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Hunters' Names for Ducks

Spoonbill? Sprig? What's in a name? Turns out, a lot!

Hunters have nicknames for waterfowl that capture the distinctive sound and sight of these birds, such as "Spoonbill" for this Northern Shoveler. And why is the Northern Pintail called a "Sprig"? WNPR listener David, in Belchertown, MA, tells us that the answer can be found in Gurdon Trumbull's 1888 book, Names and Portraits of Birds Which Interest Gunners, page 38. Trumbull says that "sprig" is short for "sprig-tail," a decorative sprig of holly or a sprig of thyme added to a soup.

Full Transcript

Hunters’ Names for Ducks

Written by Todd Peterson

This is BirdNote.

Successful hunters have always observed their quarry closely. Accordingly, they’ve created nicknames for waterfowl, names that capture the distinctive sound and sight of particular ducks such as:

"Greenhead" for the male Mallard’s gorgeous iridescence

"Whistler" for the sibilance of the goldeneye’s wings in flight [Sound of Barrow’s Goldeneye in flight]

"Skunkhead coot" for the bold black-and-white markings of the drake Surf Scoter

"Baldpate" for the drake wigeon’s domed white head [call of male Wigeon]

"Bluebill" and "Broadbill" for the color and width of the sturdy bill scaup use to forage for mussels and clams

"Sawbill" for the merganser’s fish-catching serrations, and "Spoonbill" for the Northern Shoveler’s water-straining, spatula-shaped implement

"Sprig" for the male Northern Pintail’s spike of a tail that resembles a twig or shoot. [Whistle of the male Northern Pintail]

In the 1880s, attracted by these descriptive monikers, the ornithologist Gurdon Trumbull interviewed hunters up and down the Atlantic flyway. His book, Names and Portraits of Birds Which Interest Gunners, is a fascinating compilation of the old and regional names given by the men who knew the birds so well.

Bird sounds for BirdNote are from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  I'm Michael Stein


Bird audio provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.  Barrow’s Goldeneye in flight recorded by W.W.H.Gunn.  American Wigeon recorded by A.A. Allen.  Northern Pintail recorded by W.W.H. Gunn.

BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer:  John Kessler

Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2015 Tune In to     November 2012/2017     Narrator:  Michael Stein

ID# 122206ducknamesKPLU        duckname-01b

Sights & Sounds

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