Oldsquaw, Long-tailed Duck or what?

The USGS is currently renaming all place names identified as "insensitive" among these is "squaw." The Biological Survey is now under the direction of the USGS and will probably begin using Long-tailed Duck in all future publications.

This effectively forces the AOU to act, under the banner of uniform English language usage. They will probably also move for the change to Long-tailed Duck.

Here's the problem:

Oldsquaw is not the only "long-tailed" duck. This makes the name inaccurate. Most common identifiers for Oldsquaw refer in some way to the noise this species produces (many of them associating the call to elderly women of varying ethnic persuasions with disagreeable personalities). If we assume that the name change will come, whether we agree with the motives or not, it is appropriate to seek more interesting and representative names for Oldsquaw.

It might seem logical to select a name from the many Native American identifiers. Most of these onomatopoetic. The problem...well, they're not English and the AOU would be looking for uniform English language usage. Native American names include: caccawee (with several spelling variants), coween, ha-ha-way and kla-how-yah. Son-son-sally, jay-eye-see and jack-owly are also onomatopoetic, but probably not Native American. Native American names would have the advantage of priority, the rule of thumb in naming that requires that the first name to come into use gets chosen.

An alternate name that has stricken the fancy of many of us is Callithumpian Duck. It is English. It also refers to the call. A callithump is, according to the New Webster's International Dictionary, is a raucous and noisy parade. A callithumpian band, according to The Geese, Ducks and Swans of North America (Kortright, 1943) is "(an) improvised band of uncertain musical ability." This would certainly be a more original, poetic and descriptive name.

Two interesting names that leave one wondering about their etymologies are Hell's Chicken (probably another reference to the scolding nature of the call) and Uncle Dick (I have no theories on this name). One respondent to the discussion felt Uncle Dick might be a suitable turnabout from the suggested sexism of Oldsquaw.

The opinion was split fairly evenly between leaving the name Oldsquaw alone (a wish I would share, but I think it's out of our hands), Long-tailed Duck (boring but everyone knows it), and Callithumpian Duck (my choice, if the name must be changed) in the survey conducted on Oregon Birders On-line conducted in 1997.

sonogram of OLDS

The call of Hell's Chicken

A complete list of colloquial names for Clangula hyemalis from Kortright (1943.)