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Pronunciation of English Bird Names

There are several bird names which are not exactly household names. While we in Europe do not have anything quite as obscure as Phainopeplas and Pyrrhuloxias, there are still several names which give rise to discussion about the correct pronunciation, not least in uk.rec.birdwatching. Indeed, for three species (Chukar, Gyrfalcon and Sabine’s Gull) it seems impossible to identify any real consensus. But for most species it is possible to do so, and I have done that here.

Below I give recommendations on how to pronounce those European birds whose names often give rise to discussion, plus a few which might confuse a beginner. The recommendations are based on uk.r.b discussions, other birders I have met, and such sources as I have managed to track down in my book collection.

I have only attempted to cover the standard English pronunciation (otherwise known as received pronunciation or BBC pronunciation); there may well be regional differences for the commoner names. For the pronunciation of scientific bird names, see the links from the FAQ page Scientific bird names explained.

On this page, double-quotes indicate an actual word (English unless stated otherwise) while single-quotes are used for pronunciation indications. Capitals indicate the stressed syllable.


Species nameNotes on pronunciation
Accentor ak-SENT-or
Audouin’s Gull       As Jean Victor Audouin was French, this should really be pronounced in the French manner, as (approximately) “OWE”-doo-an, but it usually seems to be anglicised to AW-doo-in.
Avocet AV-o-set
Baillon’s Crake As Louis Baillon was French, the name should really be pronounced (approximately) BYE-yon, but it is frequently anglicised to BAY-lon, much as the name of Braille is.
Bewick’s Swan First syllable as in “few”. (Fairly obvious really, but some people seem to think that it’s “Berwick’s” swan.)
Brünnich’s Guillemot Morten Brünnich was Danish, but appears to have had a German surname. The ‘ü’ sound does not exist in English, but “BREW”-nich, with the ‘ch’ pronounced as in the Scottish “loch”, is a probably acceptable anglicisation. For “Guillemot”, see below.
Capercaillie kap-er-KAY-lee. (Or, as Graham Ramsay put it, rhyming with ‘tap her daily’.) From the Gaelic “capull coille”, meaning horse of the forest.
Cetti’s Warbler CHET-ee’s (Francesco Cetti was Italian, and the Italian ‘c’ is pronounced as the English ‘ch’.)
Chough Now universally pronounced ‘chuff’. However it probably originally rhymed with “how”, as ‘chow’ is a reasonable representation of its call.
Chukar Does this have a short, medium or long ‘u’? No-one seems to be sure. The only consensus among birders seems to be to stress the first syllable. However the Concise Oxford Dictionary doesn’t even agree with this, and places the stress on the second syllable – ‘chuk-AAR’ – but it’s doubtful whether this is actually used much, or even at all.

For what it’s worth, my preference is for a medium ‘u’, i.e ‘CHOOK-ar’, with the first syllable rhyming with “rook” (not with “spook”).

A correspondent has kindly responded with this information:
The word is derived from Hindi (of which I am a native speaker), but I am mystified about how it came to be spelled "Chukar" in English. The pronounciation used by the local people in the mountain areas where it occurs is something like "chowkore". The "Chau" varies to "Cha" (with a very short a) or "Chu" (short u), but the "kore" to "kar" transformation (which I've never heard in Hindi to any extent) is strange. Pronouncing the word with a long u is just wrong.

Cirl Bunting ‘surl’
Cretzschmar’s Bunting Intimidating as it may look, there isn’t much room for confusion: CRETCH-mar’s.
Daurian Starling DAW-ree-an
Demoiselle Crane de-mwah-ZEL
Eider “EYE”-der
Fea’s Petrel FAY-ah’s. (Leonardo Fea was Italian.)
flamingo Opinion is divided between stressing the first and second syllables. The Concise Oxford Dictionary recommends stressing the second syllable. This is presumably because the word came from Portuguese, where the second syllable is stressed – but then the Portuguese themselves got it from the French, who stress the first syllable. Take your pick.
Fulmar The first syllable is pronounced as “full” (i.e. not rhyming with “gull”).
Gadwall Straightforward: ‘gad-wall’. Mentioned here because (a) it was spelt “Gaddel” in the seventeenth century, and so was presumably pronounced that way then, by at least some people; (b) someone asked me if it should be pronounced that way.
Goosander goo-SAN-der
Goshawk goss-hawk
Guillemot Although this word has been borrowed from French, you can expect very strange looks if you pronounce it as a French word now. (Unless you happen to be in France, of course). Universally anglicised to ‘gilly-mot’.
Gyrfalcon There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of agreement on the pronunciation of this one – to put it mildly. The prefix is variously pronounced as jer-, jire-, gher-, ghire- and ghear- (the ‘h’ here is just to indicate that it is a hard ‘g’ as in “gherkin” or “gate”, not as in “gem”). However as it was once spelt “gerfalcon” and the name also got transformed into “garefowl” (with a different meaning) this seems to suggest that the gher- pronunciation is the correct one. On the other hand the Concise Oxford Dictionary gives ‘jer-'.

From what I’ve seen of other languages, the ‘ger-’ prefix has been passed on repeatedly without much regard to pronunciation, so it seems that most people never knew how to pronounce it!

Speculating wildly, part of the problem may lie in the rather weak and unsatisfactory (to my ears anyway) sound of the ‘gher-’ prefix. So I’m going to stick my neck out and recommend the pronunciation ‘ghear-falcon’ (which is used by at least some knowledgeable people).

Hoopoe ‘hoo-poo’, in imitation of the call.
Icterine Warbler IK-ter-een
Lazuli Bunting LAZ-yoo-lie. (or alternatively LAZ-yoo-lee). This isn’t actually a European bird, but every now and then one gets out of a cage to be misinterpreted and mispronounced.
merganser mer-GAN-zer
Naumann’s Thrush NOW-man’s. (Johann Naumann was German.)
Orphean Warbler The Concise Oxford Dictionary gives ‘or-FEE-an’ as the primary pronunciation, with ‘ORF-ee-an’ as an alternative. Within uk.r.b however, the preference seems to be for the latter pronunciation.
Osprey OSS-pray
ouzel OOZ-el
Peregrine usually ‘PEH-reh-grin’, though ‘PEH-reh-grine’ is also sometimes used
phalarope FAL-ah-rope
plover PLUV-er
Pochard Although the original pronunciation seems to have been ‘POATCH-ard’, among birders this has now largely been replaced by POTCH-ard.

Incidentally there is no reason for saying it as a French word (with a silent ‘d’), as there is no evidence that it came from French.

Pomarine Skua ‘POM-a-rine’ is the correct pronunciation. The word is an abbreviation of “pomatorhine”, and the ‘rhine’ part has the same derivation as in “rhinoceros”. However birders do often say ‘POM-a-reen’, presumably under the influence of “marine”.
Pratincole PRAT-in-cole
Ptarmigan The ‘p’ is silent. Actually it should be invisible as well, as this is the result of a mis-spelling of the Gaelic “tarmachan”. (Someone seems to have thought it was Greek).
Radde’s Warbler As Gustav Radde was German, this should be pronounced Radda’s. However the British seem to be in the process of amputating his second syllable, an indignity previously inflicted on Ferdinand Porsche.
Rüppell’s warbler The ü sound doesn’t exist in English, but is roughly similar to the vowel in “few”. Wilhelm Rüppell almost certainly placed the stress on the first syllable of his surname, though I have heard British people place it on the second.
Sabine’s Gull If anyone can come up with evidence of how Edward Sabine pronounced his surname, I’d be interested to see it. The pronunciations say-bine, say-been, sab-ine and sab-een all seem to be used. However the uk.r.b preference is for ‘say-bine’ (by analogy with “saline”).
Savi’s Warbler SAV-ee’s
Scaup skawp
scoter SKOAT-er. (I’ve never heard anyone pronounce it any other way, but apparently some people do manage to mangle it.)
Temminck’s Stint TEM-ink’s. (You might not think that anyone could get this wrong, but I am assured that some people contrive to insert an extra ‘i’ sound after the ‘n’.)
Terek Sandpiper TEH-rek, with the first syllable as in “terrier”.
Whooper Swan ‘HOOP-er’. (The Concise Oxford Dictionary gives ‘woop’ as an acceptable alternative for the headword “whoop”. However the uk.r.b opinion is that, at least as far as the swan goes, this is incorrect on the grounds of both historical and current usage.)
Wigeon WIDGE-on. (The name actually used to be spelt “widgeon”.)

If anyone has encountered confusion over any other English bird names, at least of birds which occur in Europe, please let me know.