What Does The Word "Avian" Really Mean?

Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus) and Red Knots (Calidris canutus), Grays Harbour, Washington State, USA Danita Delimont / Getty Images

You may have heard the word “avian” a lot more than you used to. It was first used in 1870, and it comes from the Latin term “avis,” which means bird. It's also the root of another popular word: aviation. You may have heard about the avian flu, which is a bird illness. The word is used for all things related to the bird. In fact, aviculture is the term for the care of birds. For more facts about the word, read on.

Avian in the World of Taxonomy

Of course, birds have been around a lot longer than the word avian. The word avian has more of a function in the world of taxonomy. Now that you know what avian means, you may want to know what taxonomy means.

The Definition of Taxonomy

Taxonomy, also known as “binomial nomenclature,” is a fancy way of describing the scientific method of classifying birds into groups or families and sorting out their relationship to each other. Birds are classified taxonomically first belonging to the class of vertebrates that are birds. A bird is easily defined because it has feathers, and it's the only animal with feathers.

A Short History of Taxonomy

The science of the classification of animals all began by a Swede by the name of Carolus Linnaeus, who was keenly interested in understanding and sorting out how plants and animals lined up in nature. His goal was to come up with a formal Latin label for every organism which had a similarity or difference that could be confirmed with the naked eye. That eliminated minerals and rocks, which went through transformations not easily seen.

Linnaeus settled on a two-word Latin naming system which was referred to as the “Latin name.” Today, it is referred to as the “scientific name.”

Taxonomy's Seven Categories

The science of taxonomy progressed into seven categories to more narrowly define the organism. The categories include:

  • Kingdom
  • Phylum
  • Class
  • Order
  • Family
  • Genus
  • Species

The African Grey Parrot Debate

Each organism starts out belonging to a massive kingdom of organisms and then descends from there into smaller groups. Taxonomists created sub-species, which has caused some debate over the years. In the bird world, a good example of the sub-species debate is the African Grey Parrot.

The scientific name for this stunning bird is Psittacus erithacus erithacus. The last repetition is because taxonomists believe the Timneh parrot, Psittacus erithacus timneh belongs to the same species. But they believe it is a sub-species derived from the original Psittacus erithacus species. Taxonomists are still debating about this designation. There is still no definitive answer over whether the Timneh is a subspecies or deserves its own classification as a species.

In the avian world, bird lovers and taxonomists continue to wait to hear the final word.