You might think “jabiru” is an Aboriginal name for the black and white stork found in Australia. It’s not. The name was picked up by the Portuguese from the Tupi, natives of Brazil in South America. It was the name they gave to the black and white stork of the Americas. (The Tupi also gave us their word acaju, which the Portuguese who first encountered the Tupi turned into caju, and which we’ve turned into cashew in English.)

Back then, so many new things were being discovered that names were getting stuck on everything in sight, whether they were accurate or not, and there was a lot of confusion. For example, the flowers we know as nasturtiums were named for the similarity of their taste to watercress; watercress is Nasturtium officianale, so the flowers got called nasturtiums. The plants are, however, unrelated. Then there are peppers (i.e., chilies), which are no relation to pepper. Same thing with jabirus—one black and white stork looked pretty much like another to some explorers, so names got picked up and dropped off all over the world.

The original jabiru, the one from the Americas (Jabiru mycteria), is a large stork found from Mexico to Argentina, except west of the Andes.

The jabiru one finds in Australia is the Asian black-necked stork (Xenorhyncus asiaticus). It is also called a policeman bird, due to its black and white coloration, which is reminiscent of a police car. This stork ranges from India and through much of Australasia.

And to make things even more confusing, the term got carried to Africa, as well, where the black and white saddlebill stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis) is also sometimes called a jabiru.

The jabiru pictured below is one of the Australian type storks. I first saw jabirus in Queensland, outside of Cairns—but it was not the last time I’d see them.



Filed under Australia, Book, Geography, History, Nature, Science, Travel

2 responses to “Jabiru

  1. Siona

    Brilliant – always thought Jabiru was an Aboriginal Australian name, so was amazed that the South American storks were also Jabiru… Happy to know better now… Thanks!

    • When I first visited Australia, I thought that as well — must be Aboriginal. I have, since then, discovered that these storks are not the only things that had names stuck on them that were picked up elsewhere. It appears to have been fairly common in the 1600-1800s, as the people discovering things did not always have a scientific perspective. (The folks on James Cook’s ship being an exception, since they were almost all scientists — bit more care used there. But the average explorer or settler would just think “looks like X to me,” and the name would stick.)

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