Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bird Word: Code Rufous

Everyone loves jargon. At least, if you're a part of the group that understands it. Every group and every hobby, every lifestyle and every profession comes with its own jargon, and those who love birds are not without their special bird nerd words too. A lot of the esoteric bird verbiage has to do with abbreviations and acronyms in bird names, or identifying certain parts of a bird's anatomy. There's something both cool and risible about the specialized language employed by birders and ornithologists. For my money, people that can pull it off seem all the smarter.

Rufous-capped Warbler

Today I was struck by a simple, plebeian bird word, one is is almost use too often and with too much understanding that we may not realize its real eccentricity. 

"Rufous," from the Latin rufus (reddish), is a readily recognized bird description. There are more than 174 species of bird with "rufous" in their name, roughly  1.7% of all birds worldwide. This means that in any random assortment of 100 birds, you'll find 2 that are Rufous-something-or-other. 

Rufous-backed Robin

And then there are all of the birds that have rufous coloration on them, but not in their name. For me, it is a great relief to be able to describe anything in the red-range as "rufous" and then feel like I'm covered. 

Rufous Morph Cassin's Sparrow

It seems to be such a versatile word, or at least a very well-applied word, in the bird nerd world. There's a bit of carry-over into mammalian and invertebrate descriptions, but all in all it doesn't come up outside of biological settings. 

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

"Rufous" was first used/recorded in 1782 (according to wikipedia), so it's a relatively new term for one based in a language over 2,000 years old. How often do you hear "rufous" come up anywhere else? Even in a 48-count box of crayolas, you'll get "scab-red" and "brick-red," "burnt orange" and "burnt sienna,"red-orange" and "outrageous orange," but no rufous. If it's not codified in crayola, is it real? Well, at least in the bird nerd world it's real. I've been able to photograph 5 different rufous named bird (4 actually, since Rufous-sided Towhee no longer exists). 

Spotted Towhee, once a part of the Rufous-sided Towhee conglomerate

What are some other instances of Rufous you have found, bird-world or otherwise? What's missing from this Rufous anthology? Share a comment; share a link.