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My Life’s Birds: #339

September 9, 2009

October 8, 1994 – Greene Co, Mo – I’m not a hunter, I never have been.  I don’t even have any desire whatsoever to do it, but there’s an unavoidable intersection between birding culture and hunting culture that manifests itself in waterfowl.  The sport of watching ducks and geese is far younger and certainly less established than the sport of shooting them, but from that long tradition of waterfowl hunting we get some really interesting customs, not least of which are the colloquial names given to some waterfowl species by hunters.


Take, for instance, the Northern Pintail, that sleek chestnut headed puddle duck common not only in North America, but across the northern hemisphere.   For generations waterfowlers called it the “Sprig”, which invokes its pinned tail since the technical definition of the word  refers to a offshoot or a decorative ornament.  It’s strange though, “sprig” is hardly a word regularly used in the English language anymore outside of standardized test tutoring sessions.  Why then, does the name stick for the Pintail, when simply “Pintail” is just as evocative from a descriptive perspective even as it lacks the sort of provincial appeal?

What I like most about Sprig is not only based in an appreciation of informal avian nicknames, especially those of a certain vintage, but of the onomatopoetic fun of the name.  Pintails are not only notable for being especially elegant members of genus Anas, but of having a raucous squealing display that those who find the bird in late winter are occasionally privy to.   Sprig, if nothing else, perfectly encapsulates this bizarre dance.  Say it out loud.  Let it sit in your mouth.  Can’t you just imagine a lanky male Pintail cruising, head parallel to the water’s surface, emitting a piercing cry like a train whistle, all length and gray and brown?

Hmmm, maybe it’s just me…

photo from wikipedia

  1. September 9, 2009 8:29 am

    And it was thus on October 8th 1994 that the world was introduced to the Swick Sprig.


  2. Nate permalink*
    September 9, 2009 2:33 pm

    @Jochen- Yes, a notable day in history, no doubt.

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