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100 Birds and How They Got Their Names Hardcover – October 30, 2001


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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In this little volume, Wells (100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names) offers 100 two- to three-page essays that provide brief but satisfactory descriptions of an individual bird or bird group (e.g., sparrows, owls, and hawks). Tidbits and trivia, as well as literary, folkloric, biblical, mythical, or other references, help explain why a bird is named as it is. Wells discusses the origin of the scientific name, clarifying the meaning of the original Latin terminology, and often recounts who selected the name and why or for whom the bird was named. Each of the alphabetically arranged entries includes a black-and-white sketch. There is a satisfying mix of common birds (e.g., cardinal, crow, and goose) and more exotic species (e.g., cassowary, bird of paradise, and hoatzin). Especially well timed with the recent publication of new field guides by David Sibley and Kenn Kaufman, this volume will make a likable, but not imperative, addition to public and academic libraries with ornithological collections. (Index not seen.) Nancy Moeckel, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"Edward Malin resurrects the American Indian art form of 'flat painting' that peaked on the Northwest coast more than a century ago." --Virgil Rupp, East Oregonian, March 17, 2002
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; 1 edition (October 30, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 156512281X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565122819
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.2 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #835,565 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Diana Wells is the author of 100 flowers and How They Got Their Names and contributing editor to the journal Greenprints. Born in Jerusalem, she has lived in England and Italy and holds an honors degree in history from Oxford University. She now lives with her husband, an artist, on a farm in Pennsylvania.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Rosenthal on May 5, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Sometimes author Diana Wells gets a little too caught up in the etymology of various birds' Latin names, and then this book reads more like a dry encyclopedia than an affectionate survey of the relationship between some of the sweetest creatures on Earth and human language.
Usually, though, Ms. Wells succeeds in vividly tracing the evolution of the layperson's avian terminology. What does the word "titmouse" really mean? She'll tell you. And she takes the reader back into the farthest reaches of history and the roles that some of the most common birds have played in ancient society and even in biblical stories. For example, she explains with facility how nobility used falcons to hunt before guns were invented. She tells of how the starving Israelites, wandering in the wilderness after being freed from Egyptian slavery by Moses, came upon multitudes of quail. Thus, they feasted excessively on the birds until they became sick. The biblical interpretation of this mass indigestion was that the Israelites were punished for being so greedy, but Ms. Wells posits an intriguing secular explanation for what happened. You'll have to read the book to find out what that explanation is.
The author also helps the reader to view with tolerance what may be deemed some birds' shocking habits. The shrike impales small animals on walls and fences to eat later... not all that dissimilarly from what one might see in a butcher shop.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Gary Sprandel on March 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Delightfully literate look at both the origin of bird names (etymology) as well as the common usage of the names. Wells first looks at Greek, Latin, or Egyptian sources for the names. For example, I did not know that Egyptian mummified Ibis, the source of the ibis name. She also calls up stories of early biologists as Linnaeus, Mark Catsby, and Audubon to look at some of the early naming. She relays Audubon's account of wood storks scratching his legs. She also includes both obvious literary references such as Coleridge's albatross in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner and more obscure ones as Hamlet not being able to tell a "hawk from a handsaw" (heron).
In a few cases her ornithological information is not precise, for example in discussing "American" prairie chicken she says they "exist further south" (than the Northeast), but further west would be a more accurate description. The illustrations are sometimes not completely accurate, as the depiction of the thick upturned bill of the avocet.
For anyone who has wondered at such names as "goatsucker" this is a good readable, source.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Daniel G. Snethen on April 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
There is a wealth of knowledge in this small volume. However, one must be aware of just what this book represents. It is by no means a field guide. If your interests are identifying birds in the field, this book will be of no assistance to you. If however you are the sort of person entertained by word meanings and word origins and are interested in mythological, historical, and Biblical anecdotes this is the perfect book for you as it will offer up several amusing bits of bird trivia. I use the book as an icebreaker in my biology classroom. My students enjoy listening to interesting trivia about birds and are often intrigued by how certain birds actually got their names. Sometimes the taxonomical treatment of birds is cumbersome but overall this is a very readable and entertaining book easily understood by the lay person.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on May 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Spring is here, and especially in the northern climates, our thoughts begin to focus on the reawakening of nature. Everything that has been at rest comes alive and shouts, "I'm back!" Trees begin to bud, flowers sprout up as we anticipate their glorious colors. And then there are the birds. For many, there is a special anticipation of the birds' return. It is how we know that winter is behind us.

While you wait for warmer weather, this wonderful book will not only help time pass more quickly, but will give great pleasure. Diana's Wells' book 100 Birds and How They Got Their Names tells you how birds got their names and provides captivating stories about those 100 birds.

Did you know that eagles are among the longest-living birds? Or that the smallest bird in the world is the bee hummingbird? It was fascinating to learn that the same bird in the United States might have a different name somewhere else; or may have the same name, but not be related.

A good read for adults but there's information and trivia that will even interest children. If you enjoy nature, this is a personal must-have for your library.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Quality_Seeker on August 22, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Judging from the above reviews, this is a well-liked book, and it certainly is a likeable book. I appreciate the many unusual tidbits of knowledge that the author has unearthed in her research. However, like the goose dung mentioned on p.89, it contains a good deal of poorly assimilated information, as well as some outright inaccuracies. For example, it is not true that "shrikes are the only passerines that prey on vertebrate animals" (p.223): check out the brain-eating habits of grackles, for example. And it is not true that "goldfinches were in America before thistle" (p.86): there are many native thistles in America. And it is highly doubtful that ravens "get at the meat by piercing through the eyes of the carcass" (p.204): I think any shepherd would tell you that they're just eating the eyeballs. I'll pass over the various smaller flaws in silence because nitpicking should be done before - not after - publication. A scientifically rigorous proofreading would have greatly increased the book's value. As it is, I can only praise it lukewarmly. I would remind readers that there are many masterpieces of natural history sitting unread on the shelves of libraries -- does anyone remember Edwin Way Teale?
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