Greater Yellowlegs Sandpipers are back, cursing the world loudly, running awkwardly after small fish in the shallows, and constantly bobbing their too-small heads like penitents. Their name begs the questions: “Greater than what?” and “Who gets to give weird common names to birds, anyway?”  

The American and International Ornithologists Unions create and issue lists of bird names based on bird structure, appearance, DNA, and other traits. It’s a mysterious process that has named a bird with no trace of red on its belly a Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

The name of our Greater Yellowlegs here is more logical: It’s larger than the similar Lesser Yellowlegs. Bird common names may vary with the language; their Latin scientific names are unvarying. However, few people will shout, “Look! There’s a Tringa melanoleuca!!”(Brooklin, Maine)