Mrs. Moreau’s Warbler by Stephen Moss

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

As I am sitting here early in the morning writing this review I am watching a couple of blue tits feeding themselves from the coconut that is hanging outside my office window. They are fascinating little birds to watch, especially their acrobatics on the feeders. But where did their name come from? I can understand the blue part and the top plumage is a lovely sky blue However, there are also yellow and green feathers. What about the tit part? (Stop sniggering at the back). It turns out it means small.

Long time birder, Stephen Moss has been fascinated with the origins of birds manes since he first came across a bird from Africa called Mrs Moreau’s Warbler, a bird that he first came across in a weekly magazine called Birds of the World. It would drop onto his doormat early on a Saturday morning and he would spend the rest of the day engrossed in its contents. There was a clue in its Latin name, Scepomycter winifredae, it was named after someone called Winifred Moreau. But who was she? And how did she come to have a bird named after her? It was a story that he would keep returning to and it was also a bird that he hoped to travel all the way to Tanzania to see one day.

There are some birds where the common name that they have ended up with seems obvious, blackbird for example. But other birds are black, like ravens and crows, why are they not blackbirds too? It turns out that the explanation behind this is not much to do with the actual birds rather it comes from language and more specifically the melding of two languages, Germanic English and Norman French and how the meanings changed over time.

It is a natural thing for humans to want to label the things that they see around them each day. Because of this, bird names have not just come from language but have been named after people and places as well as their habits and how birds have also named other things, like a once-popular football game.

Moss’s writing is as good as ever. He mixes well-researched facts with personal stories and interesting anecdotes tracing the origins of the names of the birds that we see every day. Whilst it is not a comprehensive guide to every single one of the 10,000 or so species there is enough in here for the reader to begin their own searches for the bird names that fascinate them.

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1 Comment

  1. Liz Dexter

    Already on my wishlist, so I’m glad it’s good. Soon, soon, I get to spend my Christmas and birthday book tokens as I’ve made a space on my TBR.

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