Wednesday, July 15, 2009



Recognize that word? I suspect many of you do. It is from the Disney film Mary Poppins. Now imagine trying to use it in everyday sentences. Tough, right?

Would you believe me if I told you that there is a North American bird equivalent with a huge, obnoxious name that is awkward to use? There is (at least I think so) - Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow. In fact, you may recall that I saw them a few weeks back. But, now it is gone. Not the bird, the name.

For the longest time, there was just "Sharp-tailed Sparrow" found is scattered locations of North America. Not too long ago, biologists realized it was two different species (the ones along the Atlantic Coast looked different, sounded different, and like different habitats when compared to those in the north central plains states). With a stroke of a pen, "the split" became official and two new names (and therefore species) entered the bird lexicon - Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow and Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow.

Now, here is the problem - say Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow a few times. Stupid, huh? In prepping for my trip a few weeks back, I knew I needed the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow and would tell friends my plans. "Yeah, I need to get to coastal Virginia, Maryland or Delaware for the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow". After a while it got old and was like saying "Yeah, I have to get to coastal Virginia, Maryland or Delaware for the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."

Finally, bowing to common sense (I hope), the American Ornithogists Union (the powers-that-be who manage all these name changes) changed the two names to make them shorter with the release of the Fiftieth Supplement to the American Ornithologists’ Union Check-list of North American Birds. Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow is now simply "Nelson's Sparrow" and Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow is now "Saltmarsh Sparrow. "

Of course, both species winter along the Atlantic seaboard. You have to be on your toes and hope for a good look to separate the two. Name tweaks will not help you here.

Don't count on a flying lady with an umbrella to help you....

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