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Volume 9, Issue 3
March 2011

Oh those funny bird names!
by Lauretta Young

Yellow-rumped warbler. Photo by Jeff Young

Our winter Yellow-rumped warblers have been amusing us with their antics at the suet feeder. Many of them act like hummingbirds as they hover in the air to get their bit of suet and then drop to the ground to eat it.

While I am amused by the yard visitors, my children are amused by the bird names. They make up innumerable hilarious spin offs such as, "Say Mom, have you seen any Green bifork-tailed-orange-beaked-large-breasted-boobies?"

But my children really have nothing on the list of bird names that are odd but legitimate. We don't have any of these in Cedar Mill but they are amusing nonetheless—how about Hoary Redpoll, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted nuthatch, Rainbow bee eater, Squatter pigeon, Black-bellied whistling duck or Fluffy bearded tit babbler?

Birds certainly can be a source of amusement as well as awe and wonder. One of the emerging areas of neuroscience is positivity studies, which show that cultivating certain psychological traits makes us more effective in our lives and may help us live longer. The works of leading researchers such as Dr. Barbara Frederickson and our own local PSU professor Dr. Edward Diener leads us to think of such practices not just as fun things to do but possibly health practices.

The primary positivity theory is the "broaden and build" concept, which says that positivity experiences and practices make us see more creative and functional ways to solve problems. There is a great deal of solid research to back this up. Positivity practices such as gratitude, the experience of awe, amusement, and joy are certainly applicable to the wonderful hobby of bird watching, even without the added boost that comes from our amusement with our children or coworkers who like to make jokes about our hobby!

Warblers tend to have mixed flocks just like sparrows. So watch our warblers for fun and look at each bird in the group to check whether any other warblers of a different species are hanging out with the main group. We will soon be having many flocks of warblers migrating through from the south to their northern nesting grounds in Alaska and Canada and further north. The hatching insects of the bogs and tundra feed many young birds in the summer months. We will have Orange-crowned warblers, Black-throated gray warblers, Yellow warblers and others in our back yards in Cedar Mill soon.

One suggestion for where to look for Warblers other than your yard or neighborhood is related to their tendency to prefer higher elevation areas as they migrate. Two favorite spots of ours, which attract literally thousands of warblers, are the Pittock Mansion area and Mt Tabor. If you are interested in group birding walks, check out the Portland Audubon web site to see the schedule. These walks are held every weekday in the spring from 7-9 am and are led by an experienced birder. The walks are free; you meet interesting people and you may hear a good bird joke while getting outdoors for awe and exercise. All good health practices if you need an excuse to go! (Or join me on a guided bird walk in one of our local areas)

Lauretta Young is a retired physician who now teaches stress management and human sexuality at Portland State University in the community health program as well as various courses in the Division of Management at OHSU. She also guides local bird tours—see her web site at and her husband's photos at



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Publisher/Editor:Virginia Bruce
PO Box 91061
Portland, Oregon 97291