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Performance with Neli and the Kuruvi's (1 Viewer)


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In the original descriptions of animal species the type locality (the place where the new species was found) is not always reliable; the geographic locality can be far from exact or have an obsolete name, and it can also be altogether erroneous, because of confusion or misinformation. The errors have been corrected in more modern checklists, but if such locality is represented in the scientific name, the actual rules do not allow any change of the epitheton. So ornithology students will forever - if the actual system will stand - be confronted with apparently false information:
Oryzoborus angolensis is not, like other species of that specific name, from Angola in Africa, but from South America;
Nymphicus hollandicus is not from Holland, but from Australia (by the way, Mathews's honeyeater Philemon orientalis breda is not from Breda, the Dutch town where I was born);
Ploceus philippinus (Linnaeus's Loxia philippina) is not, like its namesakes, from the Philippine Islands, but from the western part of the Far East Asia.

Authors like Buffon and Cuvier for their publications often had no other choice than using the information of earlier authors or explorers, so in his Hist.Nat.Oiseaux, pt.3, Buffon presents: "Le Toucnam-courvi des Philippines
dont M.Brisson a donné la description sous le nom de Gros-bec des Philippines [. . .] mais auquel nous conservons ici le nom qu'il porte dans son pays." Griffith, in his English edition of Cuvier, has "The Toucnam-courvi, or Philippine Grosbeak". In 1803 the German author Gotthalf Fischer listed [Fringilla] Toucnam, "der Toucnam" in "Das Nationalmuseum der Naturgeschichte zu Paris", vol.II, on p.171, as a nomen nudum (bare name, without description or locality).

I hoped to found something more about such an exotic name and found a thread in BirdForum, started by Mike Davison of Nairobi, in March 2013. In a discussion on the name Baglafecht Weaver a member who called himself nartreb wrote: "I went looking for the "toucnam-courvi" and found that the French encyclopedia of Bomare 1791 considers it as the same species as the Baglafecht." He remarked that with some knowledge of Tagalog he would have to ask some friends for a meaning of the "tuknam-curvi", for Buffon had written that the name was "from its native climate, the Philippines". In the same thread someone "Xenospiza"wrote about Buffon's note: "le Baglafecht looks similar to the toucnam-courvi, another odd word, which apparently is the Baya Weaver. The related "nelicourvi" is still in use for yet another weaver. I had always thought "nelicourvi" was a Malagasy word."

Back to my own exploration. With the information that Ploceus philippinus is not from the Philippines, so that the name Toucnam would not be Tagalog or another Philippine language, I consulted the Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan, by Salim Ali and S.Dillon Ripley. For the Indian Baya Weaver they give the endemic name Thūkanān kūrūvi, as the Tamil name in Sri Lanka, which is also in use for the Indian Streaked Weaver Bird, Ploceus manyar flaviceps. Kūrūvi is the Tamil word for (small) bird.

In my own files I try to add not only endemic names, but also - if it seems of interest - the meaning of them, so I continued searching. The name was also in G.M.Henry, Guide to the Birds of Ceylon, without any explanation, but he mentioned Captain Legge as an older authority.
This W.V.Legge published "A History of the Birds of Ceylon" in 1880 and on p.641 are these names: Ploceus philippinus - The Common Weaver-bird. Le Toucnam-courvi Buffon, Nat.Hist.Ois. III, p.465. Baya, Hindi. Manja-kuruvi, Tamil (Jerdon). Thuckenam-kuruvi = Basket-maker bird, Ceylonese Tamils.

To show the necessity of consulting several sources I can add that in Birds of Ceylon, a series of 4 booklets (1949-1952), W.W.A.Phillips gives Thūkanān-
kuruvi for the Striated Weaver-finch Ploceus manyar flaviceps (vol.2, p.18, where the other Weaver is included in the description) and Thookanan-kuruvi or Poo Kudichān for the Purple-rumped Sunbird (vol.1, p.24). This seems plausible, because of the similarity in nest-bulding, but of course Legge is a much better source.

Although the term kūrūvi is not quite restricted to songbirds, the Kuruvi's give me the impression of a Tamil singing band! Another member of this name which fits here, is the Nellu-kuruvi. The generic name Nelicurvius nelicourvi (a Weaver of Madagascar), which name has its origin here, is the result of confusion in the information of the French explorer Sonnerat, as explained in the HBW Key to Scientific Names. Nellu-kuruvi is not a Weaver, but a Lonchura; the name is used for several related species: L.malacca, the Black-headed Munia or Chestnut Mannikin, L.striata, the White-backed Munia (also called Tinai-kuruvi or Tinayan), L.kelaarti, Ceylon Hill Munia or Rufous-bellied Mannikin, L.punctulata, Spotted Munia or Nutmeg Mannikin, and L.malabarica, White-throated Munia or Indian Silverbill.
Of course I tried to disclose the meaning of this name as well. Nellu is the Tamil word for rice, not the rice of the table, but the rice in the husk, on the field, so the same as the Indonesian padi (which has given the Rice Bird its former name Padda oryzivora). A curious detail is the name Pastro de Neli, given to the Munia's by the Portuguese in Ceylon; must be adapted from the Portuguese pássero = bird and caused by unfamiliarity with the word nellu, changed into neli like in Nelicurvius/nelicourvi.

Well, a somewhat dazzling quantity of names and synonyms. However, that is - for me anyway - a part of the taxonomic and nomenclatural fascination.
I wonder how a song by Neli & the Kuruvi's would sound to western ears . . .
Stay well in 2020 and on the BirdForum!
Jan van der Brugge

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