Greg Pringle, known around these parts as Bathrobe, has put together a wonderful Spicks and Specks post, The Bell Miner: How orthography and ornithology catalysed a new folk etymology, that begins:
The Bell Miner (Manorina melanophrys) is an Australian bird belonging to the honeyeaters (Meliphagidae). It lives in temperate rainforests of southeastern Australia, preferred habitats being woodlands with dense shrubby understorey, gullies near rivers and creeks, swamp gum woodlands, and even well-treed suburban areas and gardens. […]
While there is much that is culturally and ecologically interesting about the Bell Miner, what is of particular interest to Spicks and Specks is its name. According to several sites on the Internet, Bell Miners were given their common name because of their habit of “mining” the sugar-domes of the bell lerps.
This etymology is cited at the Beauty of Birds, the Mount Eliza Association for Environmental Care, Flickr, and most notably at GrrlScientist’s mystery bird at the Guardian in August 2012. GrrlScientist appears to get a significant portion of her scientific knowledge from Wikipedia, because the original source for all four was the Wikipedia article on Bell Miner.
Given their great fondness for the psyllid’s sugary secretions, the picture of a Bell Miner assiduously tending its bell lerps and “mining” their sugar domes without harming the insects is an engaging one, lending the etymology an undeniable ring of authenticity. Unfortunately it has no basis in fact. “Bell” does not refer to the bell lerps, nor does “miner” refer to the mining of their sugar domes.
It’s the kind of dogged, detailed etymological investigation I love, and it comes to a surprising conclusion that I won’t spoil here for those who want to follow Greg’s story as he wrote it; I’m sure it will be discussed in the comments, so if you want to avoid spoilers, read the link before clicking through to the comments. You’ll learn all about the bizarre folkways of ornithologists!