Classification of the Class Aves
An Avian Lexicon
Created for Zoology 360 Students, Fall 2000
Michigan State University
Terri McElhinny email@example.com
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
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')
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.
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.
Order Pelicaniformes: pelecanus (L) a pelican; forma (L) shape, sort
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 swan
Cygnus columbianus: cygnus (L) a swan; named for Columbus, perhaps?
Tribe Anserini: anser (L) a goose
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
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 spiralis)
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.
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 idea.
Larus delawarensis: laros (Gr) a sea bird; named for the great state of Delaware, another wierd one.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Order Rheiformes: named for Rhea, the daughter of Uranus, wife of Cronus and mother of Zeus; forma (L) shape, sort.
Order Falconiformes: falcis (L) a sickle- for their curved talons; forma (L) shape, sort.
Suborder Accipitres: accipiter (L) the common hawk.
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 sea-eagle.
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 to.
Suborder Falcones: falcis (L) a sickle- for their curved talons.
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, scream.
Family Phasianinae: phasianus (L) a pheasant.
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.
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.
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 owl.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Suborder Pici: picus (L) a woodpecker
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.
Subfamily Fluvicolinae: fluvius (L) a stream; kolios (Gr) a kind of woodpecker.
Contopus virens: kontos (Gr) short; pous (Gr) foot; virens (L) greenish.
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 raven.
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 thrush.
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 actor.
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;
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 tail.
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.
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) jaundice.
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, purple.
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.
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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.
Jaeger, E.C. 1960. The biologistsí handbook of pronunciations. Charles C. Thomas. Baltimore.