Obsolete English names of North American birds and their modern equivalents

Resource Publication 174




Nicasio wren, mountain mockingbird, desert sparrow—these are among the many names one might find in the older North American ornithological or birding literature but not in recent field guides or check-lists. These are English common names that once were used for species, subspecies, or populations of birds but that have been supplanted by other names. Sometimes it is fairly easy to relate the old names to the present names, but often it can be difficult, especially if they are accompanied by scientific names that also have changed. In this list I equate those old names, and some not commonly found in modern writing, to the present English and scientific names of the species to which they apply.

The usefulness of such a list was brought to my attention by Curtis Sabrosky, an entomologist retired from the Systematic Entomology Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In his work on ectoparasitic flies, Dr. Sabrosky occasionally finds specimens taken from avian hosts identified on the labels only by obsolete English names. On occasion, he has sought assistance from the author in identifying or verifying the host bird in current terminology, and expressed a desire for a list such as this.

This index should also be useful to other workers and for other purposes. Ornithologists not well versed in taxonomic matters might save valuable research time if they could immediately relate a bit of information recorded in the older literature to the name of a species with which they are familiar. Law enforcement personnel might find some support in convincing a gunner (or judge) that the old or colloquial name of a bird shot is the same as the name in the list of species protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Serious birders, historians, collectors of natural history books—even crossword puzzle fans and trivialists—might find something of use or interest.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
Federal Government Series
Obsolete English names of North American birds and their modern equivalents
Series title:
Resource Publication
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Contributing office(s):
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
37 p.
Online Only (Y/N):
Additional Online Files (Y/N):