Thursday, October 2, 2008

How Swainson's Hawks Got Their Name

Swainson’s Hawks were named after William Swainson, who lived from 1789 to 1855. An English writer, artist and naturalist, he seemed to be followed by misfortune everywhere. On a collection trip to Brazil in 1816 to 1817 he ran into a national revolution. Despite great and effort and achievements, he always had trouble making ends meet and funding his studies. He received much criticism for speaking out for the Quinary System, a method of classifying all living things, while everyone else used the more popular Linnaean System we still use today. In an attempt to start his life over, he moved to New Zealand and lost his entire collection on the way. He lives on today with nine birds named after him, including the Swainson’s Hawk, the Swainson’s Thrush, and the Swainson’s Warbler. The warbler was named by John James Audubon, the hawk by Charles-Lucien Bonaparte.

Bonaparte, who lived from 1803-1857, was a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. One of the foremost ornithologists of his time, he is mostly forgotten to history because of more famous contemporaries such as John James Audubon. He spent eight years studying North American birds and published American Ornithology. After returning to Europe he continued to study birds, but also got more involved in politics, including the independence of Italy.

Two famous ornithologists were behind the name of Swainson’s Hawks. If you discovered a new bird, what would you name it?

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