A Glossary of Bird Names Cited by Lewis and Clark

This dictionary contains the bird names used by Lewis and Clark in their expedition journals in alphabetical order. Each bird name is accompanied with the date of usage—usually the initial, or a later noteworthy, entry—to assist the reader in finding a full passage in any version of the journals, or paraphrase based on the original journals.

*Indicates a date and a paragraph not found in the original journals (Thwaites, Vol. 1-5), but in the Captains’ supplemental sections labelled “Zoology” and “Meteorology” (Thwaites, Vol. 6). This material is also included in the “Remarks and Reflections” portion of the original 1814 Biddle/Allen story or paraphrase, the 1893 Coues annotated version of the Biddle/Allen, the 1902 Hosmer edition of the Biddle/Allen, and the 1961 Lippincott (paperback) edition of the Biddle/Allen. There have been various reprint versions of the Biddle/Allen (in two and three-volume editions), and many of them have had the “Remarks and Reflections” section deleted or substantially reduced. It should also be noted that references in the original journals have been eliminated or are missing in the Biddle/Allen version. 1

Current names of these species, albeit not used in the journals, are given alphabetically with cross-references to journal use to help in identifying descriptions and photographs of these birds in modern bird books. In addition, the current official common name is followed by the Latin binomial necessary for the scientific record, as well as the original classifier’s surname and the year of his publication, in each entry. These dates are significant because they reveal if a species was already on the public record prior to the Expedition. The American Ornithologists’ Union Check-list, 6th edition 1983, is used for all dates and nomenclature. Data from the 5th edition, if different, is also included to assist individuals using volumes published before to 1983.

AQUATIC BIRD (4-13-04, 8-5-04) least tern, Sterna antillarum, Lesson 1847. Well described.

AVOCET, see PLOVER, party-colored.

BAT (6-5-05*, 6-30-05) When BAT is linked with the phrase “or nighthawk” or “or goatsucker” the species meant is the common nighthawk, Chordeiles minor, Forster 1771. When the term is LEATHER-WINGED BAT (4-16-05)* the species is a mammal but listed by Lewis and Clark as a bird, as is done in the Bible, Leviticus 11:19.

BEE-MARTIN (5-25-05*, 6-10-05) eastern kingbird, Tyrannus tyrannus, Linnaeus 1758.2

BITTERN, see, brown.

BLACKBIRDS (8-25-04)

Blackbird Creek (6-9-04).

large (8-8-05) common grackle, Quiscalus quiscula, L. 1758.

small (6-8-05) rusty blackbird, Euphagus carolinus, Müller 1776, and/or Brewer’s blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephla, Wagner 1829.

*****perhaps should be “cyanocephala”, as in Bucephala albeola, (Butterbox)*****

blue birds (no added name)

no crest (5-26-05) Briefly seen. Could not shoot for close study. Probably mountain bluebird, Sialia currucoides, Bechstein 1778. Lewis and Clark could not have known this western species.

size of robin (8-1-05) and actions of jay. See jay, pinyon

size of turtledove (9-18-05) See jay, scrub, and magpie, blue.

brant (3-7-04)*

brown (4-9-05) Branta bernicla bernicla, L. 1758. Some of the darker ones were probably black brant, Branta bernicla nigricans, Lawrence 1846, now a subspecies.

common, common pided (pied), speckled. Other names for brant.

grey (11-2-05) blue goose, Chen caerulescens caerulescens, L. 1758. Formerly a full species, now a subspecies with snow goose (white brant).

pided (pied) (3-15-06)* greater white fronted goose, Anser albifrons, Scopoli 1769. Larger, well described and pictured. See p. 18

white with black wing tips (10-17-04) snow goose, Chen caerulescens hyperborea, Pallas 1769. see grey brant.

buffalo-pecker (7-11-06) brown-headed cowbird, Molothrus ater, Boddaert 1783.

butterbox (3-9-06)* bufflehead, Bucephala albeola, L. 1758. See duck, black-and-white.


common (6-5-05)* or turkey (4-9-06) turkey vulture, Cathartes aura, L. 1758.

of the Columbia (10-30-05, 1-2-06) California condor, Gymnogyps califorinianus, Shaw 1798.

calumet bird, calumet eagle (10-19-04, 4-8-05)* golden eagle, Aquila chrysaetos, L. 1758. Full-grown (3-4 yrs.) not yet in adult plumage, with tail feathers still white tipped in dark brown—not all brown as in adult—the feathers Indians chose to adorn their calumets (ceremonial pipes) (3-11/12-06)*

canvasback (11-8-05) Aythya valisineria, Wilson 1814.

Cardinal, see nightingale, Virginia

Catbird (6-10-05) gray catbird, Dumetella carolinensis, L. 1758. Used only for size comparison for unfamiliar species, loggerhead shrike, Lanius ludovicianus, L. 1766.

Cedar birds, crested cherry birds (11-10-04)* cedar waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum, Vieillot 1807.

cock and/or hen, see grouse, logcock, pheasant

heath (6-5-05) Tympanuchus cupido cupido, L. 1758. Subspecific with greater prairie-chicken, Tympanuchus cupido pinnatus, Brewster 1885. A bird of Atlantic seaboard range, extinct since 1932, used here for size comparison.

Indian (6-20-04)* greater prairie-chicken, as above.

mountain (6-5-05)* alternate name for sage grouse, Centrocercus urophasianus, Bonaparte 1827, usually known in the journals as cock-of-the-plains, but also as large heath cock (8-12-05).

plains (8-20-05) sage grouse.

prairie cock (10-2-04) greater prairie-chicken; large prairie cock (10-17-05) sage grouse.

prairie hen with pointed tail (5-22-05) sharp-tailed grouse, Tympanuchus phasianellus, L. 1758. Formerly Pedioecetes phasianellus.

condor, see buzzard

coot, see duck, black.

cormorant (10-20-05) double-crested cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus, Lesson 1831.

corvus, Latin for crow; used in journals to label any of crow genus or family.

black-winged (5-28/29-06) Clark’s nutcracker, Nucifraga columbiana, Wilson 1811. Good description of species earlier (8-22-05) misnamed woodpecker.

blue-crested (5-26-05) Steller’s jay, Cyanocitta stelleri, Gmelin 1788.

Corvus Creek (9-16-04) probably named for magpies first seen in this area.

party-coloured (6-20-04) means “black and white”; usually used as “party-coloured corvus or magpie”. See magpie.

size of kingbird (12-8-05) feeds on meat scraps. Gray jay, Perisoreus canadensis, L. 1758. Formerly Canada jay.

white-breasted (1-2-06) gray jay, as above.

cowbird, see buffalo-pecker.

crain, crane, any large crane, egret or heron.

blue (2-13-04)* great blue heron, Ardea herodias, L. 1758.

brown (7-21-05) immature or smaller subspecies of sandhill crane.

sandhill crane (2-29-05) Grus canadensis, L. 1758.

white (3-25-04)* great egret, Casmerodius albus, L. 1758. Formerly American egret, common egret.

white with black wing tips (4-11-05) whooping crane, Grus americana L. 1758

crow, see corvus.

common (4-9-05)* American crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos, Brehm 1822.

eating crow (9-22-05).

rain-crow (7-16-06) folk name for Old World cuckoos, transferred to American species: yellow-billed cuckoo, Coccyzus americanus L. 1758; black-billed cuckoo, Coccyzus erythropthalmus, Wilson 1811.

smaller (1-2-06, 3-3-06)* northwestern crow, Corvus caurinus, Baird 1858.

cuckoo, see rain-crow.

curloo, curlew (4-17-05) any shorebird with long bill.

brown (6-4-05) long-billed curlew, Numenius americanus, Bechstein 1812.

small (6-4-05) of snipe size with curved beak, probably Eskimo curlew, Numenius borealis, Forster 1772.

divers, an old term for loons or grebes.

large (3-10-06)* red-necked grebe, Podiceps grisegena, Boddaert 1783, or horned grebe, Podiceps auritus L. 1758.

small (3-10-06)* pied-billed grebe, Podilymbus podiceps, L. 1758.

dove (see turtledove, pigeon).

cooing (5-27-06)* Indians believed that cooing doves in springtime courtship predicted the return of salmon.


black (11-30-05) American coot, Fulica americana, Gmelin 1789. Not species are now known as the black duck.

black-and-white (3-10-06)* bufflehead, see butterbox

Delicious (10-20-05) Lewis wrote (3-9-06)* of the delicious flavor of canvasbacks, but here there was no clue for identification.

fishing (red-headed) (6-21-05) common merganser, Mergus merganser, L. 1758.

less than duckinmallard (3-28-06) a size clue that indicates ring-necked duck, Aythya collaris, Donovan 1809.

little brown (3-10-06)* size-and-color clues suggest blue-winged teal female, Anas discors, L. 1766 or green-winged teal female, Anas crecca, L. 1758.

ring-necked, see less than duckinmallard.

summer-duck, folk name for wood duck, as below.

swan-duck or swan-goose (11-5-05, 3-7-06) Folk names for western grebe, Aechmophorus occidentalis, Lawrence 1858.

uncommon (5-8-06) with a wide beak. Northern shoveler, Anas clypeata, L. 1758.

wood-duck (6-16-04)* Aix sponsa, L. 1758.

yellow-legged (4-25-06) cinnamon teal, Anas cyanoptera, Vieillot 1816, or possibly gadwall, Anas strepera, L. 1758, or northern shoveler, as above.

duckanmallard or duckinmallard or duckauinmallard (1-2-06, 4-12-06)* Old name for mallard, used to distinguish wild birds from tame or female from male.


bald (4-10-05) Haliaeetus leucocephalus, L. 1766.

*****Possibly should be “Haliaetus”. See osprey; Pandion haliaetus

calumet, see calumet bird

grey (7-11-05) immature bald eagle. Birds under 4 or 5 years do not have the distinctive white head and tail of the adult, but are full-grown in size and may even mate. Through the 19th century, most writers classified them as a separate species. Easily confused with an immature golden eagle…

great eagle (8-26-05) golden eagle, Aquila chrysaetos, L. 1758. See calumet bird.

egret, see crane, heron.

finch, see linnet.

fisher, blue-crested, see kingfisher

flicker, see woodpecker, lark.

flycatch, Flycatcher is the modern name for various small insect-eating birds; a former folk name for thrushes, wrens, kinglets, phoebes, pewees.

reddish-brown (3-4-06*, 2-8-06)* winter wren, Troglodytes troglodytes L. 1758. Often named as smallest European bird, and the smallest American bird except for hummingbirds. See wren.

yellowish-brown (3-4-06)* convex beak. Probably Hammond’s flycatcher, Empidonax hamondii, Xantus de Vesey 1858. Most other species of genus Empidonax are grayer.

fowl, see cock and/or hen.

prairie (6-20-04).

wild (1-16-6).

fulmar, see white gull.

goatsucker (9-16-04, 6-30-05) Old European fold name for birds of the nightjar family (Caprimulgidae) based on the mistaken idea that the birds followed the goats to drink milk. Actually, the birds are after insects stirred up by moving flocks.

goldfinch (6-8-05) American goldfinch, Carduelis tristis, L. 1758. Formerly Spinus trustus.

goose (2-4-04)*

blue, see brant, grey.

common, (5-5-05) Canada goose, Branta canadensis, L. 1758.

nest in trees (5-3-05) Canada goose, as above.

smaller (5-5-05) cackling goose, Branta canadensis minima, Ridgway 1885, or other small subspecies of Canada goose.

snow, see brant, white with black wingtips, Chen caerulescens hyperborea, Pallas 1769.

swan-goose, see duck, swan-duck, or swan-goose.

white-fronted, see brant, pied.

grackle, see blackbird, large.

grebe, see diver, duck, swan-duck.

grouse (7-26-04) is used as a name for any chicken-like bird of medium size. Grouse described are:

blue (7-21-05) see pheasant, small brown.

ruffed (9-20-05, etc.) see pheasant, large black and white, common.

sage (6-5-05) see cock and/or hen, mountain, prairie, plains; also turkey, white.

sharp-tailed (6-20-04) see cock and/or hen, prairie hen with a pointed tail.

spruce (9-20-05) see pheasant, small speckled.

Grouse Island (10-6-04) is named for abundant sharp-tailed grouse.


brown (3-6-06)* most immature gulls wear a brown mottled plumage through their second winter. These may be any of the “grey” adults below.

grey (3-6-06)* herring gull, Larus argentatus, Pontopidan, 1763; ring-billed gull, Larus delawarensis, Ord 1815; western gull, Larus occidentalis, Audubon 1839; glaucous-winged, Larus glaucenscens, Naumann 1840; California gull, Larus californicus, Lawrence 1854.

small (3-6-06)* size of a pigeon, black on the head. Probably Bonaparte’s gull, Larus philadelphia, Ord 1815, but could be Forster’s tern, Sterna Forsteri, Nuttall 1834.

speckled (10-20-05) any immature gull, as above under “brown”.

white (3-6-06)* with an odd beak. Clark’s sketch and description of prominent nasal tubes identify this species as the northern fulmar, Fulmarus glacialis, L. 1761, in its white phase. Not a gull, though gull-like in actions and appearance.

wings tipped in black (9-27-04)* Probably herring gull or ring-billed, as under “grey”.


black (8-12-05) and large, possibly the dark phase of a rough-legged hawk, Buteo lagopus, Pontopidan 1763. *****Note: text uses both “Pontopidan” and “Pontoppidan”. I’ve arbitrarily chosen “Pontopidan”.***** The ferruginous hawk, Buteo regalis, Gray 1844, also has a “nearly black” phase to match the description.

brown (4-8-05) familiar species, probably female northern harrier, Circus cyaneus, L. 1766. Formerly marsh hawk.

common (4-13-05) and small, American kestrel (formerly sparrow hawk) Falco sparverius, L. 1758, or merlin (formerly pigeon hawk) Falco columbarius, L. 1758.

fishing (5-7-05) osprey, Pandion haliaetus, L. 1758.

hen (3-3-06)* blue-winged. A common folk name for Cooper’s hawk, Accipiter cooperii, Bonaparte 1828; used less often for northern goshawk, Accipiter gentilis, L. 1758, or sharp-shinned hawk, Accipiter striatus, Vieillot 1808. These three species prey on fowl more than other hawks, which usually prefer rodents or reptiles, but some farmers give all hawks “hen hawk” names.

nighthawk, see bat, goatsucker.

red-tailed (11-30-05) Buteo jamaicensis, Gmelin 1788.

sparrow hawk, see “common” above.

white-headed, small (9-19-05) black-shouldered kite, Elanus caeruleus, Desfontaines 1789. Formerly white-tailed kite, Elanus leucurus, Vieillot 1818, now reclassified by earlier listing.

heath cock/hen, see cock/hen.

hen, see cock/hen.


blue (3-6-06)* great blue heron, Ardea herodias, L. 1758. Also called blue crane (crain) (2-13-04)*.

brown (8-25-04)* probably American bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus, Rackett 1813, or immature black-crowned night-heron, Nycticorax nycticorax, L. 1758.

white (8-2-04) great egret, Casmerodius albus, L. 1758. Formerly American or common egret. Also called a white crane.

hummingbirds. Two species are almost certainly involved, since there were two sightings in quite a different terrain with intervening mountains, and no single species is abundant in both areas for the obvious choice. Lewis killed the first of these two (3-26-06)* and declared it the same as the ruby-throated hummingbird, Archilochus colubris, L. 1758, which he knew as the only hummingbird seen in the Atlantic States. This identification was an undisputed error because the ruby-throated is not seen in the West. At the time, only one western species had been classified—the rufous—and Lewis had probably not heard of it. Nevertheless, he did kill the first specimen seen for further identification, but not the second (6-15-06) which was a female on the nest. The sex of the first was not recorded, but it was definitely not a male rufous, which has a copper-toned coat quite unlike the emerald green of the ruby-throated male and female. Most of the other western species in either area also have green coats, and so except for ruling out the rufous male, the identity of either hummingbird can be determined only by the present range and similarity to the ruby-throated. Two, of the four likely species described below, were seen.

First Sighting (3-26-06)* fisher Island, north side of the Columbia River downstream from present Longview, Washington. Which of the following three?

rufous hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus, Gmelin 1788. Female only. Most abundant species in the area but has rufous touches on the belly and tail which could easily have been seen with a dead bird in hand—but Lewis may not have known that the female ruby-throated lacks rufous coloring.

Black-chinned hummingbird, Archilocus alexandri, Bourcier & Mulsant, 1846. The Male is eliminated by a violet-black gorget instead of ruby red. Female is almost identical to female ruby-throated. Seldom nests in the area, but is often seen on migration and could easily have been passing through on this date. Tail not notched—a small difference Lewis might have missed.

Calliope hummingbird, Stellula calliope, Gould 1847. Male eliminated by having a red-and-white striped gorget instead of solid ruby red—unless Lewis mistook the difference for imperfection due to molting. Female is very similar, except for lack of a notched tail—again a difference Lewis could have missed. Both male and female Calliope are smaller than the ruby-throated by 1/4 inch or so—another easily-missed difference.

Second sighting (6-15-06) in present Idaho, west of Hungry Creek on the Lolo Trail. Cited as female on nest. Which of the following four?

rufous hummingbird, as above. Not abundant here. Possible but not probable. Again, different as noted above.

black-chinned, as above. Nests in the area. Almost identical with ruby-throated female except as noted above.

Calliope, as above. Nests in the area. More abundant than black-chinned now. Difference by size and tail shape as noted above.

broad-tailed hummingbird, Selasphorus platycercus, Swainson 1827. Almost identical with ruby-throated except for rufous touches on tail and belly (less than rufous female). Male almost identical to a ruby-throated male but was not mentioned.


blue jay (5-26-05)* Cyanocitta cristata, L. 1758.

grey, see corvus, white-breasted.

jay, jaybird (5-26-05)* always refers to the blue jay, the only jay that Lewis and Clark were familiar with before going west.

pinyon, see “size of a robin” below.

scrub, see “size of turtledove” below, and magpie, blue.

size of robin (8-1-05) acts like a jay, pinyon jay, Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus, Wied 1841. Voice well described.

size of turtledove (9-18-05) and of the vulture kind—meaning an eater of carrion or flesh. No crest. Scrub jay, Aphelocoma coerulescens, Bosc 1795. See magpie, blue.

kestrel, see hawk, common and small.

Killdee, killdeer (4-8-05)* killdeer, Charadrius vociferus, L. 1758.

small (6-20-04) semipalmated plover, Charadrius semipalmatus, Bonaparte 1825.

kingbird, see bee-martin.

kingfisher (5-7-05) belted kingfisher, Ceryle alcyon, L. 1758. Formerly Megaceryle alcyon.

kinglet, see flycatcher, wren.

kite, see hawk, white-headed and small.

kooskooskee river bird (6-6-06) western tanager, Piranga ludoviciana, Wilson 1811. Well described in the journal but not named. preserved skins brought back to Philadelphia and painted by both Alexander Wilson and Charles Willson Peale. Kooskooskee River is the Clearwater River in Idaho.

larks (9-20-04).

old-field lark (6-22-05) eastern meadowlark, Sturnella magna, L. 1758. Like old-field lark but the different song, western meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta, Audubon 1844.

prairie larks (4-16-06)* horned lark, Eremophila alpestris, L. 1758.

short-tailed (8-25-04) size of partridge. Probably the yellow rail, Coturnicops noveboracensis, Gmelin 1789.

singing (3-5-06)* “little singing lark of the Missouri” not seen here. Probably Sprague’s pipit, Anthus spragueii, Audubon 1844, often called Missouri skylark.

small (6-4-05) McCown’s longspur, Calcarius mccownii, Lawrence 1851. Formerly Rhynchophanes mccownii.

laycock, misread, or misprinted for logcock.

linnet (6-8-05) Name for a European species not seen in North America. Used for any small bird with a red crown, especially common redpoll, Caruelis flammea, L. 1758; purple finch, Carpodacus pupurea, Gmelin 1789; house finch, Carpodacus mexicanus, Müller 1776.

logcock (6-15-06) folk name for pileated woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus, L. 1758.

longspur, see larks, small.


larger (2-7-06)* and speckled, seen on all rivers. Common loon Gavia immer, Brünnich 1764.

smaller, seen only on the Columbia River and Pacific Coast, Maybe red-throated loon, Gavia stellata, Pontopidan 1763, or Arctic loon, Gavia arctica, L. 1758. Both are smaller than common loon by 6-7 inches. Description fits winter plumage of both, but especially arctic loon.

magpie, magpy, magpye (9-17-04) black-billed magpie, Pica pica, L. 1758. Since the presence of this European species in the United States was unknown to Lewis, he sent back four living birds to President Jefferson from Fort Mandan (4-4-05) only one of which arrived alive to be painted by Alexander Wilson for his American Ornithology.

mallard (10-6-04)* Anas platyrhynchos, L. 1758. See duckanmallard or duckinmallard.

martin (4-4-06) English name for swallows (except barn swallow) and similar insect-eaters. See bee-martin. Probably coined from Mars, the Roman god of war, because these birds are especially warlike in defending nest and territory and on migration gather in huge flocks, like armies.

bank (3-27-06)* bank swallow, Riparia riparia, L. 1758.

black (5-4-05) purple martin, Progne subis, L. 1758.

brown (8-25-04) bank swallow, as above.

common (4-4-06) purple martin, as above. Usually, species meant if only “martin” is used.

martin that builds globular mud nest (5-31-05) cliff swallow, Hirundo pyrrhonota, Vieillot 1817. Formerly Petrochelidon pyrrhonota.

Meadowlark, see larks.

merlin, see hawk, common small.

mockingbird (5-18-05)* see nightingale, thrasher, thrush, brown.

nighthawk (6-5-05) see bat, goatsucker.

nightingale (6-4-04) Some bird sang by night on this date, but it was not the nightingale, a species not native to North America. The mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos, L. 1758, is the American species most often miscalled nightingale, but a hermit thrush, Catharus guttatus, Pallas 1811, formerly in genus Hylocichla, could be the namesake for Nightingale Creek.

Virginia nightingale (6-6-06) a common folk name for the northern cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis, L. 1758 (formerly Richmondena cardinalis).

nutcracker, see corvus, black-winged.

osprey, see hawk, fishing.


ear-like feathers (5-20-05) long-eared owl, Asio otus, L. 1758.

hooting (4-14-05) great horned owl, Bubo virginianus, Gmelin 1788.

iron grey (5-29-06) no long ear tufts, great gray owl, Strix nebulosa, Forster 1772.

parrot queets (6-26-04) Carolina parakeet, Conuropsis carolinensis, L. 1758. Once abundant in east, now extinct—probably since 1913.

partridge (4-7-06) an English name mistakenly applied to American birds, especially the bobwhite (quail). See quail.

peaweet, peawit, pewit (4-16-06)* In England an old folk name for the lapwing, a bird of the plover family, imitating its plaintive two-note call. Lapwings are rare visitors to the U.S.—especially on the northeast coast—but the name was often given to other American species with similar two-note calls, especially small gray birds of the flycatcher family now known as pewees or phoebes. Lewis’s “uncommon” species of this date is probably Say’s phoebe, Sayornis saya, Bonaparte 1825.

pelican (6-20-04) American white pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos, Gmelin 1789.

Pelican Island (8-8-04) Site where pelican beak was measured for capacity and found to hold 5 gallons of water (Thwaites, VI: 125-127, and also page 35, this issue of We Proceeded On).

pheasants (4-15-05, etc. 26 references) No pheasants nested in North American wilds until ring-necked pheasants were imported to Oregon from China in the 1880s. But early English colonists—especially in Virginia—commonly called the ruffed grouse a pheasant. Consequently, Lewis and Clark used “pheasant” for most grouse species, although the sharp-tailed and sage grouse were usually put in cock or hen category. At Fort Clatsop in March 1806, Lewis listed pheasants of three kinds seen west of the Rockies:

large black and white (3-3-06)* ruffed grouse, Bonasa umbellus, L. 1766. Also called “common” in other entries. Lewis notes that these have a more reddish tint than those seen in the East. See a scarlet bird.

small brown (3-3-06)* with a yellow or orange stripe above the eye. The blue grouse, Dendragapus obscurus, Say 1823.

small speckled (3-3-06)* spruce grouse, Dendragapus canadensis, L. 1758. Both sexes of all three species are speckled and males of both ruffed and spruce have vermilion eye stripes, in contrast to the yellow stripe of the blue grouse. This is the smallest of the three species, but the blue grouse (above) is the largest, in spite of the “small” label in Lewis’s notes.

Phoebe, see peaweet.

pigeon, wild (2-12-04)* passenger pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, L. 1766. Now extinct but then abundant in East. Lewis shot one (7-13-05) to verify identification since they had not yet been reported so far west (Montana). Birds still farther west (8-26-05, Lemhi Valley, east-central Idaho) might have been the band-tailed pigeon, Columba fasciata, Say 1823, not then known to science, though the difference in its fan-tail from the passenger’s pointed tail would likely have been noted. The common pigeon, Columba livia, L. 1758, had not then multiplied as a feral species as it has today and would not have been seen anywhere on Expedition Trail. The smaller mourning dove was mentioned several times as “turtledove” and would not have been mistaken for the passenger pigeon by such an experienced woodsman.

pipit, see larks, singing.

plains birds (7-22-5) Identified only by habitat, these could include horned lark, longspurs, pipits, finches, buntings, and various sparrows.

plover (8-16-04, many other citings) Used for most medium-sized shorebirds, some not identified.

brown (7-1-06) upland sandpiper, Bartramania longicauda, Bechstein 1812. Formerly upland plover.

green-legged (9-22-04)* stilt sandpiper, Calidris himantopus, Bonaparte 1826, or pectoral sandpiper, Calidris melanotus, Vieillot 1819.

large (5-9-05) willet, Catoptrophorus semipalmatus, Gmelin 1789.

party-coloured (5-1-05*, 7-17-06) with head and neck of light brick-dust brown (5-1-05) brick red (7-17-06) American avocet, Recurvirostra americana, Gmelin 1789.

small brown (6-4-05) see curlew, small.

small brown (7-22-05) mountain plover, Charadrius montanus, Townsend 1837.

poorwill, common, see Whipper Will.

prairie Birds (8-25-04, 6-19-05) see Plains birds, cocks, and/or hens.

quail (4-7-06) or partridge. Mountain quail, Oreortyx pictus, Douglas 1829. Preserved skin was given to Charles Willson Peale to sketch for a proposed book on the natural history of the expedition to be published by the American Philosophical Society. The sketch is still extant, but the book was never published.

rail, see larks, short-tailed.

rain-crow, see crow, cuckoo.

raven (2-5-05) common raven, Corvus corax, L. 1758.

raven skins (9-26-04)

redpoll, see linnet.

ren, see wren.

robin (4-23-05,* 6-8-05) American robin, Turdus migratorius, L. 1766.

Columbian or Rocky Mountain (9-20-05, 1-31-06,* 2-4-06)* varied thrush, Ixoreus naevius, Gmelin 1789. Often called Alaskan robin or Oregon robin because of its resemblance.

sandpiper, see plover, snipe.

sapsucker (2-8-05, 4-8-05) yellow-bellied sapsucker, Sphyrapicus varius, L. 1766. Also known to Lewis and Clark as “small speckled woodpecker”. See woodpecker, red-headed, for western species, red-breasted sapsucker, Sphyrapicus ruber, Gmelin 1788, misnamed because of its all-red head.

scarlet bird (3-7-06)* Seen by York. Probably red-phase ruffed grouse.

shrike, see catbird.

snipe (3-5-06)* common snipe, Gallinago gallinago, L. 1758.

sand snipe (3-5-06)* spotted sandpiper, Actitis macularia, L. 1766.

size of common snipe (6-4-05) see curlew, Eskimo.

Sparrows (6-5-06, 3-5-6). In the folk speech, the name sparrow is used for any small brown bird—sparrow finch, longspur, pipit, bunting, wren. Lewis and Clark may have seen such species common in the area now except the house sparrow, Passer domesticus, L. 1758, an Afro-Eurasian species not introduced to North America till 1850, even in the East, and not seen in the Pacific Northwest till 1889.

large brown (1-2-06) probably a western subspecies of the fox sparrow, Passerella iliaca unalascensis, Gmelin 1789. It is a much darker brown than the ruddy eastern fox sparrow and is often mistaken even today for a different species. The golden-crowned sparrow, Zonotricia atricapilla, Gmelin 1789, is also a large western sparrow, but no mention is made of crown color.

several species (5-1-06, 6-4-05) are not described.

similar to ours (3-5-06) of woody country. Probably song sparrow, Melospiza melodia, Wilson 1810. Others would have been identified by the white crown, white throat, etc.

stalks (storks) (11-2-05) wood stork, Mycteria americana L. 1758. Formerly miscalled wood ibis, this is the only stork species in North America. Its presence along the Columbia is rare, but no other long-legged white bird looks stork-like and white cranes, egrets and herons are cited elsewhere.

swallow (9-20-04)* barn swallow, Hirundo rustica, L. 1758, is usually the species meant when only “swallow” is used. It is the only swallow species in North America with a deeply forked tail. Others in the swallow family were usually referred to as “martins”. See martin.

swan (2-4-04,* 7-6-04, etc.) The many early references to “swan” with no further descriptions show that Lewis and Clark knew only one species. Like others of their time, they mistook American swans for European wild swans (whooper swan, Cygnus cygnus, L. 1758) until they saw two American Species side by side and realized the difference in size and voice. The first official recognition of an American species was based on this discovery.

larger (3-9-06)* trumpeter swan, Cygnus buccinator, Richardson 1832, Formerly Olor buccinator.

smaller (10-29-05, 1-2-06, 3-9-06) tundra swan, Cygnus columbianus, Ord 1815, in the A.O.U. Check-list, 6th edition 1983, but previously genus Olor and known as whistling swan, the name chosen by Lewis and recorded in his journal 3-9-06.

swan-duck, see duck, swan-duck.

swan-goose, see duck, swan-duck or swan-goose.

Tanager, western. See kooskooskee River bird

teal (9-13-04, 10-6-04) See duck, little brown.

blue-winged teal (9-13-04, 4-16-05) Anas discors, L. 1766.

Teal Creek (10-4-04).

tern, see the aquatic bird, gulls.

thrasher, brown. See thrush, brown.

thrush. Robins, bluebirds and solitaires all belong to the thrush family and were sometimes called thrushes by early colonists. Thrashers and mockingbirds, which do not belong to that family, were sometimes called thrushes, too, and usage persisted for some years.

blue (6-10-05) eastern bluebird, Sialia sialis, L. 1758. Used here only for size comparison. See catbird.

brown (5-18-05,* 6-8-05) brown thrasher, Toxostoma rufum, L. 1758. Brown thrush and brown mockingbird are both old names for the brown thrasher. Lewis used both 5-8-05.

hermit, see nightingale

varied, see robin, Columbian.

turkey (7-1-04, 7-26-04) wild turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, L. 1758.

white turkey of Black Hills (9-17-04). Not seen. Described to Lewis and Clark by a young Frenchman who had spent the winter with the Chien Indians of the Black Hills. Wild turkeys could have been in the area and white birds occur naturally in the wild, but this was probably a sage grouse since the boy described it as “booted as low as the toes”—meaning feathered—and turkeys are bare-legged. The white-tailed ptarmigan, Lagopus leucurus, Richardson 1831, also has feathered legs but is only about a third turkey size. The sage grouse, while not all white, does have a white breast and seems white in comparison to the turkey’s bronze tones.

turtledove (6-8-05)* This English name for a similar Eurasian dove species was given by early colonists to an American species, the mourning dove, Zenaida macroura, L. 1758. Formerly classified in genus Zenaidura. See dove, pigeon.

vulture (3-28-06) See Buzzard.

vulture-kind (9-18-05) The category includes all scavengers, carrion eaters—jays, crows, etc. as well as vultures, hawks, and eagles.

waxwing, see cedar bird.

whipper will (6-11-04,* 8-5-06) whip-poor-will, Caprimulgus vociferus, Wilson 1812.

small (10-17-04) and uncommon. Common poorwill, Phalaenoptilus nuttallii, Audubon 1844. The journals not only describe the bird’s appearance, but also its ability to maintain winter dormancy, a factor not recognized in scientific publications until 1946.

willet, see plover, large.


black (7-20-05) Lewis’s woodpecker, Melanerpes lewis, Wilson 1811. Formerly Asyndesmus lewis. The feathers of the nape, back and tail are blackish, glossed with bottle-green, but appear black in poor light and from a distance. The face is dark red, the upper breast and collar gray and the belly a bright pinkish-red which Lewis described as looking “artificially painted or stained” (Thwaites V:70). He also mentioned its crow-like flight.

black-and-white speckled (2-8-05)* see sapsucker.

black-and-white speckled with white back (4-4-06) downy woodpecker, Picoides pubescens, L. 1766. These two species are almost identical except for size. The downy is slightly smaller and usually more abundant. Formerly each was divided into several subspecies, not easily distinguished, and placed in genus Dendrocopos.

black-winged (8-22-05) In this entry Clark’s nutcracker was inadvertently reported as a woodpecker instead of a corvus. See corvus, black-winged. Wilson in his American Ornithology (1811) labeled it Clark’s Crow, Corvus columbianus, later changed to Nucifraga columbiana.

large red-headed (9-9-05) large (3-4-06) pileated woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus, L. 1758. Lewis and Clark knew this species in Virginia, where it was called “logcock”. See logcock.

lark-woodpecker (4-11-05)* this is a folk name for the flickers, given because both larks and flickers have a crescent-shaped black mark across the breast. Because Lewis’s notes describe the yellow wing linings, it is the yellow-shafted flicker, Colaptes auratus auratus, now combined as a sub-species with the red-shafted, Colaptes auratus cafer, both now listed as northern flicker, Colaptes auratus, L. 1758. Surprisingly, there is no mention of the red wing linings, although this subspecies is much more common in the West.

red-headed woodpecker (5-28-05)*. The comments (Thwaites, VI;191) “. . . saw a small white and black woodpecker with a redhead; the same which is common to the Atlantic states.” identifies the red-headed woodpecker, Melanerpes erythrocephalus, L. 1758. The date places the above observation as being near the confluences of present-day Dog Creek and Judith River with the Missouri River in Fergus County, north-central Montana, close to the farthest western limits of its breeding range. The woodpecker with all redhead seen near the Pacific Coast (Fort Clatsop 3-4-06) would have been the red-breasted sapsucker, Sphyrapicus ruber, Gmelin 1788, often mistaken for the Easterner.

wren (ren) In England wren was long the common name for any very small bird and the custom continued among early settlers in north America. Both Audubon and Wilson gave the name “wren” to the birds now known as kinglets, as well as to birds still listed in the wren family. The “rens” of the journals possibly had similar varied identification unless modifying details were given.

flycatch or ren (3-4-06)* reddish brown. Color clue and further description identify it as winter wren, Troglodytes troglodytes, L. 1758.

flycatch (2-8-06)* “brown . . . smallest of all birds except the hummingbird”. Size and color clues identify the winter wren as above.

wren (ren) (8-25-04, 6-8-05) Without further description these might also be the winter wren, but could easily be the house wren, Troglodytes aedon, Vieillot 1807; or the golden-crowned kinglet, Regulus satrapa, Lichtenstein 1823, or the ruby-crowned kinglet, Regulus calendula, L. 1766.

yellow bird, see kookooskee river bird.

“Far more interesting to the explorers, and second only to mammals, were undoubtedly the birds, of which Lewis and Clark mentioned about one hundred and thirty, many of them new discoveries. Yet not much in the way of permanent glory did these discoveries win from all their patient work in the field of ornithology . . . But it was the naturalists of the next thirty years with their Latin and Greek names, who got the credit for first describing and naming most of them, in spite of the fact that in scores of cases the first descriptions were those of Lewis and Clark.”

Elijah Harry Criswell

Lewis and Clark: Linguistic Pioneers, p. lxiii


1Bibliographic information related to the sources cited: Reuben G. Thwaites (Editor), Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804-1806, Dodd, Mead & Co., N.Y., 1904. Reprint editions: Antiquarian Press, N.Y., 1959, Arno Press, N.Y., 1979.

Nicholas Biddle/Paul Allen (Editors), History of the Expedition Under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark . . ., Bradsford & Inskeep, Philadelphia, 1814, two volumes.

Elliott Coues (Editor), History of the Expedition Under the Command of Lewis and Clark . . ., Francis P. Harper, N.Y., 1893, three volumes and atlas. Reprint edition: Dover Publications, Inc., N.Y., 1965 and later, paperback, three volumes with folding maps.

James K. Hosmer (Editor), History of the Expedition of Captains Lewis and Clark, 1804, 05, 06 . . ., A.C. McClurg & Col, Chicago, 1902, two volumes.

Nicholas Biddle/Paul Allen (Editors), The Lewis and Clark Expedition, by Meriwether Lewis, Lippincott, N.Y., 1961, paperback, three volumes. Statement on the cover leads prospective purchasers to believe this to be an “Unabridged” copy of the original journals rather than the Biddle/Allen paraphrase. Suspected to be out of print.

2Hereafter Linnaeus is entered as L.

Virginia Holmgren wrote a regular column on birds for The Sunday Oregonian for 22 years. This article, in slightly different form, originally appeared in We Proceeded On, the official publication of the Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, Inc.

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