Bird Watching & their Names in France

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Here is the latest contribution from Beth in heart of south west France. This month she explores the local wildlife, and more specifically watches the many different birds at this active time of the year, and learning some of their unusual and colourful names.

“We’re blessed with thriving wildlife here in the rural southwest of France. Sadly, I’m not a fluent French speaker, but I have tried to learn the names of our feathered garden dwellers. Some are pretty complicated; still, it’s fun trying, especially since some are so charming.

Take the Song Thrush, the browny-grey bird with a spotty chest and a beautiful voice. The French call it a Grive Musicienne in honour of its musical talent; it’s a nice touch. The goldfinch is known as a Chardonneret Élégant, an apt term for the colourful little dazzler. Try saying Rossignol slowly, seductively, with an extra rolling ‘r’. This, of course, is a Nightingale, the bird said to serenade lovers all night long.

The French language also excels with precise translations. The cheeky Robin named Rouge-Gorge, literally ‘red throat’, perfectly describes his bright red bib. Then there’s the Accenteur Mouchet, staccato words that sound just like the chirpy call of a Dunnock.

Our area is also a favoured stopping point for several migratory species. Wood pigeons appear in their thousands over winter. Called Palombe here, clouds of these sleek blue-grey beauties settle in our forest canopy. It’s the same with starlings, Étourneau; they’re a raucous lot. Hundreds chatter and clatter around the fruit trees in the early season before dispersing.

Early spring brings two of my favourites. En route from Africa, Hoopoes or Huppe with their pinkish-brown bodies and black and white wings arrive in small numbers. These are the pretty birds with a crest that pops up when they’re excited. Despite being shy, we’ll see them foraging on our lawn or hear their soft oop-oop-oop call. Equally beautiful is the golden oriole or Loriot d’Europe. Looking like an oversized canary with a vibrant yellow body and black wings, the males have a melodious fluted song. The females, slightly less showy, have a somewhat harsh voice. I adore these birds. They’re almost impossible to see, but hearing their calls augers the promise of long sunny days in our garden.

The summer brings Hirondelles, Swallows. These are graceful swooping birds which have the reputation of being weather forecasters. Feeding high on the wing means pressure is high and warm weather to come. The French have a song written about them. Sweet? Hmm, less so than you might think.

The traditional piece written around the 17th century is called La P’tite Hirondelle. ‘Hirondelle’ was the name given to French army soldiers of the Ancien Régime because of their uniforms. Their black tricorn hats, royal blue uniforms with white lining, white jackets and breeches resembled a Swallow’s plumage.

Rather than relating the flight of this delightful bird, the song describes a little Hirondelle that helped itself to wheat reserves. Behind this story is a reference to the soldiers’ plundering during their campaigns. The lyrics promise the dishonest Hirondelles a beating for their looting.

As we all know, speakers are not short-changed with the French language when it comes to word economy. It has resulted in some wonderfully descriptive bird names. Take the ring-necked plover. Called a Gravelot à Collier Impromptu, it’s quite a mouthful. Another favourite is the Pouillot a Grand Sourcils. Translated as the warbler with big eyebrows, It’s much more fun than the English equivalent: Big-browed Warbler.

Of all the tongue-twisting French bird names I’ve learned, I do have a stand-out favourite. The Troglodyte Mignon is the term for a wren. Incongruous? Yes. Delightful? Certainly! I love the French language.

For more real life stories about living in rural France, check out Beth’s news on her FatDogs twitter feed. And if you aspire to a slower pace of life while enjoying the French countryside, why not check our farmhouses for sale or register to receive alerts of properties based on your criteria.

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