Six Virginia Birds That Speak Their Names

The easiest way to name a bird is to have it name itself! We know these six Virginia birds by names derived from their calls.

Fish Crow, Alejandra Lewandowski/Audubon Photography Awards

Fish Crow, Alejandra Lewandowski/Audubon Photography Awards

American Crow

“Crow” is one of the oldest words in the English language, descended from its Old English variant, “crawe.” Although there are no Old English speakers left to ask, the name is believed to be derived from the Crow’s unmistakable caw.

Eastern Whip-poor-will

Nocturnal, adeptly camouflaged, and very still, the Whip-poor-will is much more likely to be heard than seen. If you do hear a Whip-poor-will, you will probably continue to hear it—they repeat their simple song tirelessly on warm summer nights. According to the National Audubon Society, one patient observer recorded a Whip-poor-will that repeated its song 1,088 times in one unbroken stretch.


Closely related to the Whip-poor-will, the Chuck-will’s-widow’s song suggests that poor Chuck Will’s wife was an unlucky person.

 Carolina Chickadee

Carolina Chickadee, Michele Black/Great Backyard Bird Count

Carolina Chickadee, Michele Black/Great Backyard Bird Count

The namesake call of a Carolina Chickadee may sound cheerful, but it is, in fact, a highly sophisticated alarm system. Researchers at Eastern Kentucky University found that the number of “dees” at the end of a Chickadee’s alarm call directly correlates to the threat level of a predator, with an Eastern Screech-owl eliciting up to twelve rapid-fire “dees.”

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee, or Chewink? This bird has been known by both names, which come from different interpretations of its two-note call.


Veeries are known for their gracefully descending song, described by National Audubon as “ethereal” and by Bird Watcher’s Digest  “as if a ghost were playing electronic music.” However, the name comes from their harsh scolding call, a distinct “veer.”