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Gaelic Names of Birds


The collecting and preserving of the Gaelic Names of Birds is a most important but much neglected work, and one which is getting every day more difficult, from their being less used now, and from the death of old people who knew them. Not only are the Gaelic names dying out, but I am sorry to say many of the birds themselves are dying out as well. Many of our noblest native birds the Great Auk, the Bustard, Stork, Bittern, &c., are totally extinct in the Highlands; whilst the Golden Eagle, Sea Eagle, Osprey, Ger Falcon, Goshawk, and a score of other noble birds, though quite common in every glen half a century ago, are now only to be found in the most remote and inaccessible corners of the Highlands and Islands; and if the ruthless slaughter that has been going on for the last generation goes on a few years longer, they will soon all be as extinct as the Great Auk, or the Dodo of New Zealand. I am glad to say, however, that some of the more patriotic proprietors in the Highlands are now trying to preserve the eagles, and other large birds of prey. One great cause of their destruction is the large price offered by sportsmen and collectors to gamekeepers and shepherds for the eggs of those rare birds, as well as for the birds themselves for stuffing.

How numerous the breeding places of the eagle used to be in the Highlands can be seen by the number of rocks still called "Creag-na-h-iolaire" (Eagle's Rock). I know a dozen rocks of that name in Athole alone. So far as I am aware, there is as yet no complete list of the Gaelic Names of Birds published. Alex. Macdonald (MacMhaighstir Alastair), in his "Gaelic Vocabulary," published in 1741, gives a list of about 80 of the more common birds; and Lightfoot, in his "Flora Scotica," published in 1777, gives about the same number, which may be thoroughly depended on, as they were supplied by tliat famous Gaelic scholar and naturalist, Dr Stewart, of Killin and Luss. In Grey's "Birds of the West of Scotland," a good many of the Gaelic names are given, as also, I believe, in Professor ^lacgillivray's work on Birds, whilst most of the common names are to be found in the Gaelic dictionaries, and in the works of our Gaelic l)ards. I first began collecting and noting down the Gaelic names of birds when a boy amongst the Grampians, and I have continued doing so to this day, but the idea of making them the subject of a paper for the Gaelic Society was first suggested to me by reading in Vol. VIII. of the Transactions the Rev. Mr Mackenzie of Kilmorack's speech at the annual dinner of 1879, in which he urged me to take up this subject, which I did. I was then in the wilds of Ireland, away from all assistance, but since I came to Galloway I have had the able help and advice of our worthy Sheriff Nicolson, who not only gave me all the aid he could himself, but took my list of Gaelic names with him to Skye and the North, and got several gentlemen there to add many of the names of sea birds which I had not got. To his splendid work on Gaelic Proverbs I am also indebted for many. I am also under obligation to another good Gael and able naturalist, Mr A. A. Carmichael, whose long residence in the Hebrides gave him a thorough knowledge of the many rare birds of the West Coast, and of the Gaelic names by which they are known to the Islanders. He very kindly lent me a mass of notes on birds, which I have freely used.

Shortly after I gave the Gaelic Society my paper on "The Gaelic Names of Trees, Plants, &c.," Cameron's complete work on that subject appeared, and I shall be very glad, indeed, if the same thing happens again, and if some learned member of the Society, far more able to do justice to this important subject than I am, will now follow me up with a complete work on our Highland Birds and their Gaelic Names.

I have much pleasure in giving the Society the result of my labours, by giving the following Gaelic names for about 240 different birds, making up, as in many cases there are several different names for the one bird, about 600 Gaelic names altogether. I will begin with the King of Birds.

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