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Bull-headed Shrike: Name origin & history (1 Viewer)

Faer Out

I've become interested in the Bull-headed Shrike and the history of its names and am working on a blog post.

I understand the name Lanius bucephalus comes from Temminck & Schlegel, 1845. Why did they give it this name in particular?

Bucephalus was Alexander the Great's horse, and the horse's name seems to come from it having had a brand when Alexander won him as a child. In ancient Greek, bucephalus apparently means "ox head," which reflected the brand.

That seems close to the English "bull-headed," but why was this chosen? The only thing I can think of is that supposedly the thick black mask of the male somehow looks like bull horns?

Perhaps someone has access to documentation that makes explicit why Temminck and Schlegel chose the name and wouldn't mind sharing?

I'm based in Japan and found another interesting note on its Japanese name, 百舌鳥 (mozu), which literally means "hundred tongue bird," and highlights its keen ability to mimic. I've yet to be close to one long enough to hear this but am looking forward to it.

I've also learned that Lanius is Latin for "butcher," and shrikes are carnivorous and have a raptor-like bill—and they sometimes impale their prey on thorns and other spikes to make eating easier.

Overall, a fascinating name. I bet there's more! I haven't looked at other languages yet.


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Jim LeNomenclatoriste

Taxonomy and zoological nomenclature
French name is "Pie-grièche bucéphale", so the name also refers to this characteristic.

I wonder if this name might allude to the fact that it puffs up the feathers of its head to appear bigger than it is. I saw this explanation on BOW but for the Bufflehead duck (Bucephala albeola), I think we can transpose it for this shrike.
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laurent raty
Although not an explicit statement about the origin of the name, in the original description of the bird (which is here), we find:
La tête est assez grande et le bec assez fort et vigoureux pour la taille de l'oiseau.
...which goes in the same direction as Jimmy's suggestion.

Faer Out

Thank you both! I managed to find a dictionary of scientific bird names online. The entries below support these ideas.

bucephala / bucephalus Gr. boukephalos bull-headed, large-headed (bull, ox; head). “Buffel’s Head Duck” (=male) of Catesby (1731; “these feathers make the head appear bigger than it is, which seems to have given it the name of buffel’s head, that animal’s head appearing very big by its being covered with very thick long hair”) (syn. Bucephala albeola).

Lanius / lanius L. lanius butcher (laniare to tear to pieces); the shrikes were formerly known as ‘butcher-birds,’ from their habit of storing prey by impaling it on thorns and sharp twigs, giving the resemblance to a butcher’s slaughterhouse; “I reject the compound-name of Butcher-Bird, and retain the old English name of Shrike, from the noise” (Pennant 1773). In ornithology lanius is used in a variety of combinations for birds with stout, hooked or toothed bills or with the general appearance of a shrike. “Magpie Shrike” of Latham (1781), and “Pie Piegrièsche” of Levaillant (1800) (syn. Cissopis leveriana).
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