Week thirty-five: HICKWALL (probability 38824), by David Sutton

HICKWALL is an English dialect word for the green woodpecker. This is a bird that seems amazingly well-endowed with dialect names, perhaps because it is of such a striking appearance with its grass-green feathers and red crest. We had one in our garden the other day, strutting about on the lawn like some Aztec warrior as it scooped up ants with its long sticky tongue. So, in addition to HICKWALL we have AWLBIRD, WOODSPITE, WITWALL, WOODWALE, YAFFINGALE, YAFFLE and RAINBIRD. YAFFINGALE and YAFFLE are imitative of the bird's distinctive call, often heard echoing through our summer woodlands, while RAINBIRD refers to the belief that this call was a presage of rain.

There are many other delightful English dialect names for birds. They include BRANTAIL for the redstart, referring to the red colour of its rump, HICKYMAL for the titmouse, YOLDRING for the yellowhammer, EVEJAR or GOATSUCKER for the nightjar, GOLDSPINK or GOWDSPINK for the nightjar, HORNYWINK for the lapwing, MAVIS or MAVIE for the song thrush, PETTICHAP for the garden warbler and PYAT, PYET or PYOT for the magpie. You'll find all these in W.B.Lockwood's 'Oxford Dictionary of British Bird Names', along with many more, though some of the best, like MUMRUFFIN* or BUMBARREL* for the long-tailed tit, are sadly unplayable. But what is perhaps the most evocative bird name of all is playable: WINDHOVER for the kestrel, immortalised by Gerald Manley Hopkins in his poem about how he saw the bird, 'dapple-dawn-drawn falcon in his riding/Of the rolling level underneath him steady air'. And if you never get a chance at WINDHOVER, remember that a kestrel can also be a STANIEL, STANYEL, STANNEL or STANDGALE.


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