OT - Buzzards

Jim McKenney jimmckenney@jimmckenney.com
Wed, 06 Jun 2007 05:38:49 PDT
Judy Glattstein wrote "What we have here are not vultures, though they are
usually so named by folks. They're buzzards. And in my part of New Jersey
there are two species, the typical red-headed turkey buzzard and the
(usually described as a more Southern species) the black-headed buzzard."

Judy used the term "buzzard", and writing as she was in American English,
she used it in a conventional if folksy way.

The more usual names for the birds in question are turkey vulture and black

The word "buzzard" in American usage usually has a negative connotation, and
it is rarely used with ornithological precision in mind. 

This word "buzzard" is well established in American vernacular usage, but
serious birders avoid using it to describe hawks or vultures except for
humorous effect. 

It's worth noting that the term "buzzard" in British English refers not to a
vulture but rather to hawks of the genera Buteo and Pernis (the latter are
actually kites). Members of the genus Buteo are also found in North America
where they are the common, easily observed large hawks. 

To add to the confusion, the term "hawk" in British usage is used for
members of the genus Accipiter, which in American English are sometimes
called "bird hawks" (because they eat other birds) or more often simply
hawks or named specifically (e.g. Cooper's hawk, northern goshawk). 

The sparrow hawk is something else again. The British sparrowhawk (spelled
as one word apparently) is Accipiter nisus; the American sparrow hawk (a
name now frowned upon) is a small falcon, Falco sparvarius, now generally
called American kestrel (not to be confused with the British kestrel, Falco
tinnunculus or the British lesser kestrel F. naumanni. Note that zoologists
terminate possessive nouns with one i, not the two used in botanical names
ending in consonants.)

Those coining English-language names for species not indigenous to areas
where English is the dominant language have used the term buzzard for other
species as well.

Britain evidently has no resident vultures, so Americans who confuse buteos
with vultures will likely give the impression that they know more than they
do when they call a British Buteo a buzzard. 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where here in the greater
Washington, D.C. area we have plenty of buzzards and vultures, many of which
make their living in government and as lobbyists.
My Virtual Maryland Garden http://www.jimmckenney.com/
Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
Editor PVC Bulletin http://www.pvcnargs.org/ 
Webmaster Potomac Lily Society http://www.potomaclilysociety.org/

More information about the pbs mailing list