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One of the areas where have struggled to build up my second-language vocabulary has been wildlife. Perhaps because there are so many different plants and animals and because city dwellers only ever encounter a fraction of them, words for flora and fauna tend to fall by the wayside. Let us correct that deficiency by looking at ten popular birds in Russian.
Sparrows (воробей, pl. воробьи) are probably the most common birds in Russian cities. There are actually a few witty sayings featuring this bird:
Голубь can refer to either a dove or a pigeon. Historically, messages have been delivered by pigeon post (голубиная почта). You may see people feeding pigeons (кормить голубей), although some cities ban this practice.
Ворона is a crow (not to be confused with ворон, a raven). A misfit, the odd one out may be called белая ворона (a white crow).
This probably isn’t the first bird that comes to mind, but because the wagtail (трясогузка) is ubiquitous in Russia, I decided to include it in this list. These birds have a distinct gait where they shake their white tail up and down with each step.
Утка is a duck. A duckling is утёнок; “The Ugly Duckling” is “Гадкий утёнок.” Утка is also a colloquial word for a false rumor. A decoy (either a literal fake duck used in hunting or a body double/bait) is called подсадная утка (sitting duck).
Лебедь (masculine) is a swan. The famous ballet Swan Lake is called “Лебединое озеро” in Russian. Someone’s лебединая песня (swan song) is their final act before retirement.
Гусь is a goose. Folk tales may talk about гуси-лебеди (a cross between a goose and a swan?). When someone always gets away with things and never gets in trouble, you can say “как с гуся вода” (“like water off a goose,” compare to the English “Teflon”).
Курица is a chicken (either the bird or the meat). The plural is куры. If you want to talk specifically about a rooster, use петух. A chick is цыплёнок.
Орёл (plural орлы) is the word for an eagle. The coat of arms of Imperial Russia and of present-day Russia (and multiple other countries) features a two-headed eagle — двуглавый орёл. Heads or tails in a coin toss are called орёл или решка, орёл being the side with — you guessed it — the eagle. Орёл is also a city in Central Russia.
Lastly for this installment, сова (plural совы) is a an owl. A person who likes to sleep in and goes to bed late is called сова (a night owl). A person who gets up early is called жаворонок (skylark).
How many of these did you know? Can you name ten other birds?