ON PAGE 16, zoologist Paul Donovan offers the first of three articles which tackle the tricky but intriguing subject of bird relationships and names. In fact “intriguing” doesn’t cover it: to its keenest devotees, taxonomy is literally, I believe, an addiction. At the other end of the scale are those in whom a single Latin word can induce a deep and peaceful slumber. I’m somewhere in the middle.   

But it’s worth reminding ourselves what all this dog Latin and Greek is about. It’s about the tree of life: how, from prehistory, evolution has sifted out the birds we admire in the world today. The apparently trivial shuffling about of names between families and genera is just on the surface; what the shufflings stand for are the deep shifts in scientists’ understanding of when and where the great families arose. All the true songbirds (passerines), it’s now known, originated in Australia. So did the parrots. So did the falcons. Songbirds are more closely related to parrots than to any other group. Those epic discoveries are recent – and others will follow. Start at the twig representing the humble budgie (Melopsittacus undulatus), work your way up the taxonomic tree, and you’ll be led into some very interesting territory. All it takes is to get a grip on a few unfamiliar concepts – which is why Paul’s article makes a good place to begin. 

It Happens To The Best Of Them, No. 94: “The next breeding season was the year when I had the best variegated yellow cock at the National in a class of 80 – as the season progressed it turned out to actually be a yellow hen.” One of several career highlights shared by Harry Clarke on page 12.

“Optimism bias”, meaning “thinking I will get perfect results from putting a pair together.” Sage advice on page 10… but come on, don’t we all need a dram of that bias? If you’re totally objective, you’re a machine. And I’d rather have optimism bias than pessimism bias. I’ve known a few with a pint glass of that.

Heading for Stafford on March 4? Have a great day – and be sure to say hello to the Lauras, who’ll both be in attendance with camera and notebook. Just keep a lid on the impulse buying… Pretty much as soon as I’ve finished typing this, I’m nipping across to Holland to check out the Zwolle sale. Fingers crossed I don’t fly back with a couple of impulse hornbills in the next seat!

Rob Innes