Indigenous Bird Names

This is going to be a running list: I’ve been looking for etymological origins of Indigenous names (which as you can imagine is pretty hard to find, so any leads on resources are very much appreciated). I’m collecting Indigenous names for birds that are onomatopoeic (for languages from what the continent now known as North America). I start with those that are the most familiar to most of my readers, which are probably English-speaking North Americans. These are now also common English names (or parts thereof) of North American birds.

  • chachalaca
  • caracara
  • sora?

Then, there are Indigenous transliterated words for species. In some cases I also included names based on bird song/sound, that weren’t explicitly onomatopoeic (but likely by extension have some sort of onomatopoeic root).

  • Chickadee – onomatopoeia
    • Cherokee “Tsigili’i”
    • Arikara “škipipi”
  • American robin – names related to the call
    • Cree “peyetchew”
    • Ojibwa “opitcki”
    • Nipissing “pipitshi”
  • bald eagle – “the barker”
    • “migisi” (Ojibwe)
    • “mikisiw” (Cree)
  • pileated woodpecker
    • “meme” (Ojibwe & Nipissing) – seemed imitative
  • mourning dove (Arikara “little thunder”)
  • ruffed grouse (Arikara name references that it’s startling, probably meaning from the abrupt flush)
  • mallard
    • Cree as “sisib”
    • Ojibwa as “shiship”
  • sharp-tailed grouse
    • Arikara “šiyó” (echoic of “Shoo!”)
      • “šiyóša” (pheasant) derives from this
      • “šiyóka” (greater prairie chicken)
  • brown thrasher
    • Arikara “čhehúpaglagla gí” (means “to-chatter-with-one’s-own-teeth brown”)
      • catbird is similar but with “gray”
  • turkey
    • “huexolotl” (Nahuatl) An English traveler in 1860 thought the word was echoic of its gobbling song. (Balderston & Schwartz 2012)


Balderston, Daniel, and Marcy E. Schwartz, eds. Voice-overs: translation and Latin American literature. SUNY Press, 2012.

Chamberlain, Alexander F. “Significations of Certain Algonquian Animal Names.” American Anthropologist 3.4 (1901): 669-683.

Prince, J. Dyneley. “An Ancient New Jersey Indian Jargon.” American Anthropologist, vol. 14, no. 3, 1912, pp. 508–524. (23. duck)

8 thoughts on “Indigenous Bird Names

  1. Hi,
    You might be interested in this short list of Potawatomi bird names. I’m writing from the Chicago area, where these words would have been spoken in the woods nearby as late as the early nineteenth century. I have no doubt that the vocabulary was more extensive, but this is all I’ve discovered in an initial search.

  2. Hello, I’m writing as someone also very intersted in the etymology, and onomatopoeia, of bird names. :). I was wondering how often you update this list and if you are still working o documenting all of this. It’s very interesting. 🙂

    Some feedback: For Lakota and Arikara, the list I see above (it appears to be older, form 2018, so you may have updated this by now), the bird names you have associated with Arikara are actually the names I was taught for those birds in Lakota: škípipi, šiyó, čhehúpaglagla. Arikara has different words for those birds.

  3. I am following this thread. I perform as Robert Ridgway, chief ornithologist for the Smithsonian for 60 years. When he was 16 he collected Native bird names. I am looking for those and will post here when I find them.

  4. Does anyone know the Potawatomi or other indigenous name for Piping Plover, the small shorebird species that inhabits Great Lakes beaches?

    Thank you.

  5. Hello, I am looking for information on Macushi and Wapishani names for birds in the Rupununi region of Guyana, South America. Would you have any advice on reference materials in this area? Thanks so much for you time in considering this. – Daniel

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