Friday, January 12, 2007

Alternative Names for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Early explorers of the southern swamps, and perhaps some of your rural ancestors, knew the Ivory-billed Woodpecker by many names. Tanner (1942) explained the origin of these names thusly:
Common names for the species, besides the recognized ‘Ivory-billed Woodpecker,’ are mostly based on the white bill or large size of the bird, and many are modifications of names applied to the ordinary Pileated Woodpecker. Some names are derived from the bird’s call.
The following list consists of 33 distinct names, 21 of them attributable to Tanner, 6 to Terres (based on other sources), 1 to Gallagher, 1 to Jackson, and 4 to other authors (as reported by Tanner):
Big Log-cock (1)
Big Woodchuck (1)
Caip (2) [also see Ivory-billed Caip]
El carpintero real (3)
Grand Pic Noir a bec blanc (1)
Grand pique-bois (in southern Louisiana) (1)
Haubenspect (Borowski 1781, 1)
[Hen (see Indian Hen)]
Indian Hen # (1, 2)
Ivory-bill (1, 2)
Ivory-billed Caip (1)
Kate # (2)
Kent (in northern Louisiana) (2)
King Woodchuck (1)
King of the Woodpeckers (1, 2)
Kint (Gallagher)
Large Log-cock (1)
Largest White-bill Woodpecker (Catesby 1731, 1)
Le Pic noir hupe de la Caroline (Brisson 1760, 1)
Log-cock # (2) [also see Big, Large, and White-billed log-cocks)]
Log-god (1, 2)
Pate or Pait (in western Florida) (1)
Pearl-bill (1)
Pearly bill (1)
Pic a bec d’ivoire (Valenciennes 1826, 1, 3)
Poule de bois (in southern Louisiana) (1)
Southern Giant Woodpecker (1, 2)
Tit-ka (Seminole name) (1)
White-back Woodpecker (in northern Florida) (1)
White-billed Log-cock (1)
White-billed Woodcock (1)
White-billed Woodpecker (1, 2)
Woodchuck # (2) [also see Big and King woodchucks)]
Woodcock # (2) [also see White-billed Woodcock)]
[Woodpecker (see Largest White-bill, Southern Giant, White-back, and White-billed woodpeckers)]
[Woodpeckers (see King of the Woodpeckers)]
# denotes a name also applied to the Pileated Woodpecker (see here)

One name prominent by its absence is Lord God Bird, leaving one to ponder the etymology and origin of a name that has been applied commonly to the species since the publication of Phillip Hoose’s book, The race to save the Lord God Bird, in August 2004, and the announced “rediscovery” in April 2005. The only names on the list that could possibly be misinterpreted as Lord God are Log-cock (Big, Large, and White-billed) and Log-god. In a letter-to-the-editor published in the Febuary 2005 issue of Discover magazine, Berlin A. Heck reached a similar conclusion in his response to a review of Hoose's book (see here; scroll to What’s in a Name?). You will also note that the Ivory-bill was never referred to as the Grail Bird prior to the publication of Gallagher’s book of the same name in May 2005.


(1) Tanner, James T. 1942. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker. National Audubon Society Research Report 1.
(2) Terres, John K. 1980. The Audubon Society encyclopedia of North American birds. Alfred A. Knopf.
(3) Jackson, Jerome A. 2002. Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis). The Birds of North America 711.
(4) Gallagher, Tim. 2005. The grail bird: hot on the trail of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Houghton Mifflin.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good research. I came up with a similar list in a comment on a Wikipedia article here.

Two points:
1-"Lord God Bird" is a folk name applied much more commonly to the Pileated Woodpecker than to the Ivory-bill. That Wikipedia discussion has references to the usage for the Pileated from a couple of sources.

2-As you noted, "log-cock" is related to "lord god bird". Apparently the original term for the Pileated (and Ivory-bill, sometimes?) was "log-cock", referring to the habit of foraging on downed logs. This was altered to "log-god" and then "lord god". (This process of word alteration is called "folk etymology", for example, where Spanish cucaracha was transformed into English "cockroach".) There is a reference to an original article on folk etymology in North American bird names in the Wikipedia commentary, but I have not seen the original--just an abstract.

Like you, I can just see no indication that "lord-god" was ever a widespread folk name for the Ivory-bill--the name applied to the Pileated.

January 15, 2007 7:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the contrary regarding Grail Bird and Lord God Bird, note that Jackson (2004. In Search of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker) on page 1 uses the title of his Introduction as "The Feathered Grail" and refers to the Ivory-bill as the "Holy Grail of Birders" -- perhaps the source of Gallagher's later use of "Grail Bird." And on p. 2 Jackson refers to use of the name "Lord God Bird."

January 15, 2007 11:21 AM  

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