5 Coastal Virginia birds with the coolest names

Photo by Don Mammoser/Shutterstock

By Amie Knowles

April 22, 2024

With Virginians’ near-obsession with birding, we wanted to dip our quills into the topic. But with over 480 species, it was hard to narrow the focus. It’s safe to say we were feeling a little… birdbrained! Then, we saw our muse—the American Oystercatcher—and thought, what a name.

Turns out, the oystercatcher isn’t the only bird with a marvelous moniker in the commonwealth. Here are five of the most unique names we found on the list of birds observed near our coastline.

American Oystercatcher

5 Coastal Virginia birds with the coolest names

Move over, parrot. There’s a new seafaring bird in town. Requiring no stretch of the imagination whatsoever, the American Oystercatcher, well, catches oysters. Seafood is this bird’s meal of choice, and All About Birds notes that the yellow-eyed animal survives almost exclusively on shellfish.

There’s some variation to the creature’s diet, beyond what its name implies. Besides oysters, the bird also enjoys clams and other saltwater molluscs.

Click here to hear the bird’s unique call.

Magnificent Frigatebird

5 Coastal Virginia birds with the coolest names

Don Mammoser/Shutterstock.com

While it might look like a small pterodactyl flying overhead, the Magnificent Frigatebird isn’t a stray species off the set of Jurassic Park. What makes this bird extra-magnifico is that its current name is just as cool as its former name, Man O’War. According to the Galapagos Conservancy, the bird received its former name because of its “pirate-like habits.”

You’ll know a male Magnificent Frigatebird when you see one—it’s nearly impossible to miss (or mistake)—thanks to his bulging, bright red throat. When he’s trying to impress a lady, the bird inflates the fire engine colored pouch like a balloon.

Here’s what the frigate sounds like.

Atlantic Puffin

5 Coastal Virginia birds with the coolest names

No, this is not a penguin—surprisingly, they’re not even in the same family. Despite their similar looks, the Atlantic Puffin is far smaller than, say, an Emperor Penguin. The puffins, which reside in Maine and Canada during breeding season and venture to the mid-Atlantic during the off-season, only grow to about a foot tall. Penguins, which exclusively live in the Southern Hemisphere, can grow to be 45 inches tall.

If you’re curious about the puffin’s voice, here’s a recording.

Black-Headed Grosbeak

5 Coastal Virginia birds with the coolest names

It’s rare to see the black-headed variety, though not uncommon to find a Blue or Rose-Breasted Grosbeak. While these birds don’t only reside along the coast, it’s rare to see them far inland in Virginia. However, there was a sighting as far away as the Highland Wildlife Management Area near the West Virginia border—so maybe they’re just sneaky.

This little darling had us questioning what’s in a name—because they’re too cute to have a connection with anything “gross,” especially their lovely songbird bill. In reality, the name originated from two French terms: Gros, meaning “thick,” and bec for “beak.” The large, sharp tip helps the birds crack seeds, eat insects, and enjoy berries.

Hear the adorable chirps of the Black-Headed Grosbeak here.

Boat-Tailed Grackle

5 Coastal Virginia birds with the coolest names

As the name might suggest, these fowl prefer life near the water. The Boat-Tailed Grackle is native to Virginia and has adapted to the urbanization of the state over the years.

Studies about this saltwater staple show that they can solve Aesop’s Fable tests. If you’re unfamiliar, a crow dropped pebbles into a pitcher of water until the liquid level rose high enough for the bird to drink. Pro tip: Press Connects notes the main differences among grackles, crows, and ravens: Ravens are about the same size as hawks (crows and grackles are smaller), crows make a distinctive high-pitched “caw” sound, and grackles are slender-bodied with long tails.

To hear what the Boat-Tailed Grackle sounds like, click here.

If you’re looking for a new hobby, birding is a wildly popular one here in Virginia, and across the country. It’s also one of the easiest hobbies to start. Here are links to organizations that can give you tips:

Virginia Beach Audubon Society

Birding Virginia

Cape Henry Audubon Society

Williamsburg Bird Club

Hampton Roads Bird Club

Virginia Society of Ornithology

Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation

Fatbirder Virginia

Virginia Bluebird Society

Hawk Migration Association

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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