Hey, there! Log in / Register

Inoffensive little fluffy thing that's done absolutely nothing to deserve the name it's saddled with

Dickcissel in West Roxbury

Wandering the moors along the Charles River in West Roxbury, Mary Ellen spied a dickcissel, no doubt debating whether those seeds it's eying are worth risking getting swallowed by a hawk.

Which of course, raises the question of who the bird formerly known as the black-throated bunting so offended in the ornithological world that they renamed it with one of birddom's more ridiculous names.

One writer, Rick Wright, who has researched the matter extensively, points his field glasses in the direction of a persnickety American ornithologist named Robert Ridgway. No absolute proof, but clues abound, including the fact that Ridgway was the only 19th-century bird expert to claim that the bird's song sounded like "dick, dick – cissel" - everybody else thought it went "chip, chip, che, che, ché:"

I suspect that Ridgway himself, dissatisfied for whatever reason with the business-like “black-throated bunting,” invented the name “dickcissel,” which appears to be unattested before he communicated it to Coues in 1874. I think, too, that Ridgway — perhaps, just remotely perhaps spurred by Coues’s rejection of the name over the next quarter of a century — came up with the tendentious transliteration of the bird’s song to justify his name, a proceeding that has given rise to a whole short chapter of “fakelore” about the dickcissel’s place in American folk culture at the end of the nineteenth century.



Like the job UHub is doing? Consider a contribution. Thanks!



Voting closed 17

I thought they were only found on the Boston city council.

Voting closed 10

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the dickcissel is also called little meadowlark, a much nicer name that either dickcissel or black-throated bunting. Of course, it isn't a meadowlark, or a bunting either, at least not by today's standards; these days a dickcissel is a cardinal, a meadowlark is a blackbird, and a bunting is just a bunting. Maybe Ridgway was just looking for a name that wasn't already taken.

Voting closed 10

Its throat isn't even black.

Voting closed 7

It's a cis male.

However, methinks the birdy doth protest too much.

Voting closed 9