Information is from dictionaries and other sources. Comments and corrections welcome. All Malaysian and Indonesian names in the process of conversion into modernised spelling only. Hover over Green Lettering Green lettering at this site hides a tool tip with glosses, further explanations, etc. Hover cursor to reveal. to see additional information.
Large wading birds were once familiar sights in the rice fields and multiple names for these birds can be found in the popular languages. The practice of limiting names to single species is an artificial one and many names were shared by similar-looking species, even those belonging to different genera or families.
Development of General Large-Wader Names
Southeast Asian languages commonly have a general name meaning 'large-wader', typically spanning several different families. In Malay there is evidence for three such names: ruak-ruak, ruwai-ruwai, and bangau, all having a core meaning covering three groups: 'great heron', 'white heron', and 'adjutant stork'. In practical terms the meaning would be context-sensitive, or could optionally be specified with a modifier, such as putih 'white' to indicate 'white heron'.
The connection of the 'white herons' to the 'large-waders' was through Ardea alba, although the white herons themselves were typically not differentiated and the unmodified name could be applied to all. 'White herons' here includes not only the white egrets, but also smaller herons showing large patches of white (such as some night herons and pond herons). Conversely, the dark-phase reef egret is excluded.
Ruak-ruak and ruwai-ruwai are dialect variants of the same name and are no longer productive. Ruwai-ruwai has had little impact on modern naming, but ruak-ruak (written variously as ruak-ruak, ruwak-ruwak, uwak-uwak, wak-wak, ruah-ruah, ruk-ruk, rok-rok, ruku-ruku, roko-roko) survives in species names in several different families. In addition to the Great Heron and Great Egret in the Ardeidae, ruak-ruak in Malaysian is also found in a name for the Water Hen, Amaurornis phoenicurus (Rallidae), and in names for an adjutant stork Leptoptilos javanicus (Ciconiidae). In Indonesian the name is also applied to the Glossy Ibis, Plegadis falcinellus (Threskiornithidae).
Bangau (written variously as bangau, bangu, bango) was another typical large-wader name, although different parts of the core meaning came to be emphasised in different dialect areas. In the area of Western Malaya that has had the greatest influence on ornithological Malaysian, bangau became 'white heron'. In ornithological Malaysian bangau was redefined as 'egret' in (24) and is now the standard Malaysian translation for English 'egret'. In Indonesian the 'adjutant stork' meaning prevailed. (Javanese and Sundanese bango 'stork' are related names.)
In part because of proliferation in dictionaries of two centuries of examples, bangau is again today a productive, popular, general name for large waders in both Malaysian and Indonesian. In addition to great herons and egrets in the Ardeidae, bangau may popularly refer to cranes (Gruidae), the extralimital flamingos (Phoenicopteridae), and storks (Ciconiidae).
Development of Small-heron Names
In Malay the cryptically-coloured, darker small herons share several general names. The core of this group is the bitterns and the striated heron, but other small herons could also be included. Originally, gelam 'agate' (referring to the mottled red-brown plumage) and keladi 'caladium, taro' (referring to the habitat) occurred in the names of any of these small species, but both descriptors were later restricted to one single species in ornithological usage in (24).
Pucung 'small heron' was originally an old general name for bitterns and the striated heron, and remains so in some dialects. However, following the example of some early 20th century ornithologists who assigned the name pucung to all Ardeidae species, the original meaning has been expanded in Malaysian. Pucung was inserted into all Ardeidae names (except those of egrets) in (24), a practice continued by most subsequent authorities. Under this Malaysian ornithological specialisation pucung was redefined as equivalent to the English word 'heron', leading to the etymologically awkward result that even great herons are now described as pucung or 'small herons'.
Development of Great Heron names
The naming of the genus Ardea is split in line with the division in the large-wader complex, with the white species classed as a 'white heron' and the darker species as 'great herons'.
In addition to the general large-wader names, there were several other old Malay names which referred collectively to the great herons. These included se- agent derivatives of verbs which described the ways the long-legged great herons moved or stood: se-riap, se-randau, se-ranggung . Serangoon, a district in Singapore is named for the large flock of Ardea sumatrana which formerly lived there. A Kedahan great heron descriptor name lembu 'cattle' was an early borrowing from the North.
In ornithological Malaysian, (24) treated the great herons (excepting Ardea alba) as kinds of pucung 'smallheron' and redefined seriap, serandau, and lembu as descriptors for particular species. Indonesian finessed this complexity by borrowing cangak 'greatheron' from Javanese for all but Ardea alba.
Night herons are famous for their distinctive loud calls and most Southeast Asian languages name all night herons after them. The same basic call is rendered in Malay as kuak, kuak-kuak, kuar(an), koak, kowak, etc. A corresponding name in early Javanese is guwo. In modern ornithological Malaysian, this call is conventionally written kuak; in Indonesian it is kowak.
Several loud heron calls are traditionally said to resemble the sounds made by cattle or buffalo. Lembu 'cattle' in the name for Ardea sumatrana refers to the similarity in sound rather than a physical association with cattle. Kuak, the verb 'to make cattle noises', is conventionally written the same way as the onomatopoetic name for Nycticorax night herons.
Also onomatopoetic are the large-wader names ruak-ruak and ruwai-ruwai, as well as most of the Indonesian small heron names.
The modern modifications introduced in (24) have been widely adopted as popular Malaysian usage, as well as by most of the ornithological establishment, although they have not supplanted other meanings.
|Form of Name||19th C. Meaning||Early 20th C. Meanings||Modern Meanings||Modern Ornithological Malaysian|
|pucung||small heron||small heron; ardeid||small heron;
|Botaurus, Ixobrychus, Dupetor, Gorsachius, Nycticorax, Butorides, Ardeola; Ardea (part) (24)|
|bangau||large-wader||white heron||egret (24);
|Bubulcus, Egretta, Ardea (part) (24)|
(In the most recent ornithological specialisation, pucung danau ('lake smallheron') was introduced in (28) as a translation of English 'pond heron' for Ardeola names, but it is too early to say if it will gain wider acceptance.)
Cò is a general name for storks (excluding adjutants), ibises, and certain types of medium-sized ardeid. Its scope includes the egrets but excludes the great herons and some night herons and bitterns. Attempts have been made in the ornithological naming to bring Vietnamese names into conformity with the scientific taxonomy.
นกกระส nók krà-săa 'largewader (bird)' is popularly used for Ardea great-herons (except for egrets) in the Ardeidae, and also for the storks (Ciconiidae), cranes (Gruidae), and ibises (Threskiornithidae). However, in modern ornithological Thai the name has been restricted only to the Ardeidae and Ciconiidae species.
The name นกยางโทน nók yaaŋ tʰoon 'solitary heron' for the two Ardea egrets is paralleled in Northern Thai นกขวากตน nók kʰwàak ton 'solitary greatheron' reported for Ardea cinerea. Currently, ornithological 'solitary' heron names are known only for these three species.
Kokokan 'kok-kok bird' is an Indonesian name for small herons and bitterns. It is a reduplicated version of the similar sound kok used in blekok 'pond heron'. Unmodified, kokokan is used in (29) for Ixobrychus cinnamomeus, suggesting the other kokokan names in (29) are extensions.
Nightherons are named after their distinctive loud calls. The same basic call is rendered here variously as kuak, kuak-kuak, kuar, kuaran, kowak, etc. A corresponding name in early Javanese is guwo.
Pucung is originally an old general name for any of several small herons and bitterns. Unmodified pucung has been especially identified with Butorides striata since the early 19th century. Principally in Malaysian, the name has been relatively recently extended to refer to any birds called 'heron' in English.
Blekek (also written belekek) 'kek bird' is the Javanese version of Malay berkek or berkik 'snipe'. Indonesian blekek has been recorded for various kinds of birds hunted as snipe, including true snipe and dowitchers (Scolopacidae), painted snipe (Rostratulidae), and as here, small herons (Ardeidae)
Word order corrected from "Tampung Baju"; the original error later miscopied as "Tampung Bajau"
Blekok (also written belekok) 'kok bird' is the old name for Ardeola speciosa on Java, where only that one species of pond heron normally occurs, but the name has always been used for vagrants of other species as well. Blekok is extended as a general pond heron name for ornithological Indonesian in (30).
Bangau 'large-wader' is a widely used general name for large wading birds. In Malaysian bangau has principally come to refer to any birds called 'egret' in English, but earlier records include any mostly-white herons as well as great herons and storks. In addition, bangau is popularly used for cranes (Gruidae), the extralimital flamingos (Phoenicopteridae), and (especially in Indonesian) for adjutant storks (Ciconiidae). Bangau has also been extended as a general 'stork' name for ornithological Indonesian in (30).
Kendi 'watercarafe' refers to (originally South Asian) water containers whose shapes or modes of use suggest certain round-bodied, long-billed birds. Aside from its use as a descriptor for certain egrets in Ardeidae, kendi also serves as the base for Malaysian names of curlews and whimbrels (Scolopacidae). The derived form sekendi is used for ibises and spoonbills (Threskiornithidae).
Pucung is originally an old general name for any of several small herons and bitterns. Following an early ornithological extension, Malaysian pucung now may refer to any bird called 'heron' in English. Pucung was inserted into all ornithological Malaysian Ardeidae names (except those for egrets) in (24), a practice continued by most subsequent authorities.
Several loud heron calls are traditionally said to resemble the sounds made by cattle or buffalo. Lembu 'cattle' in the name for Ardea sumatrana refers to the perceived similarity in sound rather than a physical association with cattle. Kuak, the verb 'to make cattle noises', is conventionally written the same way as kuak, one of the onomatopoetic names for Nycticorax nightherons.
Ruak-ruak (written variously as ruak-ruak, ruwak-ruwak, uwak-uwak, wak-wak, ruah-ruah, ruwai-ruwai, ruk-ruk, rok-rok, ruku-ruku, roko-roko) is the representative of a large group of names mutually descended from a very old general name for large waders. The name is no longer productive and has evolved into species names in several families. In addition to the large heron and egret in the Ardeidae, ruak-ruak is used in names for Leptoptilos javanicus, an adjutant stork (Ciconiidae); Amaurornis phoenicurus, Waterhen (Rallidae), and Plegadis falcinellus, Glossy Ibis (Threskiornithidae).
Kuntul (variously written kuntul, kontul, kontol, kundur, kutur, koto, kuntuk) is an old Indonesian, Javanese and East-Coast Malayan general name for egret. Unmodified kuntul may be popularly used in Indonesian for any egret, but refers especially to the largest species, Ardea alba. Optionally besar 'large' may be added to reinforce that identification.
Upih-upihan, essentially "storklet" or "storkling", is a diminutive reduplication of upih, Mycteria cinerea, Milky Stork (Ciconiidae).
Mostly from Robinson (& Chasen) 1927-1939 v1-4; additions from Madoc 1947 (et.seq.), and Glenister 1951 (both mostly names copied from Robinson)
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A Checklist on the Classification and Distribution of the Birds of China Chief editor: Zheng Guangmei, Science Press, Beijing 2005
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