Birds

It was a Sixth Former studying English literature, as well as Latin, who adverted to a tendency whereby common words for living things change over the centuries. A hog has become a pig (except in America), an ass has become a donkey, a hound has become a dog—and a fowl has become a bird.

And, since he was doing A-level Italian as well, he wanted to know why the modern Italian word for a bird—ucchello—is so different from the Latin avis. Surely, he said, it is usual for modern Italian words to retain a similarity to their Latin origins.

This merited a consultation of the Italian etymological dictionary: which revealed that this was not a change but an evolution. avis in Latin was replaced by the diminutive avicella, which becomes aucella, by a contraction present in classical Latin: a bird catcher is auceps.

aucella, with a change of gender, becomes uccello.

And this is the word to be found in some of the Romance languages:

Corsican: acellu
Catalan: ocell
Italian: uccello
French: oiseau

In others, with a neglect for niceties, the Latin word for a sparrow, passer, came to be used:

Portuguese: pássaro
Galician: paxaro
Spanish: pájaro
Romanian: pasãrea

Classical Latin does not have many other names that we know for wild birds:

blackbird:    merula
raven:    corvus
magpie:    pica
crow:    cornix
jackdaw:    monedula
kingfisher:    alcedo
woodpecker:    picus
swallow:    hirundo
owl:    bubo or noctua
barn owl:    strix
stork:    ciconia
swan:    cycnus
pigeon:    palumbes
turtledove:    turtur
quail:    coturnix
heron:    ardea
crane:    grus
eagle:    aquila
hawk:    accipiter
kite:    milvus
vulture:    vulturius