Tuesday, November 15, 2005

How the Couch's Kingbird Got Its Name

Tuesday, November 15, 2005
I must confess that I am not everyone's cup of tea as a field trip leader and I recently proved this at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. I think it's because I cannot resist having fun, especially when the birding gets intense. Intensity was in the air as we pondered the identity of one of the confusingly similar South Texas yellow-and-gray kingbirds. While helping out as one of four trip leaders on an outing to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, I explained how the Couch's kingbird got its name.

"Back when this area was first being settled, the early pioneers did not have any furniture, so they had to make their own. They found that certain locally available natural materials worked best for their purposes. The feathers of this species of kingbird made the softest, most comfortable couch stuffing, but it took hundreds just to make one cushion, so the process was abandoned, but the name stuck. And ever since that time this bird has been known as the Couch's kingbird."

Loud groaning filled the air. Serious birding was resumed.

Actually the kingbird was named by ornithologist Spencer Baird in honor of Darius N. Couch, a Civil War general who took a leave of absence from the U.S. Army to participate in a zoological expedition to northern Mexico.

Apologies to the groaners. I couldn't resist.