Avian Lexicon

Classification of the Class Aves

An Avian Lexicon

Created for Zoology 360 Students, Fall 2000

Michigan State University

Terri McElhinny mcelhinn@msu.edu

As I’ve mentioned in class, I find it much easier to wrap my brain around the Latin and Greek words used in scientific terminology if I have some idea of what the word roots mean. This does not mean that you have to take a language course in Latin or Greek.

I’ve looked up the translations for the birds that we will be learning in class.  Some of the roots that are used will already be familiar to you, and many are used repeatedly in different names. Some of the names turn out to be quite funny (ie the ‘arsefoot’), and therefore, I think, easy to remember. If the root is used repeatedly, eg Family Scolpacidae, Subfamily Scolopacinae, Tribe Scolpacini,  I only provide the translation the first time, except in the case of genus and species. Many species names are obviously place names, eg americana, and I sometimes don’t address these because they are obvious. If the translation is not something obvious, I’ve provided a bit of an explanation.

Class Aves: avis (L) a bird

Order Gaviiformes: gavia (L) a bird;
forma (L) shape, sort

Family Gaviidae

Gavia immer: gavia (L)
a bird; immersio (L) to immerse.

Order Podicipediformes: podex (L)
the rump; pes (L) the foot; forma (L) shape, sort. Refers to the legs being
set well back on the body (sometimes called ‘arsefoot’)

Family Podicipedidae

Podiceps auritus: podex
(L) the rump; pes (L) the foot; auritis (L) having ears

Order Sphenisciformes: sphen (Gr)
a wedge; -iscus (New L) a siminutive suffix; forma (L) shape, sort. Refers to
their lil wedge-shaped wings.

Family Spheniscidae

Order Procellariiformes: procella
(L) a violent storm; forma (L) shape, sort.They like stormy weather.

Family Diomedeidae: Greek mythology:
Diomedes was driven by a storm to the coast of Southern Italy, where he remained
until his death. His companions were turned to birds.

Family Procellariidae

Order Pelicaniformes: pelecanus (L)
a pelican; forma (L) shape, sort

Family Pelicanidae

Family Phalacrocoracidae: phalakros
(Gr) bald-headed; korax (Gr) a raven

Phalacrocorax auritus:
phalakros (Gr) bald-headed; korax (Gr) a raven; auritis (L) having ears

Family Anhingidae: anhinga (Tupi-Guarani,
an Amazon tribe) water-turkey

Order Anseriformes: anser (L) a goose;
forma (L) shape, sort

Family Anhimidae: anhima (New L)

Family Anatidae: anatis (L) a duck

Subfamily Anserinae: anser (L)
a goose

Tribe Cygnini: cygnus (L) a

Cygnus columbianus:
cygnus (L) a swan; named for Columbus, perhaps?

Tribe Anserini: anser (L) a

Chen caerulescens:
khen (Gr) a goose; kairos (Gr) important

Branta canadensis:
branta is from brennan (Anglo-Saxon) to burn-refers to the reddish-brown
color; aptly named for Canada.

Subfamily Anatinae: anatis (L)
a duck

Tribe Anatini

Aix sponsa: aix (Gr)
a water bird of the goose flavor; sponsa (L) a betrothed woman. This
actually refers more to the Mandarin duck, a similar species, of which
a pair was given as a wedding present

Anas platyrhynchos:
anas (L) a duck; platus (Gr) wide, flat; rhunkhos (Gr) the beak

Anas discors: anas
(L) a duck; discors (L) disagreeing, different

Tribe Aythyini: aithuia (Gr)
a diving bird

Aythya valisineria:
aithuia (Gr) a diving bird; named after Dr Antonio Vallisnieri, after
whom the canvasback’s favorite food is named (the waterweed Vallisnera

Bucephala clangula:
bu (Gr) a bull; kephale (Gr) the head;

Mergus serrator: mergo
(L) I plunge in; serratus (L) serrated

Lophodytes cucullatus:
lopho (Gr) a crest; dytes (Gr) a diver

Tribe Oxyurini: oxus (Gr) sharp,
pointy; oura (Gr) the tail

Oxyura jamaicensis:
oxus (Gr) sharp, pointy; oura (Gr) the tail; -ensis (L) belonging to,
but the Ruddy Duck isn’t just from Jamaica, right?

Order Charadriiformes: this is a
misleading name from Greek, which insinuates that these birds live near mountain
streams and nest in clefts, which they don’t.

Suborder Scolopaci: scolopax (Gr)
a snipe.

Family Laridae: laros (Gr) a
sea bird.

Subfamily Larinae

Larus philadelphia: laros
(Gr) a sea bird; now, how a bird commonly named for Napoleon’s cousin,
a French zoologist, came by the name philadelphia, I have no

Larus delawarensis: laros
(Gr) a sea bird; named for the great state of Delaware, another wierd

Subfamily Sternidae: sterna
(Old Norse) a tern.

Sterna caspia: sterna
(Old Norse) a tern; named for the Caspian sea.

Childonias niger:
khelidonios (Gr) of the swallow; niger (L) black.

Family Alcidae: alka (Icelandic)
the auk.

Suborder Charadrii

Family Charadriidae

Charadrius vociferus:
misleading first part, see above; vociferor (L) I cry aloud- they’re noisy!

Family Jacanidae: jacana (Portugese)
a jacana

Family Haematopodidae: haimatos
(Gr) blood; podos (Gr) foot- they have red feet.

Family Recurvirostridae: recurvo
(L) I curve backwards; rostrum (L) beak.

Recurvirostra americana:
recurvo (L) I curve backwards; rostrum (L) beak; named for its range,
North and Central America.

Family Scolpacidae: scolopax
(Gr) a snipe.

Subfamily Scolopacinae

Tribe Tringini: trungus (Gr)
a white-rumped water bird, a sandpiper.

Actitis macularia:
aktites (Gr) a dweller of the sea coast; macula (L) spot.

Tribe Arenariini: arenarius
(L) relating to the sand.

Tribe Calidridini: skalidris
(Gr) a spotted bird.

Calidris alpina:
skalidris (Gr) a spotted bird; alpin (L) alpine- they summer far to
the north.

Tribe Gallinagini: gallina
(L) a hen, poultry.

Gallinago gallinago:
gallina (L) a hen, poultry.

Tribe Scolpacini

Subfamily Phalaropodinae: phalaris
(Gr) a coot (called thusly because of its white head); podos (Gr) the
foot- they’re coot-footed, with lateral lobes on the toes.

Order Phoenicopteriformes: phoinikos
(Gr) crimson; pteron (Gr) a wing

Family Phoenicopteridae

Order Ciconiiformes: ciconia (L)
a stork; forma (L) shape, sort

Family Ardeidae: ardea (L) a heron

Botaurus lentiginosus:
boo (L) I roar; taurus (L) a bull; lentiginis (L) a freckle; -osus (L) very

Butorides virescens: butio
(L) a bittern; -ides (L) related to; viridis (L) grees; -escens (L) -ish

Ardea herodias: ardea
(L) a heron; erodios (Gr) a heron

Family Ciconiidae: ciconia (L)
a stork

Family Threskiornithidae: threskos
(Gr) religious; ornithos (Gr) a bird. This family contains the sacred ibis

Family Cathartidae: kathartes (Gr)
a cleanser or purifier.

Cathartes aura: kathartes
(Gr) a cleanser or purifier; aura (L) air.

Order Gruiformes: grus (Gr) a crane.

Family Rallidae: rallus (New L)
a rail.

Rallus limicola: rallus
(New L) a rail; limus (L) mud; colo (L) I dwell in.

Porzana carolina: porzana
(New L) a crake- this bird is also known as the Carolina crake.

Fulica americana: fulica
(L) a coot.

Family Gruidae

Grus canadensis: grus
(Gr) a crane.

Order Tinamiformes: tinamu (Galibi,
a French Guianan tribe); forma (L) shape, sort

Family Tinamidae: tinamu (Galibi,
a French Guianan tribe) a tinamu.

Order Struthioniformes: struthio
(L) an ostrich; forma (L) shape, sort.

Family Struthionidae:

Order Rheiformes: named for Rhea,
the daughter of Uranus, wife of Cronus and mother of Zeus; forma (L) shape,

Family Rheidae:

Order Falconiformes: falcis (L) a
sickle- for their curved talons; forma (L) shape, sort.

Suborder Accipitres: accipiter
(L) the common hawk.

Family Accipitridae

Subfamily Pandioninae: named
for Pandion, a legendary king of Athens.

Pandion haliaetus: named
for Pandion, a legendary king of Athens; haliaeetos (L) the osprey or

Subfamily Accipitrinae

Circus cyaneus: kirkos
(Gr) a kind of hawk that flies in circles; kyaneos (Gr) dark blue.

Haliaeetus leucocephalus:
haliaeetos (L) the osprey or sea-eagle; leukos (Gr) white; kephale
(Gr) the head.

Accipiter striatus: accipiter
(L) the common hawk; striatus (L) striped.

Buteo platypterus:
buteo (L) a kind of falcon or hawk; platys (Gr) flat, broad, wide; pteron
(Gr) wing.

Buteo jamaicensis:
buteo (L) a kind of falcon or hawk; -ensis (L) suffix meaning belonging

Suborder Falcones: falcis (L) a
sickle- for their curved talons.

Family Falconidae

Subfamily Falconinae

Falco sparverius: falcis
(L) a sickle- for their curved talons; sparverius (New L) pertaining
to sparrows.

Order Galliformes: gallus (L) a cock,
poultry; forma (L) shape, sort.

Family Cracidae: krazo (Gr) I croak,

Family Phasianinae: phasianus (L)
a pheasant.

Subfamiliy Phasianinae

Phasianus colchicus:
phasianus (L) a pheasant; -icus (L) suffix meaning belonging to- Colchis
is an ancient term for the area between the Black and the Caspian Seas.

Subfamily Meleagridinae: Meleagros
‘ sisters were changed into guinea fowl when he died.

Meleagris gallopavo:
meleagris (L) a sort of guinea fowl; gallus (L) a cock, poultry; pavo
(L) a peacock.

Subfamily Tetraoninae: tetraon
(Gr) a grouse bird)

Bonasa umbellus: bonasus
(L) a species of bison- probably regarding the low drumming sounds produced
by the male; umbella (L) an umbrella- in reference to the tail fan posture
of the male during lekking.

Family Odontophoridae: odontos
(Gr) a tooth; phora (Gr) carrying- refers to tooth-like markings on the plumage.

Colinus virginianus: colin
(Sp) a partridge; -anus (L) belonging to.

Order Columbiformes: columba (L)
a pigeon or a dove; forma (L) shape, sort.

Family Columbidae

Zenaida macroura: in honor
of Princess Zenaide Bonaparte by her husband (remember Bonaparte’s gull?);
makros (Gr) long, large; ura oura (Gr) the tail- hmm, Princess Zenaide has
a big butt?

Order Psittaciformes: psittacus (L)
a parrot; forma (L) shape, sort.

Order Coliiformes: kolios (Gr) the
green woodpecker- apparently no one knows why this name was chosen; forma (L)
shape, sort.

Order Musophagiformes: mosa ( New
L) a banana; phagema (Gr) food; forma (L) shape, sort- no, they don’t LOOK like
bananas, but they eat them.

Order Cuculiformes: cuculus (L) the
cuckoo; forma (L) shape, sort.

Family Cuculidae

Coccyzus americanus: kokkux
(Gr) the cuckoo; -anus (L) belonging to.

Order Strigiformes: strix (L) a screech
owl; forma (L) shape, sort.

Family Tytonidae: tuto (Gr) a night-owl.

Tyto alba: tuto (Gr) a
night-owl; alba (L) white.

Family Strigidae: strix (L) a screech

Asio flammeus: asio (L)
a horned owl; flammeus (L) flame-colored.

Bubo virginianus: bubo
(L) a horned owl; -anus (L) belonging to.

Strix varia: strix (L)
a screech owl; varians (L) changing.

Order Caprimulgiformes: caprimulgus
(L) a milker of goats; forma (L) shape, sort.

Family Caprimulgidae

Subfamily Chordeilinae: chorde
(Gr) a string, a chord; -eil (Gr) to coil.

Chordeiles minor: chorde
(Gr) a string, a chord; -eil (Gr) to coil; minor (L) smaller, inferior.

Subfamily Caprimulginae: caprimulgus
(L) a milker of goats.

Caprimulgus vociferus:
caprimulgus (L) a milker of goats; vociferor (L) I cry aloud.

Order Apodiformes: a- (Gr) without;
podos (Gr) foot; forma (L) shape, sort.

Family Apodidae

Chaetura pelagica: chaeta
(New L) a bristle; oura (Gr) the tail; pelagos (Gr) the sea.

Family Trochilidae: trokhilos (Gr)
a small sandpiper-like bird.

Archilochus colubris:
archi (Gr) ruler; lochos (Gr) ambush; colubra (L) a serpent.

Order Trogoniformes: trogo (Gr) I
gnaw; forma (L) shape, sort- trogons enlarge their trre turnk nest holes by
gnawing at the wood.

Order Coraciiformes: korax (Gr) a
crow or raven; forma (L) shape, sort.

Suborder Alcedines: alcedo (L)
a kingfisher.

Family Alcedinidae

Ceryle alcyon: kerulos
(L) a sea bird; alkyon (Gr) the kingfisher.

Family Meropidae: merops (Gr)
the bee eater.

Family Bucerotidae: boukeros
(Gr) horned like an ox.

Order Piciformes: picus (L) a woodpecker.

Suborder Galbuli: galbula (L) a
small bird.

Family Galbulidae

Suborder Pici: picus (L) a woodpecker

Family Picidae

Melanerpes erythrocephalus:
melanos (Gr) black; herpes (Gr) a creeper; erythros (Gr) red; kephale
(Gr) the head.

Melanerpes carolinus:
melanos (Gr) black; herpes (Gr) a creeper; -us (L) belonging to.

Colaptes auratus: kolapto
(Gr) I cut; auratus (L) golden.

Picoides pubescens:
picus (L) a woodpecker; pubescens (L) with the hairs of puberty, ie downy.

Dryocopus pileatus:
druos (Gr) a tree; kopos (Gr) striking; pileos (L) a cap.

Family Ramphastidae: rhamphos
(Gr) a beak; -astus (Gr) really big.

Order Passeriformes: passer (L) a
sparrow, or any small bird.

Suborder Tyranni: tyrannus (L)
a severe and cruel ruler- they’re very aggressive.

Family Tyrannidae

Subfamily Fluvicolinae: fluvius
(L) a stream; kolios (Gr) a kind of woodpecker.

Contopus virens: kontos
(Gr) short; pous (Gr) foot; virens (L) greenish.

Subfamily Tyranninae

Tyrannus tyrannus:
tyrannus (L) a severe and cruel ruler.

Suborder Passeres: passer (L) a
sparrow, or any small bird.

Family Laniidae: lanio (L) I
tear to pieces.

Lanius ludovicianus:
lanio (L) I tear to pieces; ludo (L) to play; vicia (L) vetch.

Family Vireonidae: vireo (L)
a greenfinch.

Vireo olivaceus: vireo
(L) a greenfinch; olivaceus (L) olive-colored.

Family Corvidae: corvus (L) a

Cyanocitta cristata:
kuaneos (Gr) glossy dark blue; kitta (Gr) a jay; crista (L) a crest.

Perisoreus canadensis:
peri- (Gr) near; sor (Gr) a mound- they store food.

Corvus brachyrhynchos:
corvus (L) a raven; brachys (Gr) short; rhynchos (Gr) beak.

Family Alaudidae: alauda (L)
the lark.

Eremophila alpestris:
eremos (Gr) a desolate place; philos (Gr) loves; alpestris (L) pertaining
to the Alps.

Family Hirundinidae: hirundo
(L) a swallow.

Tachycineta bicolor:
takhus (Gr) fast; kineo (Gr) I move; bicolor (L) of two colors.

Progne subis: Prokne
(Gr) the daughter of Pandion, she was transformed by the gods into a swallow;
subis (L) the name of some unknown bird that breaks eagle’s eggs (I swear
that’s what it says).

Family Paridae: parus (L) a titmouse.

Baeolophus bicolor:
bae (Gr) small; lophos (Gr) crest; bicolor (L) of two colors.

Poecile atricapillus:
poecil (Gr) variegated; ater (L) black; capillus (L) the hair of the head

Family Certhiidae: kerthios (Gr)
a little bird, a tree creeper.

Certhia americana: kerthios
(Gr) a little bird, a tree creeper.

Family Sittidae: sitte (Gr) a
kind of woodpecker.

Sitta carolinensis:
sitte (Gr) a kind of woodpecker.

Family Troglodytidae: trogle
(Gr) a hole; dutes (Gr) a burrower.

Troglodytes aedon: trogle
(Gr) a hole; dutes (Gr) a burrower; aedon (Gr) a songstress.

Family Cinclidae: kinklos (Gr)
a kind of wagtail or water ouzel (yeah, don’t bother looking up the word
ouzel, it’s just another common name for the birds in this group.

Family Regulidae: regulus (L)
a little king.

Regulus satrapa: regulus
(L) a little king. satrapa (L) a wealthy ruler.

Family Sylviidae: sylva (L) a
wood, a forest.

Subfamily Polioptilinae: polios
(Gr) hoary, gray; ptilon (Gr) a feather or a wing.

Polioptila caerulea:
polios (Gr) hoary, gray; ptilon (Gr) a feather or a wing; caeruleus
(L) blue.

Family Turdidae: turdus (L) a

Sialia sialis: sialis
(Gr) a kind of bird. oh, how helpful.

Hylocichlia mustelina:
hule (Gr) a forest; kikhle (Gr) a bird like a thrush; mustelinus (L) weasel-colored.

Turdus migratorius:
turdus (L) a thrush; migratoris (L) a wanderer.

Family Mimidae: mimus (L) a mimic

Dumetella carolinensis:
dumetum (L) a thicket; -ellus (L) diminutive.

Toxostoma rufum: toxon
(Gr) an archer’s bow; stoma (Gr) the mouth; rufus: (L) red.

Family Sturnidae: sturnus (L)
a starling.

Sturnus vulgaris: sturnus
(L) a starling; vulgaris (L) ordinary, commonplace.

Family Motacillidae: actually
a made up name by the origninal describer, he said it means ‘little mover’
(this is a bastardization of a bunch of Latin).

Family Nectariniidae: nektar
(Gr) nectar; -inus (L) belonging to.

Family Bombycillidae: bombycinus
(L) of silk; cilla (L) the tail.

Bombycilla cedrorum:
bombycinus (L) of silk; cilla (L) the tail; kedros (Gr) the cedar tree.

Family Parulidae: parus (L) a
titmouse; -ulus (L) diminutive.

Vermivora chrysoptera:
vermis (L) a worm; voro (L) I devour; chrysos (Gr) gold; pter (Gr) wing.

Dendroica petechia:
dendron (Gr) a tree; -icus (L) belonging to;

Oporornis philadelphia:

Seiurus aurocapillus:
serikos (Gr) silken; ourus (Gr) the tail; auris (L) the ear; capillus
(L) hair.

Geothlypis trichas:
ge (Gr) the earth; thlupis (Gr) a small bird; trichas (Gr) a thrush.

Setophaga ruticilla:
ses (Gr) a moth; phago (Gr) to eat; rutilo (L) to be red; cilla (L) the

Family Thraupidae: thrsupis (Gr)
a little bird.

Piranga olivacea: piranga
(New L) from a native name for this genus; olivaceus (L) olive-colored.

Family Emberizidae: emberiza
(New L) a bunting or yellow hammer.

Pipilo erythrophthalmus:
piplio (L) I chirp; erythros (Gr) red; opthalmos (Gr) the eye.

Spizella passerina:
spiza (Gr) a finch; -ellus (L) diminutive; passer (L) a sparrow.

Melospiza melodia: melos
(L) a tune; spiza (Gr) a finch; melodia (Gr) a melody.

Zonotrichia albicollis:
zone (Gr) a belt or girdle; trichia (Gr) hair; albidus (L) white; collum
(Gr) neck.

Family Cardinalidae: cardinalis
(L) a chief, a principal.

Pheucticus ludovicianus:

Cardinalis cardinalis:
cardinalis (L) a chief, a principal.

Passerina cyanea: passer
(L) a sparrow; -ina (L) like; kyaneos (Gr) dark blue.

Family Icteridae: ikteros (Gr)

Sturnella magna: sturnus
(L) a starling; -ellus (L) diminutive; magnus (L) large. ok, so it’s bigger
than a starling, but is one of the smaller birds in this family.

Agelaius phoeniceus:
agelaios (Gr) gregarious; phoinix (Gr) crimson.

Molothrus ater: molobrus
(Gr) a greedy beggar; ater (L) black.

Icterus galbula: ikteros
(Gr) jaundice; galbina (L) pale green garments.

Family Fringillidae: fringilla
(L) a small bird.

Carpodacus purpureus:
karpos (Gr) fruit; dakos (Gr) a biter; purpureus (L) reddish, violet,

Carduelis tristis: carduus
(L) a thistle; -elis (L) pertaining to; tristis (L) dullness of color.

Family Passeridae: passer (L)
a sparrow.

Passer domesticus: passer
(L) a sparrow; domesticus (L) belonging to the house.

to the main ZOL 360 lab web page

Some references I used in creating
this page:

Gotch, A.F. 1986. Latin names
explained. Facts on File. New York.

Guralink, D.B., ed. 1982. Webster’s
New World Dictionary. Simon and Schuster, New York.

Jeager, E.C. 1931. Dictionary
of Greek and Latin combining forms used in zoological names. Charles C.
Thomas. Baltimore.

Jeager, E.C. 1978. A source-book
of biological names and terms. Charles C. Thomas. Springfield, Illinois.

Also helpful:

Jaeger, E.C. 1960. The biologists’
handbook of pronunciations. Charles C. Thomas. Baltimore.