I have read a few bird names explained books and, whilst I have enjoyed them, they are books that I would normally dip in and out of when I had the urge to discover who Cetti was and how the warbler got to be named after him, and I thought that Mrs Moreau’s Warbler was going to be another of these books. How wrong I was.
Stephen Moss’s wonderful writing takes us on a journey of discovery, not just one about bird names but one in which we learn how the language we speak has changed over time, and how birds names have come and gone as different influences have added new words to our dictionaries, and how some bird names have remained untouchable despite robust lobbying to change them.
The book opens with ‘Swallow and Starling, Puffin and Peregrine, Blue Tit and Blackcap. We all use these names so often that few of us ever pause to wonder about their origins. What do they mean? Where did they come from? And who originally created them?’
As the book unfolds we learn not only where these names came from but how some have them have weathered the test of time, when others have fallen out of fashion. Why do we no longer use names such as Sea Swallow, Flop Wing and Furze Wren. The stories behind these and many more are as engaging as any I have read about birds, and I have read a lot.
For me, the jewel in the crown is the back story of a bird named by a doting husband in honour of his wife, and the author’s desire to one day see the elusive Mrs Moreau’s Warbler for himself.
This is not a book to dip into, this is a book to read from cover to cover, and thoroughly enjoy.