Zoologists have often given our fauna scientific names which are interesting, strange, amusing or even downright rude.

This blog will , over time, systematically dissect the literal meanings behind some of our British animals' scientific names.
I'll start with birds and move onto insects and other animals.

This blog began life on November 16th 2012. I will add to it regularly.

Friday 7 December 2012


Bucephala clangula
[Linnaeus, 1758]

Probably my favourite duck of all (it battles with the wigeon for that title), the goldeneye is a stunning tree-nesting diving duck which breeds in the far north but is now being persuaded to breed in Scotland (and spread south from there) in nest-boxes.

Goldeneye are relatively often encountered on lakes, reservoirs and gravel pits in England during the winter - and this species of duck was the reason why I bought my inflatable boat "Mandarin". I wanted to take photos of these ducks starting to display in February on English gravel pits - but needed to get closer to the fowl - which meant I needed a boat.

Male goldeneye have a fascinating breeding display which you can see here. The drakes throw their bull-heads right back, cry and kicks up some water - its really fun to watch.

Right then.... what about their name?

Well... "goldeneye" itself is pretty apt for obvious reasons but its scientific name is less obvious.

Bucephala literally means "bull-headed" from the Greek bous:"bull" and kephalos:"head" (think kephalonia)
clangula literally means "to resound" from the Latin clangere. (think the CLANG! of  a bell).

I can almost begin to appreciate the bull-headed bit - the drakes at least are thick headed and thick necked (and seemingly quite driven when breeding time arrives), but what about the "resounding" bit?

The drakes are very noisy at breeding time - emitting a double quack which can be heard over a kilometer away allegedly - this has given the species its specific name.
Click here to listen to a range of these calls...

The goldeneye also whistles loudly whilst in flight (in North America they're sometimes known as "Whistler ducks") - so quite a noisy duck really I guess.
(I still think the wigeon is far noisier though and the specific name for goldeneye is a little strange).

To summarise, the goldeneye has a scientific name which literally means:
"The bull-head which resounds"

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