Chapter 4: Birds and Fowl

by Dr. Frank Waabu O'Brien, Aquidneck Indian Council

This short treatise stems from the research of the Massachusett-Narragansett Revival Program, a project for the reconstruction of the extinct American Indian languages of southeastern New England. Our intention is to make these works available to a wide audience. The present paper shows translations for about 50 names for Birds and Fowl taken from the extinct American Indian Algonquian languages of southeastern New England, Narragansett and Massachusett. Not all existing species were recorded by the missionaries of Colonial New England. Occasionally vocabulary words are borrowed from the Abenaki language, Pequot, Ojibway, or Wampano (Iron Thunderhorse, 2000) when no extant terms were discovered. Reconstruction of such words in Massachusett-Narraganset may be modeled on these terms from similar Algonquian languages. One important document (Trumbulls’ Natick Dictionary) is available on the Internet. The Goddard & Bragdon work is important for linguistic theory.

In the Algonquian languages, living organisms are named for their outstanding characteristics (color, sound, habit &c) such as hònck = “Canadian Goose” (onomatopoetic), a well known sound in the southeastern New England sky-land. Unlike animals, few birds/fowl were introduced to the new world in the 17th century by Awaunagassuck (English “strangers”).

The vocabulary listings are presented alphabetically as a table of three columns. On the left is the English language term being translated, as translated in the middle column (with language/dialect identified except for Massachusett dialects), and any useful comments on the right side (including etymology). The main contributing language is Massachusett (Eliot, Cotton and Trumbull references). The abbreviation Narr. refers to the Narragansett language as recorded by Roger Williams (1643). The abbreviation “Wm. Wood” refers to the vocabulary compiled by William Wood in 1634. William Wood wrote an expository work of his 17th century experiences in the New World, entitled New Englands Prospect, which summarized his experiences among the Massachusêuck (Massachusett Indians, “People of the Great Hills). Pronunciation of words is not attempted owing to the scanty knowledge of this language. For technical guidelines, see Goddard & Bragdon (1988). Strong Woman and Moondancer (1998) provide a long guide to interpretation of vowel sounds and consonant-vowel clusters along with the special diacritical symbols seen in the vocabulary.

Birds and Fowl

Birds and Fowl

(Narr. = Narragansett)
(∞ = oo as in food)



·        psuk 

·        psukses

·        pussekesèsuck (Narr.)

·        pissuksemesog

·        psuk = a  bird; may be sound of birds taking-off

·        little bird

·        birds

·        very small birds

bird egg shell

·        wohhogke

·        anna

·        “a body”

·        also used for “sea shell”

bird nest


“he comes or proceeds from”

bird wing

·        wunnūppoh

·        wunnūp (Narr.)


bird/fowl in general


“half bird”


·        chógan [1]   (Narr.)

·        massowyan (Pequot)

·        auchugyeze (Pequot)

·        niccone (Wm. Wood)

·        from “spotted”





tideso (Wampano)


brant (brantgoose, a dark colored goose)

·        menuks

·        munnùcks (Narr.)

“bad fowl”?

Canadian goose & geese [2]

·        hònck 

·        hónckock

                                  both Narr.

·        one Canadian goose

·        many Canadian geese

natural sound of goose/geese


minowizisibs (Wampano)



ke’eeps (Wampano)


claws, talons (plural [3] )


“sharp points, hooks”

cock [4]

·        mônish nâmpashim ?

·        chicks (Narr.)

·        from “male”;  see “hen”

·        English loan word


·        kuts

·        kuttis

·        kits (Narr.)

from “washes himself”?


·        tannag

·        taûnek (Narr.)

“croaker”, from “hoarse”


·        kongkont

·        kaukont (Narr.)

caw! caw! sound; a sacred bird who brought Indians their beans and corn from    southwest according to legend


·        kiyunk

·        kukkow [5]

imitates bird’s sound; not certain of what type cuckoo


·        sēsēp

·        qunŭsseps

·        quequécum (Narr.)

·        quauquaumps (Pequot)

·        seaseap (Wm. Wood)

·        from “he dives”? or “stretches”?

·        re “long stretcher or diver”?

·        sound of “quack! quack!

·        imitative sound, black duck


eagle [6]

·        wompsikuk

·        wompsukook

·        wómpissacuk (Narr.)



·            wôu

·            wóóu

From “he comes from”

feather (or quill  ?)

·        méquin

·        meegk

“long hard thing” (Massasoit was named Ousa Mequin = “Yellow Feather”)

fowler (bird hunter)


“A hunter”


·        quanunon

·        owôhsh

·        mashquanon 

·        peeksq  (or) peeskq 

·        manamaquas (Wampano)

·        wushówunan  (Narr.)

·        long tailed hawk (marsh hawk in Wampano)

·        owôh  may be sound of beating wings

·        big, long-tailed hawk (red-tail?)

·        night hawk

·        fishhawk

·        wushówunan   may be whoosing sound


A hawk’s feather was worn by accomplished warriors or important leaders (sachem).

heathcock (pinnated

grouse or prairie hen; may include  partridge or pheasant )

aunckuck (Narr.)

from “he paints himself”



See “cock”


gasko (Wampano)


humming bird




ceskwadadas (Wampano)


kite (raven)

·        qussukquanash


·        weewont

·        something to  do with “stones, fruit pits”?

·        related to “little”


medasibs (Wampano)


meadow lark

pauishoons (Pequot)


owl [7]

·        ∞h∞maus

·        k∞h∞khomwem [8]  

·        kehche k∞h∞khaus

·        weewees 

·        kicheweewees (Narr.)

·        ∞h∞  is imitative sound

·        little owl

·         great owl

·        screech owl

·        great screech owl


·        páupock  (Narr.)

·        pahpahkshaas

from “animal that blows”?

pigeon [9] , dove

wuskówhàn  (Narr.)

“whoosh”; same word for dove?

quails (plural)

·        ch∞ch∞waog?

·        p∞hp∞hquttog?

sound of bird?



“see through”


quequisquitch  (Pequot)

related to his quick movement ?

sachim (king bird)

sachim  (Narr.)

small-swallow-like-bird noted for its sachim-like qualities of  courage against larger birds; may be a hawk


uhpúckachip  (Pequot)

“he eats by smashing things up”?


·        cheecheesquan (Ojibway)

·        puhpushkuhse  (Chippewa)?

·        sasasō (Abenaki)

snipe was a Wampanoag clan animal

sparrow  (used also for the swallow)


related to “fast, eat, little”



related to “everywhere, eat, fast”


wequash  (Narr.)

“light colored creature”


·        néyhom  (Narr.)

·        nahenam (Wm. Wood)

·        sound of bird; also a warrior’s feather.  Turkey feathers also made a fine coat called Neyhommaûashunck.



muckko-wheese (Pequot)

related to birds’ sound

white-goose (snow goose)

·        wompŏhtuk

·        wómpatuck (Narr.)

·        wawpatucke (Wm. Wood)

“white bird”

woodland thrush

? (searching for)



pahpahsa (chippewa)

pecking sound

Note:   Names for birds and fowl are “animate nouns” (they are alive and move).  Their parts or byproducts are inanimate nouns.

·         In Massachusett, animate noun plural form is given by the rule: Noun + og ; e.g., “quails” = ch∞ch∞ + waog = ch∞ch∞waog.   (a “w” glide and reduced vowel “a” are inserted between final vowel stem and initial vowel plural marker.).  The og said like ock (“clock”).

o        In Narragansett, plural written typically  as  Noun + ock  (“geese”  = hònck + ock = hónckock). 

·         To say “small” we add suffix  -es or -s (“small”) or -emes (“smaller”)

o        -ese (“small”) is sometimes seen in Narragansett


[1] Plural = chóganêuckMillions of these pests ate up the corn planted in the fields.  High-perched sentries of young boys were set up to scare them away which became the "scare crow" of America.  Crows also fed on the crops but they were not harmed since they were an integral part of legend as a sacred bird.

[2] Word is imitative sound. Interestingly this word is the sound we hear these majestic birds make by themselves in a flock in flight.  The next line indicates the sound made when more than one goose "honks" at once.  One must experience this phenomenon to know its significance.

[3] Rare for an animal part to be “animate noun” by plural form “-og”.

[4] See Trumbull, p. 235 (“*cock”)

[5] The repetition of the first syllable ku is a common feature in the Algonquian Indian languages, referred to as frequentative or reduplication (coinciding in this case with onomatopoetic).  It is a way of describing or emphasizing something that is going on repeatedly or habitually.  For example, momonchu (“he is always on the move”; “he is always moving”). Popowuttáhig (“drum”) is another example—emphasizing the repetition of the popow sound of a drum.  Look for other examples of  frequentative nouns in Vocabulary (duck, owl, robin, snipe, sparrow, swallow, woodpecker).

[6] Word may also mean include fishhawk or osprey.  The word means "great white tail". The eagles’ feather was  worn by  great warriors (turkey & hawk feathers also worn by warriors) .

[7] The owl is a feared animal because he dwells in the dark and may represent an evil spirit. Indians are fearful of the dark, for night is the time when departed Spirits dwell in the forest along with the animal Spirits.  Some say the departed hunt the animals as in life on earth.  Life seems to go on there—for those who have crossed over to the Afterlife. Many stories are told about what happens to people  after death.

[8] Typically we expect to see ending “-es” or “emes” for diminutive (“small or smaller”).

[9] Wuskowowhananaûkit = “At the abode of pigeons" or "pigeon country". An actual place (in present-day Worcester County, MA, in the northern part of the Nipmuc country ) where this bountiful delicacy was taken in large numbers.

Go on to Chapter 5: Fish and Aquatic Animals
Go back to the Algonquian Language Revival Table of Contents

Contact the author
Learn about the New England Algonquian languages Wampanoag and Narragansett
Visit the index of Native American tribes

Read our article submission guidelines

Would you like to help support our organization's work with endangered American Indian languages?