Being a first language Welsh speaker and learning English later on in my childhood, aswell as having the benefit of speaking to the media and local birders through Welsh. Welsh names for wildlife, birds, in particular, has always been something I have been proud of knowing and often times that make me laugh or think about their meaning or logic behind their names. It’s not often that Welsh speakers will know the Welsh names for birds as it is a somewhat small niche but having that benefit has helped me and is something I aim to share with others. Therefore, I’m writing this to hopefully enthuse others about the very cool, if sometimes blatantly obvious or downright funny names that the Welsh have to offer to its birds. More often than not, Welsh names either follow the pattern of a literal description of the bird e.g Telor Pendu (Black Headed Warbler = Blackcap) or a description of the habitat you may find the bird in if it’s from a large family like waders.
Glas y Dorlan / Pibydd y Dorlan
These two may seem a bit odd to be placed together but they are very similar in some ways. Glas y Dorlan is the Welsh name for a Kingfisher and Pibydd y Dorlan is the Welsh name for Common Sandpiper, so what do these have in common bar the second part of their Welsh names? It’s the habitat you would likely find these two in! Dorlan in Welsh means hollow river bed, Kingfishers and Common Sandpipers are often found in streams or rivers with muddy banks making their names somewhat fitting. The ‘Glas’ from the Kingfisher name refers to the colouration of the bird (Glas meaning blue in Welsh) and Pibydd is Sandpiper in Welsh. The Kingfisher name as a literal translation doesn’t quite make sense Blue of the Riverbank but Sandpiper of the Riverbank is quite fitting.
Sgrech y Coed
This one is probably my favourite Welsh name for a bird. Sgrech is Welsh for either shriek or scream or screaming depending on the context, Coed is woods, tree or wood in general. Translating it literally gives you The Woods Screaming which sort of hints towards what bird it could be.. the Jay. This is an example of the outright funny names that once you hear it and think of the Welsh names, just makes me giggle as it is very fitting!
RedBottom. Yep. Tin is the Welsh for either bum or anus and basic Welsh means Coch is the colour red so adding the two together gives you Red Bottom – Redstart. As mentioned before, the Welsh sometimes like to name the birds after their description so calling a Redstart a RedBottom makes sense, if not a bit funny. Tin can also mean rump or tail which again fits the Redstart very well!
Woodcock! Cyffylog has two meanings in the Welsh language, it could either be Woodcock or Coarse, it’s rather fitting given the Woodcock’s flying style or their call both of which are rather coarse and very non-elegant.
Coch Dan Adain
This name is more fitting than the English name for this species. Coch = Red, Dan = Under, Adain= Wing – Red Under Wing, it’s fairly easy to guess the species from here, Redwing. Another one that is named after a literal description of the appearance of the bird.
Pinc y Mynydd
Pinc is most commonly known in the Welsh language as the translation for the colour Pink, but its other meaning is Finch. Pinc y Mynydd is one of the names that describes where you are likely to see the bird, Pinc meaning Finch, and y Mynydd meaning the mountain, so Finch of the Mountains is the translation and the Welsh name for Brambling. It’s a name that is somewhat odd in that you don’t often see Brambling around the mountains of Wales but perhaps referring to the mountain-like forest they sometimes breed in?
There are a huge number of bird names that are still very interesting to know the history of why these names are what they are and their meanings to the birds. Some with lots more descriptions and some that are quite literal too. Hopefully, these bird names will encourage people to at least have an insight into the wonderful world of Welsh bird names and enjoy the diversity the UK has to offer in their languages and history.