Spoonbills - What's in a Name?

Posted: May 14th 2020

by Andy Bloomfield

Spoonbills - What’s in a Name?

The Spoonbill gets its modern name for the shape of its beak…no prizes there ! However, in the past it had a number of colloquial names, a common practise in days gone by from country folk who were familiar with wildlife yet had no access to books (or education to read) to know of precise names. Old country names for birds (Norfolk ones in particular) has long been a fascination of mine and invariably they are perfect in the old observer’s take on certain behavioural traits, size, shape or colour. Foreign visitors often were often labelled with a generic pre-fix ‘French’ or Dutch’.

But back to the Spoonbill – it began life in the this country as the Shovlerere or Shovelard (perhaps the working men of the Fens and Broads where Spoonbills lived up until the 1600s related their beaks more to shovels than spoons), the White Heron (as it nested amongst Grey Herons – and was white), the Banjo Bill (my favourite !) and the Popelar. The latter is a strange one – was ‘Pope’ a reference to its more exotic foreign flavour ? Or – was it the way Norfolk people perhaps tried and failed to call it the Dutch name – Lepelaer? Either way its great the Norfolk dialect has its very own and unique names for a Spoonbill. Anyone looking at this photo might well argue that ‘ladle-bill’ might be an even better name!

Adult Male Spoonbill
Adult Male Spoonbill

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