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.

Saturday 2 February 2013

Rough-legged buzzard

Rough-legged buzzard

Buteo lagopus

Pontoppidan, 1763


With “Zoonames” I am attempting to create a little on-line reference site for anyone vaguely interested in the etymology behind certain British animals’ classical scientific names. Firstly British birds, then British moths and butterflies and from there who knows.

With that in mind, it might seem odd that I am now about to discuss the rough-legged buzzard – a raptor which most people won’t even see in the UK – and even if they did, they almost certainly wouldn’t appreciate the fact that it was a “rough-legged” buzzard and not a “common” buzzard.

This is primarily because I do appreciate the scientific name of the rough-legged buzzard and will return to both its generic and specific name a number of times in the "zoonames" odyssey.

Like most buzzards, (or hawks as our friends in "the states" call them), the rough-legged buzzards is a robust raptor with broad wings and a relatively short tail.
It can be distinguished from our "common buzzard" in that whilst like the common buzzard it has very variable plumage ("morphs") almost all rough-legs have a noticeable chestnut band on their pale(ish) front, all exhibit feathered legs to their toes, (unlike the common buzzards) and most hover regularly (proper hovering like a kestrel or an osprey - whereas common buzzards can hover but mostly choose not to).
Rough legs are rare winter visitors to the UK, primarily on the east of the country, as they migrate south from their breeding grounds in the tundra to warmer climes for the winter.

The English word "buzzard" is derived from the old French "Buisard", a derivative of "Buison" which itself has its roots in the Latin Buteo, meaning hawk or falcon (or buzzard).
You can see that in order to be true to its origin, we should really pronounce the rough-legged buzzard the rough-legged "bweezurd" or "boozurd", but let's not go there.

That covers Buteo - but what about lagopus?

Lago although meaning "lake" in contemporary Italian, Portugese and Spanish meant "hare" in classical Greek.
All hares, rabbits and pikas belong to the classical order "Lagomorpha" (hare-shape or form).
The rough-legged buzzard nods to the hare in its scientific name, purely because it has feathery legs as an adaptation to its tundra habitat (which I guess reminded early zoologists of the furry legs of a hare).

Talking of lago...
Everyone knows "Lego", right?
If you were ever to build a rabbit or hare (or pika I suppose) from "Lego" - you would indeed have built yourself a "Lego lago".

Some of you will have kids or long enough memories to know or remember "Duplo" - the company which makes large lego bricks.
Duplo has a rabbit as its logo.
Can you see where I'm going with this yet?
SOoooo.... Duplo does indeed have a "Lago lego logo".


Pus has its origins in classical Greek also  - stemming from pous, meaning "foot".

I think we're finally there.

The rough-legged buzzard has a scientific name which literally means:
"hare-footed hawk", or for me at least, the "harey-footed hawk"

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