The past few weeks have been a little Asia-heavy, so today I’ll return to the New World and focus on the White-winged Diuca-finch, Diuca speculifera (Passeriformes: Emberizidae). This finch is a high-altitude specialist, found in the Altiplano, or the plateau found in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. They’re the only bird besides penguins to nest on glaciers, a fact discovered by a 14-year-old, and their nests have been found as high as 5300 meters (17,000 feet).
White-winged Diuca-finch. Not the greatest picture, but it’s what’s in the public domain. Source: Wikipedia.
The word Diuca comes from Mapudungün, the language of the Mapuche people. (This language is also known as Araucano, for example in the Handbook of the Birds of the World, but this term is considered offensive.) Mapudungün is a language isolate, meaning that it’s not known to be related to any other languages on Earth — other examples of language isolates include Basque, Ainu, Korean, Sumerian, Tiwi, Natchez, and Zuni. Mapudungün is spoken in Chile and Argentina by around 260,000 people, though very few children are currently learning the language.
This is the Altiplano. Isn’t it beautiful? Definitely on my list of places to go someday.
The word “white” I’ve already covered, and the word “wing” comes from the Old Norse vængir (cf Swedish and Danish vinge), which replaced the Old English feþra, a word at the time meaning “wing” but is now only preserved in the word “feather.” Remarkably, feþra is cognate with πτερόν (“pteron”), the Greek word meaning “wing” that was discussed along with the Flightless Steamerduck, Tachyeres pteneres, as well as the Sanskrit pet, leading us to the Indo-European construction *-pet .
Those darn Vikings and their Old Norse loanwords! (Like, for example, the word “loan,” which came from the Old Norse lán.)
Finally, the word “finch” can be traced directly to Old English finc and might refer to the Chaffinch’s “pink” call. (Possibly cf Welsh pinc, Russian penka, Breton pint, etc?)