Bird names honoring Thomas Say

Photos by Peter LaTourrette

The chief zoologist in Long's expedition to the Rocky Mountains was Thomas Say. His reports include first descriptions of several birds. These descriptions are given as footnotes in

Edwin James, Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains, Performed in the Years 1819 and 1820, By Order of The Hon. J. C. Calhoun, Sec'y of War: Under the Command of Major Stephen H. Long, from the Notes of Major Long, Mr. T. Say, and Other Gentlemen of the Exploring Party, two volumes, Philadelphia, 1823. Reprinted in book form by University Microfilms, Inc., Ann Arbor, 1966.

In vol. 2, page 10, Say writes, "A beautiful species of pigeon was shot near the mountain...," along a small tributary of the Platte River near the Rockies, July 9, 1819. "It may be distinguished by the name of band-tailed pigeon," and then Say assigns the species name fasciata, within the genus Columba. Hence, the name Columba fasciata Say; common name, band-tailed pigeon.

Carduelis psaltria (Say); common name, lesser goldfinch

Thomas Say gave the first zoological description of this bird, and he assigned the name Fringilla psaltria.. As has often happened in the evolution of modern taxonomy, the species was later assigned to a genus other than that to which it was originally assigned. When this happens, the describer's name is placed in parentheses. In James's volume 2 for the Long expedition, on page 40, Say writes of this species, "A very pretty little bird was frequently seen hopping about in the low trees or bushes, singing sweetly, somewhat in the manner of the American goldfinch..."

This species belongs to the genus Sayornis, named in honor of Thomas Say by Prince Charles Lucian Bonaparte in an 1854 article in the French journal Comptes Rendus Hebdomadaire des Seances de l'Academie des Sciences.

Sayornis nigricans Swainson; common name, black phoebe

Vermivora celata (Say); common name, orange-crowned warbler

Say's description, under the name Sylvia celatus, is given in James, volume 1, page 169. This warbler is sometimes hard to distinguish from certain other warblers. Say writes, "This bird is distinguished by the colour of the feathers on the crown of the head, which are of a fulvous colour, tipped with the same colour as that of the neck and back, so that the fulvous colour does not appear at first sight."


These images are protected by copyright. I thank Peter LaTourrette for permission to use them and am pleased to refer to his site:

Peter LaTourrette bird photographs
World Birds Taxonomic List: Genera and species with citations
Thomas Say, father of American entomology
New Harmony Scientists, Educators, Writers & Artists
Clark Kimberling Home Page