Stephen Moss, author of a new book, Mrs Moreau's Warbler: How birds got their names, explains some of the fascinating stories behind bird names

It’s easy to assume, with bird names, that we know what they mean, and often that assumption is quite correct. Woodpeckers peck wood, bee-eaters feed on bees, and whitethroats are indeed white around the neck.

Other names seem almost wilfully obscure: what on Earth does the name puffin mean? Or hobby? Why are turtle doves named after reptiles?

The origin of some names may, at first, seem obvious, yet are not quite as straightforward as they appear. Take the simplest of all English bird names: blackbird. It’s a bird, and it’s black. Isn’t that all we need to know?

But what about the crow, rook, raven and jackdaw? All of these would have been very familiar to our ancestors, and all appear – at least from a distance – to be black in colour. So why was just one species singled out as the “blackbird”?