Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Mrs. Moreau's Warbler: How Birds Got Their Names” as Want to Read:
Mrs. Moreau's Warbler: How Birds Got Their Names
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Mrs. Moreau's Warbler: How Birds Got Their Names

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  126 ratings  ·  27 reviews
Swallow and starling, puffin and peregrine, blue tit and blackcap. We use these names so often that few of us ever pause to wonder about their origins. What do they mean? Where did they come from? And who created them?

The words we use to name birds are some of the most lyrical and evocative in the English language. They also
tell incredible stories: of epic expeditions, fie
Hardcover, 357 pages
Published May 3rd 2018 by Guardian Faber Publishing (first published May 1st 2018)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Mrs. Moreau's Warbler, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Julie Stielstra Emphasis is definitely on English language and birds who live or migrate through England. But if you are interested in birds and/or in language in gen…moreEmphasis is definitely on English language and birds who live or migrate through England. But if you are interested in birds and/or in language in general, this is very enjoyable.(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.84  · 
Rating details
 ·  126 ratings  ·  27 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Mrs. Moreau's Warbler: How Birds Got Their Names
Hannah Greendale
Explores the evolution of the English language and the etymology of bird names (primarly those found in Britain, though birds native to Australia and India are also discussed). Stephen Moss's religious beliefs pervade the book and he makes the unfortunate choice to reference Wikipedia; both actions call into question the scientific merit of Mrs Moreau's Warbler.
During the brief arctic summer, when Ross's gulls gather to breed on the rapidly thawing tundra, their normally snow-white breast acqui
Clare O'Beara
I enjoyed this book although it wasn't about what I expected. I thought it was going to detail various expeditions, trips and bird-spotting habits of yesteryear, and to a degree it was. However, mostly we look at etymology, the evolution of language in Britain (from Proto-Indo-European), the folk names birds had in different regions and who got to name newly-discovered (meaning shot, when there were no good binoculars and cameras) birds. From this we proceed to look at birds named after persons ...more
Nostalgia Reader
May 07, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 stars.

A fun book that follows the naming of birds from the very beginnings of English through to today's still-ever-changing world of species separation. It's perfect for someone who's a birder and an English language nerd.

My only peeve about this was that it almost solely focused on British birds (which makes sense, since Moss is from the UK). There were just too many species thrown at me to Google each one of them to see what they looked like (as there are no pictures in the book), and it
Apr 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: birds
Birds! Language! Old and middle English!
Though I see that point of "naming is taming", a possible diminishment of the wild creature in itself, nevertheless, I am with the camp that thinks names are valuable doors to perception and appreciation: bulbul, kolea, and ou, bananaquits and sapphire-throated hummingbirds . . .
And hurray to Moss for giving another life to Winifred Moreau's name.
Paul Gallear
Death by footnotes. If something is worth writing then it is worth working it into the main body of the text, rather than constantly breaking up the flow of the prose. Otherwise, an interesting book.
Apr 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Stephen Moss is fast becoming one of my absolute favourite nature writers.  When I spotted an online copy of Mrs Moreau's Warbler: How Birds Got Their Names on my library app, therefore, I borrowed it immediately.  I had only read a couple of his titles before this one, but find his largely bird-focused books fascinating and beautifully written.  

The naming of species has always interested me, and as far as I am aware, I have only read books in the past which touch upon the process.  In Mrs More
Andrew Howdle
Aug 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Birding is serious, bonkers, and seriously bonkers. Stephen Moss's book is a mine of information, but is unevenly written. Some chapters are far more interesting than others and there are times when the style is strained. Moss is best when he unravels a story from a name, such as the battle over "dunnock". Emily Bronte got it right! Many get it wrong-- it is not a hedge sparrow. The most enjoyable way to read the book is by dipping randomly and seeing what tit bit emerges.
Rachel Rogers
Aug 05, 2019 rated it it was ok
Could not get traction on this. It started out great in the natural history realm but then drifted into etymology and the history of language as pertains to naming of birds. Interesting stuff but not what I was expecting a good portion of the book to be focusing on. Hate to give up on this but until I'm prepared for the extensive tangent, I can't focus on the interesting information included.
Peggy Page
Jul 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A delightful read for those of us who love birds, language and history, for Moss weaves those all together in a charming narrative. I especially loved his footnotes and the exquisite epilogue. I bought the book when I heard Moss interviewed on a birding podcast, and he is just as engaging on the page as he was in that interview. Lovely!
Aug 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars

I am really sad that this book wasnt what I was hoping for. I wanted to know information about where birds go their names in a fun and interesting manner (like the front cover!).
Sadly what I got was rather dry with often bad writing and boring additions.
This book could have been shorter and been MUCH better. Not for me unfortunately!
Feb 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Enjoyable and interesting, I particularly liked the origins of some bird names going back to old languages.
Pop Bop
Jun 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
Congenial and Idiosyncratic

Almost completely lacking in any sort of organization, and fluttering about from bird name to bird name, this eminently browseable and generally amusing book is a real hoot.

While the blurbs emphasize expeditions, rival ornithologists, romantic gestures, and the like, (and there are lots of extended bits about all of those things), the book is mostly an exploration of language. How it evolves and changes, and how the names of birds have evolved and changed or remained c
Julie Stielstra
Feb 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: birds
For Anglophile bird nerds only! A quite charming, rambling trawl through ornithological history by a dedicated twitcher (a birder who travels widely and expensively to spot birds, especially in places they're not supposed to be) and nature journalist. While he does tell some traveling tales of his own, a large part is devoted to linguistic and etymologic development of what we have chosen to call the birds around us, as far back as some thousands of years, and across the continents. In case you' ...more
Tim Bromilow
Dec 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant book looking at the way birds (especially UK birds) are named, and the stories behind the names. There is so much lovely and fascinating detail here such as the lives behind the names Hume, Franklin, Sabine and Ross (and, of course, Moreau); onomatopoeic names (such as kite and jackdaw); names derived from Old French (such as hobby), Old English (kite) and other languages. I don't like his occasional self-aggrandisement (who seriously cites their own undergrad thesis?!) and I'm surpr ...more
Sue Chant
Jun 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: natural-history
This book is a bit specialist - for anyone interested in ornithology, language, and the history of science. Entertaining discourse on the naming of birds, from the oldest ("goose" deriving from the Proto-Indo-European language of the Steppes 5,000 years ago), to the most recent (DNA research changing the scientific names of many of our most common birds). Also has some diverting tales of eccentric birders :)
Janice Bridger
Dec 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very interesting book which I will go back to as difficult to take it all in - in one go! I have always wondered about where bird’s names come from and this mostly answers this. It also discusses language and the dominance of the English language in naming! It even discusses the future of the names which is really the future of the birds themselves and how many species there actually are! The appendix which groups the names into categories is good for quizzing!!
Feb 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written by a Brit so of course very slanted towards British birds. I didn’t quite realize that was going to be the case but I still enjoyed the book with its historical tidbits of some of the early bird collectors. The epilogue of the author’s trip to the Usumbara Mountains to search for the bird of the book title was an appropriate ending which I especially liked.
Nov 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
This is a perfectly nice book but I would suggest you have at least a passing interest in birds and bird watching. I don’t. So why read it? It was a free book sent to me from some subscription or another and apparently I have all the time in the work to read books I don’t want to.
Jan 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: birds
A blend of ornithology, etymology and history.
Leah Potter
Jun 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
good book, a lot of history given
Feb 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
A charming book, packed full of really interesting bird and language tales and facts. I’ll keep this forever!
Mar 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Super interesting. Not always about birds but the history of language as well
Apr 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is an intriguing blend of British history, geography and ornithology.
Jan Duthie
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fascinating book-so informative and enchanting.
Jul 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very interesting on how birds got their names and all the different species that I was unaware of. I just wish i could see all the birds.
Jun 04, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: cloudlibrary
I love birds, I love etymology, but I did love this book.
Jenny Haydock
rated it really liked it
Feb 21, 2020
rated it it was amazing
Apr 21, 2020
Daniel Bowman
rated it liked it
Aug 16, 2019
« previous 1 3 4 5 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Goodreads Librari...: Please add page count 2 12 May 10, 2018 12:50AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • How to Know the Birds: The Art and Adventure of Birding
  • Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? 200 birds, 12 months, 1 lapsed birdwatcher
  • Where the World Ends
  • Tamed: Ten Species That Changed Our World
  • On The Trail Of The Whale
  • Wilding
  • Our Garden Birds
  • Welcome to the Pine Away Motel and Cabins
  • The Northumbrians: North-East England and its People -- A New History
  • Keeping Bees with a Smile: Principles and Practice of Natural Beekeeping
  • Sister
  • Wildwood: A Journey through Trees
  • Hamnet
  • Zenith Man (Inheritance collection)
  • Sex, Sleep or Scrabble: Seriously Funny Answers to Life's Quirkiest Queries
  • The Seabird's Cry: The Lives and Loves of the Planet's Great Ocean Voyagers
  • Porterhouse Blue (Porterhouse Blue, #1)
  • The Daughters of Cain (Inspector Morse, #11)
See similar books…
Librarian Note: there is more than one author with this name in the Goodreads database.

Stephen Moss is a naturalist, broadcaster, television producer and author. In a distinguished career at the BBC Natural History Unit his credits included Springwatch, Birds Britannia and The Nature of Britain. His books include The Robin: A Biography, A Bird in the Bush, The Bumper Book of Nature, Wild Hares and

Related Articles

In these strange days of quarantine and isolation, books can be a mode of transport. We may have to stay home and stay still, but through t...
57 likes · 39 comments