Baltimore’s baseball and nature homonym


Sibley writes Baltimore Oriole's are common across the United States. I have not found this to be the case. Wikipedia photo.

Sibley writes Baltimore Oriole's are common across the United States. I have not found this to be the case. Wikipedia photo.

Long before Charm City was blessed with the birds, there have been Baltimore Orioles.

Trying to identify the sleek, iridescent visitor to our backyard (likely a Rusty Blackbird) I was digging into my handy-dandy “Sibley Field To Birds,” complete with excellent illustrations, and discovered that the common Oriole’s proper name is actually “Baltimore Oriole.” That means there are two proper nouns spelled identically: One a professional ball team, the other a supposedly easy-to-find 1.2 ounce bird. But this David Allen Sibley doesn’t play around with any sports culture in his guide — he sticks to the script.

“Common in open deciduous woodlands or among scattered tall trees,” the Sib writes. “Note bright orange color, white wing-bars, slender bluish bill, and mostly orange tail.” There is no mention of the baseball team by the same name, leaving the reader to make the connection. I understand David — no one wants their book associated with the Orioles.

Amateur sketch of the wild "Washington Wizard" in its natural habitat.

Amateur sketch of the wild "Washington Wizard" in its natural habitat.

The MLB omission shouldn’t come as a big surprise considering D-Sib’s entry for the bald eagle, a recovering species in Maryland and also often spotted near D.C.’s rivers. His writing contains nary a word on the bald eagle’s iconic role in American culture. In fact, the closest Sibley comes to an off-the-cuff remark in his book is by calling the Rock Dove by an alternate name: Feral Pigeon. How about flying rat?

Despite using experts from all 50 states to help craft his bird population maps, Sibley doesn’t consult anyone on the District’s own avian census. This lack of a local expert perhaps explains why the soaring wild Washington Wizard is absent from Sibley’s book.

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