Where Are All the Queen Birds?

Kings greatly outnumber queens when it comes to bird names.

This story is brought to you by BirdNote, a show that airs daily on public radio stations nationwide.

On an island in the Southern Ocean, a pair of King Penguins calls.

In Central America, an enormous Ringed Kingfisher calls. While nearby, a Thick-billed Kingbird calls.

There's a King Vulture, a King Eider, 89 species of kingfishers, 11 kingbirds, 3 tiny kinglets—at least 115 birds across the world with the word "king" in their name. And no queens: 10,000 bird species—and not one “queenfisher” or “queenlet.”

Elsewhere in nature, there's the queen snake, queen butterfly, queen angelfish, queen moth, queen bees, and queen ants. But perhaps the lack of "queen birds" isn't so mysterious. Nearly all the early explorers and naturalists who named birds were men. And when a bird flashed a colorful crown, male royalty must have come to mind first. Once upon a time, there was a species of bird-of-paradise named Queen Carola’s Parotia. Carola was the wife of King Albert of Saxony, who also had a bird named for him, the King of Saxony Bird-of-Paradise. Alas, the queen’s bird had its name trimmed to the more tidy Carola’s Parotia.

So today the scoresheet reads: king birds one hundred and fifteen, queen birds zero. 

See a video of the Carola's Parotia's fantastic mating display at birdnote.org.

Bird sounds are provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. King Penguins [42302] recorded by Theodore A Parker III; Ringed Kingfisher [128045] recorded by Curtis A Marantz; Thick-billed Kingbird [109081] recorded by G A Keller.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black

Written by Bob Sundstrom

© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org     February 2015     Narrator: Michael Stein