Herons – Color Key to North American Birds, by Frank M. Chapman


Color Key to North American Birds, by Frank M. Chapman, 2011


Ardeidae – Herons, Bitterns, Egrets Family


the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat. (Leviticus 11:19 ESV)

All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. (John 1:3 NKJV)

Color Key To North American Birds cover

Bird Images pg_092192. Great White Heron (Ardea occidentalis). Ads. White, no “aigrette” plumes. A white Heron about the size of a Great Blue Heron. What is supposed to be a gray-blue phase of this bird has been called, a bird which resembles No. 194, but has the head and neck whitish.Range.—Southern Florida, Cuba and Jamaica.

196. American Egret (Herodias egretta). L. 41. Ads. White, about 50 straight “aigrette” plumes grow from the back between the wings; legs and feet black. Ads. when not breeding and Yng., the same, but no plumes.Range.—Tropical and temperate America; breeds north to Virginia, southern Illinois, and California; later strays to New Brunswick, Minnesota, and Oregon; winters from southern California and Gulf States southward.

197. Snowy Heron (Egretta candidissima). L. 24. Ads. White, about 50 recurved “aigrette” plumes grow from back between the wings; legs black, feet yellow. Ads. when not breeding and Yng. The same, but no plumes.Range.—Tropical and temperate America; bred formerly north to Long Island, southern Illinois and California; now very rare in eastern North America; winters from Gulf States and southern California southward.

194. Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). L. 45; W. 18.5; B. 5.5; Tar. 7. Ads. Center of crown white, head crested; legs blackish. Yng. Similar, but no crest, crown wholly black, plumage more streaked.Range—Northern South America north to Arctic regions; breeds locally throughout most of North America range; winters from about latitude 42° southward.

194a. Northwest Coast Heron (A. h. fannini). Similar to No. 194 but much darker; upperparts bluish slate black; tarsus shorter, 5.3.Range.—Pacific coast from Vancouver to Sitka.

194b. Ward Heron (A. h. wardi). Similar to No. 194 but whiter below, neck darker; legs olive; larger, L. 52; W. 20; B. 6.5; Tar. 8.Range.—Florida; coast of Texas.

202. Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax nævius). L. 24. Ads. Crown and back greenish black lower back, wings and tail ashy; head with two or three rounded white plumes, except just after breeding season. Yng. Grayish brown streaked with white; below white streaked with blackish; outer webs of primaries, pale rufousNotes. An explosiveqûawk.Range.—Western hemisphere; breeds in North America north to New Brunswick, Quebec, Manitoba, and Oregon; winters from California and Gulf States southward.

203. Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violaceus). L. 23. Ads. Blue-gray; crown and ear-coverts whitish, rest of head black; scapulars streaked with black; head with two or three rounded, white plumes, except just after nesting season.Yng. Crown black, streaked with whitish; primaries bluish slate, no rufous; back brownish streaked with white; below whitish streaked with blackish.

Range.—Tropical and subtropical America; breeds north to South Carolina, southern Illinois, and Lower California; strays to Massachusetts and Colorado; winters from Gulf States southward.

198. Reddish Egret (Dichromanassa rufescens). L. 29. Two color phases independent of age. Ads. Dark phase, Head and neck rufous; back slate; about 30 “aigrette” plumes. White phase. White, including plumes; tips of primaries sometimes speckled with gray. Yng. Rufous and gray, or white, without plumes.Range.—West Indies and Central America north to coasts of Gulf States, Illinois (rarely), and Lower California.

199. Louisiana Heron (Hydranassa tricolor ruficollis). L. 26. Ads. “Aigrette” plumes, short, dirty gray; rump and belly white; legs blackish. Yng. Head and neck brownish; throat and line down foreneck white; above slaty washed with brownish, rump, and belly white.Range.—West Indies and Central America north to Gulf States, casually to Long Island and Indiana.

200. Little Blue Heron (Florida cœrulea). L. 22. Ads. Head and neck maroon; rest of plumage slaty blue. Yng. White, tips of primaries bluish, legs greenish yellow.Range.—Tropical America and eastern United States; breeds north to Virginia and Illinois, later may stray north as far as Nova Scotia; winters from South Atlantic and Gulf States southward.

201. Little Green Heron (Butorides virescens). L. 17. Smallest of our Herons. Ads. Crown, glossy green-black; throat and line down foreneck buffy; rest of head and neck purplish chestnut; back green washed with bluish gray. Yng. Neck and below streaked with blackish; back-feathers not lengthened; duller. Notes. A rattling oc-oc-oc-oc-oc, a startling scow, and, more rarely, a deep, hollow groan. (Brewster.)Range.—Tropical and temperate North America; breeds from Gulf States north to Nova Scotia and Manitoba; winters from Gulf States southward to northern South America.

201a. Frazar Green Heron (B. v. frazari). Similar to No. 201, but rather larger and darker, neck more purplish, light stripings on throat and foreneck more restricted. (Brewster.)

201b. Anthony Green Heron (B. v. anthonyi). Similar to No. 201, but slightly larger, and paler, light markings of wings, neck, and throat less restricted and whiter. (Mearns.)

Range.—Arid portions of southwestern United States, south into Mexico.

Green Heron – From Color Key


How Birds Are Named

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) eating by Jim Fenton

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) eating by Jim Fenton


From ~ Color Key to North American Birds, by Frank M. Chapman

Birds have two kinds of names. One is a common, vernacular, or popular name; the other is a technical or scientific name. The first is usually given to the living bird by the people of the country it inhabits. The second is applied to specimens of birds by ornithologists who classify them.

Common names in their origin and use know no law. Technical names are bestowed under the system of nomenclature established by Linnæus and their formation and application are governed by certain definite, generally accepted rules. The Linnæan system, as it is now employed by most American ornithologists, provides that a bird, in addition to being grouped in a certain Class, Order, Family, etc., shall have a generic and specific name which, together, shall not be applied to any other animal.

Our Robin, therefore, is classified and named as follows:


ORDER PASSERES, Perching Birds.

Suborder Oscines, Singing Perching Birds.

Family –Turdidæ Thrushes.

Subfamily Turdinæ Thrushes.

Genus, Turdus Thrushes.

Species, migratorius American Robin.

The Robin’s distinctive scientific name, therefore, which it alone possesses, is Turdus migratorius. There are numerous other members of the genus Turdus, but not one of them is called migratorius and this combination of names, therefore, applied to only one bird.

The questions Why use all these Latin terms? Why not call the bird “Robin” and be done with it? are easily answered. Widely distributed birds frequently have different names in different parts of their range. The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus), for instance, has over one hundred common or vernacular names. Again, the same name is often applied to wholly different birds. Our Robin (Turdus migratorius) is not even a member of the same family as the European Robin (Erithacus rubecola.) If, therefore, we should write of birds or attempt to classify them only by their common names, we should be dealing with such unfixed quantities that the result would be inaccurate and misleading. But by using one name in a language known to educated people of all countries, a writer may indicate, without danger of being misunderstood, the particular animal to which he refers. Among people speaking the same tongue, where a definite list of vernacular names of animals has been established, they can of course be used instead of the scientific names.

European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) by Robert Scanlon

European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) by Robert Scanlon

Such a list of North American birds has been prepared by the American Ornithologists’ Union. It furnishes a common as well as scientific name for each of our birds, and is the recognized standard of nomenclature among American ornithologists. The names and numbers of birds employed in this Color Key are those of the American Ornithologists’ Union’s ‘Check-List of North American Birds.’

It will be observed that in this ‘Check-List,’ and consequently in the following pages, many birds have three scientific names, a generic, specific, and subspecific. The Western Robin, for example, appears as Turdus migratorius propinquus. What is the significance of this third name?

In the days of Linnæus, and for many years after, it was supposed that a species was a distinct creation whose characters never varied. But in comparatively recent years, as specimens have been gathered from throughout the country inhabited by a species, comparison frequently shows that specimens from one part of its range differ from those taken in another part of its range. At intervening localities, however, intermediate specimens will be found connecting the extremes.

Generally, these geographical variations, as they are called, are the result of climatic conditions. For instance, in regions of heavy rainfall a bird’s colors are usually much darker than they are where the rainfall is light. Song Sparrows, for example, are palest in the desert region of Arizona, where the annual rainfall may not reach eight inches, and darkest on the coast of British Columbia and Alaska, where the annual rainfall may be over one hundred inches. In going from one region, however, to the other the gradual changes in climate are accompanied by gradual changes in the colors of the Song Sparrows, and the wide differences between Arizona and Alaska Song Sparrows are therefore bridged by a series of intermediates.

Variations of this kind are spoken of as geographic, racial, or subspecific and the birds exhibiting them are termed subspecies. In naming them a third name, or trinomial is employed, and the possession of such a name indicates at once that a bird is a geographic or racial representative of a species, with one or more representatives of which it intergrades.

Returning now to the Robin. Our eastern Robins always have the outer pair of tail-feathers tipped with white and, in adults, the back is blotched with black; while Robins from the Rocky Mountains and westward have little or no white on the outer tail-feathers, and the back is dark gray, without black blotches. These extremes are connected by intermediate specimens sharing the characters; of both eastern and western birds. We do not, therefore, treat the latter as a species, but as a subspecies, and consequently, apply to it a subspecific name or trinomial, Turdus migratorius propinquus, (propinquus, meaning nearly related.)

A further study of our eastern Robin shows that in the southern parts of its breeding range (the Carolinas and Georgia), it varies from the northern type in being smaller in size and much paler and duller in color; and to this second geographical variety is applied the name Turdus migratorius achrusterus, (achrusterus, meaning less highly colored).

After the recognition of western and southern races of the Robin under three names (trinomial) it would obviously be inconsistent to apply only two names (binomial) to our eastern bird, the former being no more subspecies of the latter than the latter is of the former. In other words, to continue to apply only generic and specific names to the Eastern Robin would imply that it was a full species, while the use of a trinomial for the Western or the Southern Robin shows them to be subspecies. As a matter of fact we know that there is but one species of true Robin in the United States, consequently in accordance with the logical and now generally accepted method, we apply to that species the name Turdus migratorius, and this is equally applicable to Robins from east, south or west. When, however, we learn that the Eastern Robin is not a species but a subspecies, we repeat the specific name by which it was made known and call it Turdus migratorius migratorius.

It may be asked, Why give names to these geographical races? Why not call Eastern, Western and Southern Robins by one name, Turdus migratorius, without regard to their climatic variations?

In reply, two excellent reasons may be given for the recognition of subspecies by name; first, because in some cases they differ from one another far more than do many species, when it would clearly be inadvisable to apply the same name to what are obviously different creatures. For example, it has lately been discovered by Mr. E. W. Nelson that the small, black-throated, brown-breasted, Quails or Bob-whites of southern Mexico, through a long series of intermediates inhabiting the intervening region, intergrade with the large, white-throated, black-and-white breasted, Bob-white of our northern states. It would be absurd to call such wholly unlike birds by the same name, nor could we give a full specific name to the Mexican Bob-white since at no place can we draw a line definitely separating it from the northern Bob-white. Furthermore, the use of only two names would conceal the remarkable fact of the intergradation of two such strikingly different birds; a fact of the first importance to students of the changing within species.

For much the same reason we should name those birds which show less pronounced variations, such as are exhibited by the Robin. Here we have a species in the making, and in tracing the relation between cause and effect, we learn something of the influences which create species. Thus, climate has been definitely proven so to alter a species, both in size and color that, as we have seen in the case of the Song Sparrows, marked climate changes are accompanied by correspondingly marked changes in the appearance of certain animals. In naming these animals we are, in effect, giving a ‘handle to the fact’ of their speciation by environment.

Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you: birds and cattle and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. Every animal, every creeping thing, every bird, and whatever creeps on the earth, according to their families, went out of the ark. (Genesis 8:17-19 NKJV)

Since it is evident that a bird may vary much or little, according to the governing conditions and its tendency to respond to them, no fixed rule can be laid down which shall decide just what degree of difference are deserving a name. It follows, therefore, that in some cases ornithologists do not agree upon a bird’s claim to subspecific rank.

In North America, however, questions of this kind are referred to a committee of seven experts of the American Ornithologists’ Union, and their decision establishes a nomenclature, which is accepted as the standard by other American ornithologists and which has been adopted in this volume.

Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus) by W Kwong

Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus) by W Kwong – Listed as a Recent Sighting – NARBA

Foreign birds of wholly accidental occurrence, most of which have been found in North America but once or twice, are included in the systematic list of North American birds, but are not described or figured in the body of the book, where their presence would tend to convey an erroneous impression of their North American status. Furthermore, records of the presence of birds so rare as these can be properly based on only the capture of specimens.

In the preparation of the following pages both author and artist have had full access to the collections of the American Museum of Natural History, and they are also glad to acknowledge their indebtedness to William Brewster of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Robert Ridgway, Curator of Birds in the United States National Museum, and to C. Hart Merriam, Chief of the Biologic Survey, for the loan of specimens for description and illustration.

(Some editing to correct a few names and wording. Bolding is mine.)

Today, the I.O.C, which I use here on the blog, is now the International Ornithologist Union. They are trying to standardize an English Name and a Scientific Names for all the birds of the world.

The article is a little technical, but helps explain the naming process. As I have said previously, Adam had it a little easier. There were less species and subspecies. Now there are over 10,400 species and at present, 20,989 subspecies. God commanded the birds to multiply and they have been obeying. Now we have the challenge of trying to put names on all of them. Every time they grow a different colored feather, I think they name it either a new species or a subspecies. :o)


Birds of the World

Birds of the Bible

Leaving the Ark

Seven by Seven


How To Learn A Bird’s Name

Topography of a Bird - Bluebird

Topography of a Bird – Bluebird – Color Key to NA Birds, 1912



Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. (Genesis 2:19 NKJV)

“How can I learn to know the birds?” is the first question of the seeker after bird-lore. The scientist’s reply, “By shooting them and studying their structure and markings in detail,” may do for the few who, like himself, desire to know the birds scientifically; but it is emphatically not the answer to give the ninety and nine who, while they desire to secure an intimate, accurate knowledge of birds, will not gain it at the sacrifice of bird-life.

In the present volume, therefore, an attempt has been made so to group, figure, and describe our birds that any species may be named which has been definitely seen. The birds are kept in their systematic Orders, a natural arrangement, readily comprehended, but, further than this, accepted classifications have been abandoned and the birds have been grouped according to color and markings.

A key to the Orders gives the more prominent characters on which they are based; telling for example, the external differences between a Duck and a Grebe. In comparatively few instances, however, will the beginner have much difficulty in deciding to what Order a bird belongs. Probably eight times, out of ten the unknown bird will belong to the Order Passeres, or Perching Birds, when one has only to select the color section in which it should be placed, choose from among the colored figures the bird whose identity is sought, and verify one’s selection by reading the description of the bird’s characteristics and the outline of its range.

In the case of closely related species, and particularly subspecies, the subjects of range and season are of the utmost importance. Most subspecies resemble their nearest allies too closely to be identified in life by color alone, and in such cases a bird’s name is to be learned by its color in connection with its distribution and the season in which it is seen.

During the breeding period, unless one chance to be in a region where two races intergrade, subspecific names may be applied to the bird in nature with some certainty, for it is a law that only one subspecies of a species can nest in the same area; but during migrations and in the winter, when several subspecies of one species may be found associated, it is frequently impossible to name them with accuracy.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) in nest by Ray

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) in nest by Ray

For example, during the summer one need have no hesitancy in calling the Robins of the lowlands of South Carolina the Southern Robin (Turdus migratorius achrusterus) but later, when the Northern Robins (Turdus migratorius migratorius) begin to appear, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish them in life from the resident birds.

If it were possible to impress the student, who proposes to name the bird in the bush, with the absolute necessity for careful, definite observation he would be saved many disappointing and discouraging experiences.

It is not possible to examine your bird too thoroughly. Never be satisfied with a superficial view and a general impression. Look at your bird, if you can, from several points of view; study its appearance in detail, its size, bill, crown, back, tail, wings, throat, breast, etc., and AT ONCE enter what you see in a note-book kept for that purpose. In this way, and this way alone, can you expect to compete with those who use the gun.

It does not follow, however, that because one does not collect specimens of birds one cannot study them scientifically. While the student may not be interested in the classification of birds purely from the standpoint of the systematist, he is strongly urged to acquaint himself with at least the arrangement of the Orders and Families of our birds and their leading structural characters.

To the student who desires to prepare himself for his work afield such a study may well come before he attempts to name the birds. But where the chief end in view is to learn a bird’s name, the more technical side of the subject may be deferred. In any event, it should not be neglected. This orderly arrangement of knowledge will not only be practical benefit in one’s future labors but it will bring with it that sense of satisfaction which accompanies the assurance that we know what we know.

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) by S Slayton

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) by S Slayton

As one learns to recognize bird after bird it is an admirable plan to classify systematically one’s list of bird acquaintances under their proper Orders and Families. These may be learned at once from the systematic table at the end of the book, where the numbers which precede each species are arranged serially, and hence systematically.

In some instances, as an aid to identification in the field, descriptions of birds’ notes have been included. It is not supposed that these descriptions will convey an adequate idea of a bird’s song to a person who has never heard it, but it is hoped that they may occasionally lead to the recognition of calls or songs when they are heard.

An adequate method of transcribing bird’s notes has as yet to be devised and the author realizes only too well how unsatisfactory the data here presented will appear to the student. It is hoped, however, that they may sometimes prove of assistance in naming birds in life.

As has been said before, the aim of this volume is to help students to learn the names of our birds in their haunts. But we should be doing scant justice to the possibilities of bird study if, even by silence, we should imply that they ended with the learning to know the bird. This is only the beginning of the quest which may bring us into close intimacy with the secrets of nature. The birds’ haunts and food, their seasons and times of coming and going; their songs and habits during courtship, their nest-building, egg-laying, incubating and care of their young, these and a hundred other subjects connected with their lives may claim our attention and by increasing our knowledge of bird-life, add to our love of birds.


The above is from the Color Key To North American Birds, 1912. Some of that information is going to be incorporated into various articles, especially the Birdwatching and Birds of the World sections.