that in trying not to create a serious work of reference he has failed! I think I shall go back to this book again and again."
– Mike Everett, British Birds

"Examining the names of a variety of bird species from scientific as well as folkloric perspectives, Reedman's book sounds just right to satisfy – as well as pique – the curiosity of those, like myself, who have long wondered at the stories behind, and reasons for, the names by which the birds around us are – and have been – known."
– John E. Riutta, The Well-read Naturalist

"Lapwings, Loons & Lousy Jacks is a fountain of lore that should definitely be sampled by anyone thirsty for bird name stories. Moreover, in tracing some of its more tangled tales it sheds valuable light on how both science and language work when confronted with a vast and unruly collection of living things – by which I mean both the birds and the people who want to identify them. "
– Carrie Laben, 10,000 Birds

"The names of birds – common, scientific and colloquial – almost form a poetry of their own, so varied and sometimes apparently inexplicable are they. This book admirably tries to pull together pretty much everything there is to know about ornithological nomenclature, looking at the stories behind names, the history of our naming systems, and the way that scientific names are assigned."
– Matt Merritt, Birdwatching magazine

"It's difficult for me to assess this book as I am a complete bird name nut. I've spent a big chunk of my spare time over more than a decade looking at the people whose names appear in either the common or scientific names of vertebrates in general and birds in particular. Along the way I've been fascinated by local names, and historical changes much of which this excellent volume covers. There must be something in the human psyche that drives our apparent need for conformity and for several centuries 'authorities' have sought to impose uniformity. These days it's the job of the IOC to regularise common names across continents so that Brits, yanks, kiwis et al can all recognise what species is being talked about. Personally I can't see the point as Linnaeus and others invented a system we all use of scientific names so whether I call a bird a yaffle or a green woodpecker makes no odds so long as I use the scientific name everyone can read off the same hymn sheet. I think it's a shame that national names are under attack and that regional names are losing out to the standard common names in fieldguides. Having said that birders, if not ornithologists are stubborn fellows likely to go on calling a Great Skua a bonxie or even inventing their own names like spawk for Sparrowhawk or barwit for bar-tailed godwit.The richness of names is something I celebrate along with the author. Moreover, his depth of research has taught me things I didn't know and I thank him for it. If I have to delve deep for a criticism it would be that once out of this country the areas covered are patchy depending on the author's experience. If I were an American, Aussie or South African I might take up the challenge to give more depth to the common names used there and the rest of the English speaking world too. But, that is a minor issue and the bulk of this volume is full of fascination and fact that a great many birders will learn from and love."
– Fat Birder

"I approached Ray Reedman's splendidly titled book with enthusiastic anticipation. I am currently producing a set of prints of birds, using their old and often long forgotten names for the titles. I hoped to find stories about the derivation of these names and perhaps come across new ones to inspire further pictures in the series. I was not disappointed. Ray examines how generic names developed until men like Linneaus tidied up the nomenclature and gave us universal names in latin which most could agree with and accept. However, he points out how the accepted lists are still evolving with regular changes and up-dates, as scientific research reveals fresh evidence to lump or subdivide groups of species. Ray is not put off, rather he finds it all adds to his enjoyment of language and the stories that the names have to tell."
– Robert Gillmor

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