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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Boubou? Funny Bird Names (for the Week of Dec. 2, 2007)

November 21, 2007

Q. Dear Twig: What's a flying steamer duck? Why should we beware of it? [See last week.]

A.: It's simply a duck with a funny name. Does it fly? Yes. Does it steam? It does — like a steamboat, not a teapot. But no need to beware of it unless it flies overhead. Then ... duck!

Here are some other funny bird names. Say them aloud in the name of science! Over and over, as much as you want, though maybe not at dinner, for the sheer simple joy of weird words! Or until your father does that thing where he takes off his glasses and rubs his temples. Here goes:

Smew, weebill, hihi ("Hello"). Squatter pigeon, see-see partridge (recently named best pitcher in the hard-scratching Gallinaceous League). Kaka (said "kay-kay"), whio, hoiho, pitoitoi. Cuckoo, tody motmot, toco toucan, chachalaca. Ou ("oh-oo"), oo ("oo-oo"), akekee, kokako. Boobook, babbler, tattler, screamer. And last but not least: Bulo Burti boubou. (Say it fast.) (Faster!) (Faster!)

OK, I'll bananaquit.

Noisy pittaly,


P.S. Want more? Tui? Chiffchaff? Red-rumped bush-tyrant?!?

Notes: The Web site mentioned is "Birds of the World: Recommended English Names," an effort of the International Ornithological Congress. Hawaii and New Zealand are both good sources of bird names, with the ou, oo, akekee and kokako (among others) from the former and the hihi, kaka, whio and hoiho (among others) from the latter. Not so funny: The ou, oo and one of the two types of kokako are extinct. The hihi, whio, hoiho and the other type of kokako are endangered. And, get this, scientists have seen only one Bulo Burti boubou ever! They caught it in Africa (Somalia, to be exact) in 1988, let it go two years later, and haven't seen it or another one since.

"Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick," published by The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences — specifically, by the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and Ohio State University Extension, the research and outreach arms, respectively, of the College — is a weekly column for children about science, nature, farming and the environment. It's written at a 4th-grade reading level. For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt Knebusch, CommTech, OSU/OARDC,1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691,, (330) 263-3776. Online at

Kurt Knebusch