Lapwings, Loons and Lousy Jacks - Pelagic Publishing

Lapwings, Loons and Lousy Jacks

The How and Why of Bird Names

  • Explore the natural history and folklore behind bird names
  • Learn how birds get their names and the scientific naming system
  • Understand the history of international variation in English bird names
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    • This new book by Ray Reedman is a delightful addition to this subject, combining Ray’s love of birds, language and history... A fascinating read.
      —Derek Toomer, BTO About Birds
    • birding
    • birds
    • names
    • natural history
    • nomenclature
    • ornithology
    • popular wildlife
    • species
    • taxonomy

    Trailer Video


    The Lapwing once had many regional names; the Loon has a British-American identity crisis and the respectable-sounding Apostlebird is often called a Lousy Jack. Why do bird names, both common and scientific, change over time and why do they vary so much between different parts of the English-speaking world? Wandering through the scientific and cultural history of ornithology takes us to the heart of understanding the long relationship between birds and people.

    Lapwings, Loons and Lousy Jacks uncovers the stories behind the incredible diversity of bird names, explains what many scientific names actually mean and takes a look at the history of the system by which we name birds. Ray Reedman explores the natural history and folklore behind bird names, in doing so unlocking the mystery of the name Scoter, the last unexplained common name of a British bird species.


    Ornithologists, birdwatchers, naturalists, taxonomists

    Table of Contents


    Historical Perspectives
    Roots and routes
    Widening horizons

    The milestones
    Developments before Linnaeus
    Linnaeus and the Linnaean System
    The evolution of formal English names

    Inside the System
    The matrix
    Classic deviations
    The names behind the names
    Things in their place
    Cardinal points
    And the scientists didn’t always do so well
    Warts and all

    The names and the stories

    New Horizons
    North American names - Crossing the Great Divide
    Australian names - Let’s go fossicking
    Trinidadian names – The Tropical Trail

    Journey’s End

    Appendix: The Legends behind the Names


    • This book admirably tries to pull together pretty much everything there is to know about ornithological nomenclature, looking at the stories behind names, the history of our naming systems, and the way that scientific names are assigned. —Matt Merritt, Birdwatching
    • ...Lapwings, Loons & Lousy Jacks is a fountain of lore that should definitely be sampled by anyone thirsty for bird name stories. Moreover, in tracing some of its more tangled tales it sheds valuable light on how both science and language work when confronted with a vast and unruly collection of living things. —Carrie Laben, 10,000 Birds
    • He writes as a birder, but also, as is very evident, as a man whose professional life has revolved around languages and literature, and I fear that in trying not to create a serious work of reference he has failed! I think I shall go back to this book again and again. —Mike Everett, British Birds
    • A book you’ll keep picking up to discover more. —Kelly Brenner, The Metropolitan Field Guide
    • These stories are narrative natural history at its finest! I don’t mean to be cliché, but if I’m honest, I have to say that one of the things I find most appealing about how the British approach natural history is their uncanny ability to make it simultaneously erudite and homey. ... Whether for education, reference, or simple personal enjoyment, Ray Reedman’s Lapwings, Loons and Lousy Jacks is a book that should most certainly be added to the libraries of naturalists, birders, and the generally curious. Its rich and well-composed content will well merit repeated reading – both in part and in full (indeed, I have already found myself repeatedly returning to its pages after my own first reading of it). Furthermore, it will stand the test of time, for even when some of the names Reedman explains have since changed (and as he so well explains, they someday will), Lapwings will remain as a point of reference to what – and more importantly why – they once were. —Johannes E. Riutta, The Well-read Naturalist
    • I approached Ray Reedman's splendidly titled book with enthusiastic anticipation. I am currently producing a set of prints of birds, using their old and often long forgotten names for the titles. I hoped to find stories about the derivation of these names and perhaps come across new ones to inspire further pictures in the series. I was not disappointed. —Robert Gillmor
    • The richness of names is something I celebrate along with the author. Moreover, his depth of research has taught me things I didn’t know and I thank him for it. —Fatbirder
    • [A] very content-rich, informative and enjoyable book, well worth seeking out for those birdwatchers who are curious about naming etymologies. —Lennart Nilsson, Anser ornithology journal
    • The work of Reedman was very extensive, he explored the confusions and contradictions in the naming of birds, involving about 10,000 species, but also the ongoing discoveries of ornithologists, the fashions of an age, the passions and opinions of individuals that were causes and effects of so many names. To read nearly 300 pages of this book is very easy and the contents show the very deep research carried out by the author in consulting many bibliographic sources, certainly more than those reported in the book, and present in his library. This very nice book deserves to be present in the library of the inquisitive scientist. —Bruno Massa, Avocetta
    • ... an eventful journey spanning the full spectrum from Greek mythology, through Chaucer to the undergarments of Queen Isabella. [...] It is an exceptional reminder of how much linguistic diversity, heritage and history is hidden in our bird names. —Jurij Hanzel, Acrocephalus
    • It is a playful, well informed personal meander through the technical stuff of ornithological nomenclature, explaining how and why bird names have evolved as they have. Yet it is also a book that takes pleasure in the ideals that humans have entertained about nature, and also in the delightful serendipity that has been at play when birds were christened. —Mark Cocker, Birdwatch magazine
    • ...Reedman’s book on the ‘how and why of bird names’ makes for good reading; informative, sassy, and here and there argumentative. Reedman does not refrain from giving his opinion about bird names and this just adds to the spice of the book. Buy it, read it, enjoy it, as I have done. —Harry F. Recher (The Australian Museum, Sydney), Pacific Conservation Biology

    About the Author

    Ray Reedman combines his love of birds and travel with a deep understanding of language and history. As a retired Senior Master of a successful independent school Ray rekindled a life-long love of the natural world by teaching courses on ornithology and travelling the world to watch birds.

    Bibliographic Information

    • 303 pages
    • 145 b/w illustrations
    • BISAC SCI070040, NAT004000, NAT043000