March 27, 2012


According to dGe-chos, most Tibetan names of birds have been given according to the sounds that they make (dGe.chos-1: 271.1). Here is a list of some birds (mainly taken from the Bod.rgya):

1. khwa (ta) (dGe.chos)
2. skyung ka (dGe.chos)
3. pho rog (dGe.chos)
4. ngang pa
5. ngur pa
5. ’ug pa
5. ting ting ma (Bod.rgya). A clear case!
6. skya ga (Bod.rgya)
7. khu byug
8. ti ti ri (from Sanskrit) (Bod.rgya)
9. glag (Bod.rgya)?
10. sha ma (Bod.rgya)?
11. se (Bod.rgya)?
12. krung krung / khrung khrung (Bod-rgya). According to song or stature?

A few example of birds named according to their colour:
1. gong dkar (Bod.rgya). This certainly according to its colour.
2. khra (perhaps) (Bod.rgya). Not quite sure!

A few example of birds named according to their habitat:
1. smyug bya (Bod.rgya)
2. shing rta mo (Bod.rgya)

A few example of birds named according to their shape/colour:
1. thing ril (Bod.rgya)
2. rma bya (at least according to speculative etymology)

See below Dan’s comments!


  1. I think khrung-khrung may be such a word. I guess it means 'crane.' But doesn't it derive from the Sanskrit krauñca? Well, I suppose it may be true that Sanskrit bird names often imitate the bird songs, too. So maybe both a borrowing and an imitation of the song... But then the Sanskrit may derive from the Tibetan? (Uh oh... Don't these birds fly back and forth between India and Tibet every year?)

    What is the ne-le? Some kind of night bird. Perhaps an owl? Can birds pronounce initial 'n' (or initial 'ng' for that matter, as in ngang-pa [goose] and ngur-pa [?])? and the pu-shud (hoopoe)? phug-ron (pigeon)? I'm trying to imagine what goes on inside a bird's mouth. Is there a specialist in ornithological phonology in the house? (Actually, upon idly googling, I see that there is an emerging discipline of "birdsong phonology." Perhaps that could help someone somewhere with something.)

  2. Wow, the number of birds has mushroomed overnight! How do you understand that word for peacock, rma-bya?

    1. We have here an entry on rma bya, I think.

    2. I don't think we do, do we?

    3. We do! Searching seems a problem. If I click on “Timeslide” and search རྨ་བྱ་ it should show up as one of three entries on Dec 25 (2011).

    4. Correction: seems = seems to be.

      By the way, the entry is, as Germans would say, “verbesserungsbedürftig.” :)