30 January 2008

Mayan Glyphs Depict the Ceremonial Importance of Birds Many Centuries Ago

Dramatic bird-motif items are depicted by glyphs from many centuries in the past depict how the winged ones of the tropical forest-lands were an integral component of the garb worn by ruling lords and shamen of the Mayan culture, which was at a peak recognized as being extant about 15 centuries ago. This culture of central America obviously attributed a profound importance to birds.

Birds had an obvious role with the deity figures attributed to the leaders of the local tribes.

This status is vividly shown by stone glyphs which adorn temples of the classic Mayan period at locales then known as Naranjo, Uaxactun, Yaxchilan, Yucatec and other places at what is presently known as Yucatan, southern Mexico or Guatemala, and elsewhere places in the vicinity.

Bird ornamentals were an integral aspect of the glorious headdress worn by Mayan lords. One scholarly work noted that the ceremonial attire "worn by the Maya true man and his cohorts was often so elaborate that it was difficult to think of their moving through the jungle while wearing it."

Several depictive bird hieroglyphics represent a period of profound importance for birds. The winged ones had an unsurpassed role in mystical and ceremonial life of these ancient people, based on the exquisite studies by scholars of the ancient times who could decipher symbology to something of meaning for ready understanding by others of lesser understanding.

Their work indicates the vitality of birds in the culture, as shown by studied glyphs. Prominent birds such as quetzals, macaws, guans, pelicans, eagles, owls, vultures and other bird types prominent enough to be depicted by bird glyphs meant to be permanent messages.

Two exquisite glyphs are denoted from Naranjo, in northeast Guatemala.

Feather covered shaman with associated glyphs.

Feather adorned shaman.

At Uaxactun in northern Guatemala, a shamen is depicted with a macaw atop his head:

Several glyphs from Yaxchilan, on the Usamacinta river, along the boundary of southern Mexico and Guatemala, prominently indicate the role of birds for the lords and shamen.

Shaman and aide with multiple feather adornments to the depiction.

Supplicant with pelican appearing bird on its head, appears like a pelican, with something in its mouth.

Shamen holding crosses adorned with bird figures.

Shaman holding snake-handled object with an aide.

Shamen Chiefs dramatically adorned in a phantasmagoria of feathers and other birdly depictions.

Feather-adorned Shamen with multiple glyphs which present a message of importance enough to be hewn in stone.

Several smaller glyphs with a bird motif are also known from this locality.

Birds are also depicted in other representations from the great Mayan culture when it was at a peak of native culture:

Harpy Eagle representation.

Ocellated Turkey representation.

Representations of the screech owl of Yucatan.

Macaws representations.

Quetzal/Vulture representations.

Additional glyphs noted in the history of the Mayans can be appreciated and somewhat understood by spending some time at the library and researching the topic. It is a rich history of ancient times when birds had a role of importance that is unsurpassed, and otherwise.

The vital importance of birds in the life of the people continued. It is readily shown by what may be the first bird guide in the American continent a thousand years later. In a few centuries the bird-feather headdress, and other birdly items, were of vital ceremonial importance to each of many Indian tribes, especially on the plains of northern America.

13 January 2008

Rising Seas a Threat to Nesting Haven for Birds at Ducie Island

A slight change in sea water levels may have a dramatic effect at Ducie Island, a group of four atolls in the South Pacific Ocean. The tiny specks are a haven for oceanic birds to nest.

Ducie is an important location for seabirds with around a dozen species breeding on the atoll, including what is thought to be the world's largest breeding colony of Murphy's Petrel (Pterodroma ultima) with around 250,000 pairs. - Oceandots

Ducey Island - with a land area of 0.7 km2 - is among a group of islands, including Henderson, Pitcairn and Oeno Islands, called the Pitcairns, in the deep Pacific along the Tropic of Capricorn. Peru is the closest land mass.

Ducie Island was first known in the annals when discovered by Quiros in 1606, and named Encarnacion.

The name changed to recognize Lord Ducie back at the home country estate, by a Captain Edwards looking for the Bounty mutineers in 1791.

The place was visited by the United Kingdom government in 1825. Frederick William Beechey was the Commander of the good ship Blossom, on an United Kingdom expedition... [Map from Pacific Islands andbook]

"On the 25th November in 24..20S. Latitude & 118..30W Longitude we had the NE trade wind and on the 28th, saw Ducies' Island, stood off and on during the Night, and the next morning got close to it and sent in the boats. This is a low coral Island not higher than 20 feet, of a rounded triangular form, covert with luxuriant shrubs and some trees. Its' greatest length, that is from the North to the South point, does not exceed a mile, and from the Mast head we observed that the land forms but a small part of what at first appears it's bulk, as it encloses or is more like an embankment round a large lake which communicates with the sea by a narrow entrance near the South Point, off which the Surf breaks over a coral reef for 1/4 of a mile. Reefs also extend for a short distance from the North & NW points with 90 fathoms of water near them.
"The boats after making the circuit of the Island, returned with the report that the Island is entirely surrounded by breakers, inside of which the water is perfectly smooth and that the only part where there is a possibility of getting through them with safety, is at the entrance to the Lake at which place, for an extent of 40 yards, the sea would occasionally cease breaking & probably afford a passage were there time to attempt it. The water was so clear that they distinctly saw the bottom in thirty five fathoms; they had 25-fathom close outside the breakers, & the ship could get no bottom 1/2 mile off shore with 300 fathoms of line. We saw several Bonitos and grey sharks, & great numbers of Gannet, Shearwater, boobies and Boatswains' birds. The Beach is composed of coral & shells, the Island uninhabitated, situate in 24o .. 30' S. Latitude & 124o..55' W. Longitude, & could not be seen off deck farther than 7 Miles."

The zoology publication for the voyage has additional details on birds, in the ornithology section by N.A. Vigors.

Trochilus mellivorus. White-bellied Humming-bird.
A pair of birds, apparently melliphagous, were brought from Pitcairn's Islands. But they unfortunately are so mutilated as to preclude any attempt at description or reference.
Tachypetes aquilus. Frigate bird.
The species was observed at Pitcairn's Island, ...
Tachypetes leucocephalus. White-headed Frigate Pelican.
... observed also off Ducie's Island, "but soaring at a considerable height, and not approaching the ship."
Sterna alba. White Tern.
This species was found abundantly at Pitcairn's island.
Sterna stolida. Noddy.
This species was observed at various places during the voyage - ... at Ducie's Island; at Pitcairn's Island, Dec. 1825 ...
Sterna Panayensis. Panayan Tern.
... species, which was found at Ducie's Island, is the same as generally to to that species.

In 1867, the Australian government has a request for a license, John C. Daggett, to extract resources.

"The Island referred to is in Latitude 24o40' South Longitude 124o48' West called Ducer Island and is required by mee for the purpose of workings and removing guano there from." The name Ducie was written in left margin.

"The three islands were formally annexed by Britain in 1902. In 1937 H.M.S. Leander visited each, and erected on each a signboard, affirming British sovereignty." They were made part of the Pitcairn administrative district in 1938, according to the 1944 Pacific Islands Handbook

A government expedition mapped the Pitcairns, notable indicating on the map that Ducie had a maximum elevation of 12 feet, as shown on the 1940s era map.

After G.R. Williams surveys during eight weeks of studies in October-November 1959, the first bird list for Pitcairn Island and the Elizabeth Islands was published. Another prepared in the early 1990s, reviewed the knowledge of endemic species at Henderson Island where surveys had been done a few years previous.

Blue Noddy (Procelsterna cerulea), juvenile.

White (or Fairy) Tern (Gygis alba), adult.

Red-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon rubricauda), juvenile.

Murphy's Petrel (Pterodroma ultima), adult.

Images courtesy of Angela K. Kepler.

Specific visits to Ducie Island to study the birds were done by Angela K. Kepler at six different times of year over about 5 years in the 1990s. "Ducie is one of the most remarkable islands in the entire world and one of the very very few that is still totally pristine," she said. Her compilation indicates the occurrence of a greater number of species than previously known.

Birds noted for Ducie Island
Oeno Petrel
Kermadec Petrel (Putuputu; general for petrel)
Phoenix Petrel
Herald Petrel
Christmas Shearwater
Fairy Tern (white bird)
Common Noddy (Nordie = noddy)
Gray Ternlet (Patru = petrel)
Red-tailed Tropic Bird (tropic bird, Bos'un bird)
Masked Booby (Gahnet = Gannet)
Red-footed Booby (Taitai or Austin bird)
Greater Frigate Bird (hawk)
?Spotless Crake (Chicken bird)
?Bristle-thighed Curlew (Shipmate)
Sanderling; March 1922, summer migrant
Williams. 1960. The birds of the Pitcairn Islands, central south Pacific Ocean. Ibis 102(1): 58-70.
Breeding birds (most important ones by far indicated with an asterisk):
* Murphy's Petrel
* Kermadec Petrel
* Phoenix Petrel
* Herald Petrel
* Henderson Petrel
* Christmas Shearwater
Red-tailed Tropicbird
Masked Booby
Red-footed Booby
Great Frigatebird
Sooty Tern
Fairly (White) Tren
Blue Noddy
Brown Noddy
Black Noddy
Long-distance migrant from New Zealand: Long-tailed Koel
Migrants from the Arctic:
* Bristle-thighed Curlew
Wandering Tattler
Information courtesy of Angela K. Kepler

A visit in April 1998 shows scenes on the island.

At some historic time, visitors brought rats that had a dramatic impact on the island avifauna. In 1995, the island was deratted according to UK officials.

No details are available on the current state of things on Ducie Island. There have been international indications that ocean levels will change with conditions of the global climate.

Low atolls, such as Ducie Island - and other distinct island habitats - can readily indicate localized impacts to birds due to rising water levels.

Administratively Ducie island is part of the Pitcairn Islands, one of the UK's Overseas Territories. The Pitcairn Island Council has responsibility for day-to-day administration of the island, the Pitcairn Government based in New Zealand looks after the Islands' interests in a wider international context. - Office of the Governor of Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands; Wellington, New Zealand

There is a pending ham-radio operators expedition to the Island in latter February.

Tree Heliotrope (Tournefortia argentea) on Ducie Island, Pitcairn Islands. Image Courtesy of Angela K. Kepler.


Ducie Atoll: Its History, Physiography and Biota

11 January 2008

Russian Voyages Contribute to the First Bird History for Alaska and California

When a sea-voyage discovered the northwest islands of America 275 years ago, the government expedition briefly explored the chain of oceanic islands. It was the first of a few voyages sailed by great Russian commanders that scribed narratives with daily details that establish a the first bird history for Alaska. Consider Bering and his strait. Commodore Joseph Billings led several others that made several visits between 1887 and 1992. There was then shipping around by Captain Kotzebue. Their era extends across nearly a century to expressive details for the first birds known in the American state.

A first visit recognized and named Bering's island in 1728. In 1732 with the men sailing along on the Gabriel, M.S. Gvozdev left sparse records that have left a large quandary on where and what was seen. They were around during August, at least noting the vicinity of Cape Chukchi on the 5th. Cape Dezhnev and the Chukchi residents were visited three days later on the couple of weeks in America.

Vitus Bering and his hale men voyaged in 1741 to the Aleutian Islands and southern Alaska coast. A couple of narratives provide the first details of interest.

An Account of the Efforts of the Russians to Determine the Relation of Asia to America - Lieutenant Waxel's Report on the Voyage of the St. Peter

... "He seemed to receive these gifts with pleasure, and in return he threw to us two thin sticks planed smooth, to one of which were tied birds' feather and to the other a bird's claw with the feathers on, which feathers we identified as that of the hawk. ...

The journal of Chirikov's vessel, the "St. Paul" has a number of citations...

July 12-16th, 1741 : shore duck, or duck, various sorts of gulls; or, a large number of shore ducks, gulls
July 29 to August 2nd, 1741 : shore ducks and gulls,
August 3, 1741 : During the day many flocks of gulls flew over us, also red-billed ducks and another species with white bellies and white under wings. Sandpipers (kuliki) came on board, ... 5th: Numerous flocks of birds were in the air, the color of the water was not altogether like the sea, and therefore we concluded that land must be near, hidden by the fog.
August 15-17, 20-23, 1741 : shore duck that lives on the rocks; three shore gulls, which looked like sea terns, shore ducks, gulls
August 28, 31 1741 : saw about ten white shore gulls; saw also one red-billed duck
September 4, 1741 : sailed past a dead whale on which were many sea birds called fulmars
September 8th: also many shore ducks and gulls flying.
September 9th : they wear on their heads a kind of hat made of thin birch boards, which are decorated with various colors and feathers.
September 14 : Saw a shore cormorant on the wing.

There is a second source of detail for the voyage.

G.W. Steller, Former Adjunct of the Imperial Academy of Sciences

Journal of His Sea Voyage from the Harbor of Petropavlovsk in Kamchatka to the Western Coasts of America and the Happenings on the Return Voyage

"28 August
... and a black gull ...
30 August
All sorts of water birds in abundance were seen, such as swans, two kinds of urili, auks, ducks, snipes, sandpipers, various kinds of gulls, divers, among them a very remarkable and unknown species, Greenland pigeons, sea parrots, and michagatkas. Of land birds, however, I observed only ravens, flycatchers, snowbirds, willow ptarmigans, and no others whatever.
5 September
... On their heads they had hats made of the bark of trees, colored green and red, that resembled in shape the eye shades that are usually worn around the head; the crown was uncovered, these hats appeared to have been invented only for the purpose of shading the eyese from the sun. Between the hat and the forehead some had placed a few variegated falcon feathers, others tufts of grass, in the same manner as the Americans on the east side, about Brazil, decorate themselves with feather tufts. ...
5 September
... I hold that these people do not live constantly on the islands but are there only during the summer and spend the winter on the mainland. These people may in part be attracted hither by the large numbers of birds and birds' eggs, which the Kamchadals, at the greatest peril, likewise gather among the cliffs, although every year some of them break their necks in the attempt; ...
6 September
... When we were out to sea about half a mile, we were especially astonished at the untold numbers of sea birds which we saw on the northern side of the island. I noted here, besides the urili, auks, sea parrots, gulls, glupyshi, and Greenland sea pigeons, an entirely black snipe, with red bill and feet, which constantly moved the head like Ray's redshank; further a very beautiful black-and-white pied diver, never seen before; not to speak of other wonderful and hitherto unknown birds. ...
10 September
... This was further corroborated by our noticing sea parrots and the John of Ghent (John of Gaunt) and other gulls flying constantly from north and west to the south, ...
15 September
... As it was, however, we were too near land, so that towards evening even an owl appeared about the vessel. River gulls also showed themselves, ...
17 September
... During the entire day birds were seen flying from north to the west.
18 September
At sunset I observed large flocks of small snipes and other land birds flying from north to west."

These are species noted among the journals of Bering's men. They occurred during 12 July to 18 September.

• Tundra Swan • Duck • Unidentified waterfowl • Willow Ptarmigan • Northern Fulmar • Cormorant • Pelagic Cormorant • Black Oystercatcher • Sandpiper • Shorebird • Glaucous-winged Gull • Gull • Red-legged Kittiwake • Tern • Alcids • Pigeon Guillemot • Ancient Murrelet • Horned Puffin • Tufted Puffin

• Short-eared Owl • Black-billed Magpie • Common Raven • Hermit Thrush • Snow Bunting • Unidentified birds

Bird effigy and Bird-motif garment

A summary of history for the region by Professor Krashennicoff - published in the mid 1750s at Philadelphia - used information of Steller's report to account for the birds.

"Of known birds, they saw there magpies, ravens, sea-mews (urili), sea-ravens, swans, wild ducks, jackdaws, woodcocks, Greenland pigeons, and mitchagatki, otherwise called northern ducks. But, of unknown birds, they observed more than ten sorts, which it was not difficult to distinguish from European birds, by the livleness of their colours."

The birds represented were known well enough the be a part of the common language of Russia eastward from Kamchatka, and across the sea to the Saint Lawrence Islands. Details are within: "The History of Kamtschatka and the Kurilski Islands, with the Countries Adjacent" by Stepan Petrovich Krasheninnikov. An English translation by James Grieve, M.D., was issued at London in 1764.

"A List of Some Plants, Beasts, Fishes, and Birds; with their Names in the English, Russian, Kamtschatka, Koratski, and Kurilski Lanauages.






Great Sea Cormorant

Boloshoi tchaika














A drake





Stone ducks

Kammenia utki





Gargari, Ashoai






















Tchautchavao-la yelle










Nimette yelle






















There was also a species account text for birds of the Kamtschatka vicinity, and elsewhere there in far east Russia, but that is foreign.

Another Russian-sponsored voyage provide further bird history from repeated visits between 1787 to 1792.

Account of a Voyage of Discovery to the North-east of Siberia, the Frozen Ocean, and the North-east Sea

By Gawrila Sarytschew, Russian Imperial Major-General to the Expedition
... "I find that Mr. Merk had collected a vast number of plants, and that our hunters had shot two woodcocks, besides finding a nest full of eggs, which afforded us a comfortable supper. We did not observe many birds on shore, but the few we saw were chiefly white-headed eagles, and some small birds of the finch species; with whose red feathers the Aleutians adorn themselves.
... [June 7th] ... "It is worthy of remark that the stomachers of these women are as beautifully shaped and decorated, as if they had been the workmanship of a European embroiderer. The stomacher is made of the skin of a bird's neck, stretched and prepared for the purpose, and ornamented with silk, or the hair of goats and horses interwoven with that of the reindeer, which latter appears like rows of small pearls. In a similar manner they decorate the holiday dresses, girdles, and caps of their husbands. ...
"The common dress of the women differs but little from that of the men. It has a standing collar, about two inches broad, enamelled in various patterns. The front of the dress, and the opening of the arms, is trimmed with a row of pearls or coral. Their festival dress is similar in shape, but more enamelled, and bordered with rows of coral, bird's beaks, and goat's hair. ...
[June 10th] ... "While we lay at anchor, we were supplied by our Aleutians with a sufficiency of stock fish and roaches for the whole crew. The hunters whom we had sent to the island Kekalga, brought us also a variety of sea-fowl, and a particular sort of black-headed geese, which Dr. Merk called Canadian." ...

Chap. II. Departure from Unalaschka for Kadiak. - Description of the Aleutian Islands. - The Island of Kadiak, and Its Inhabitants.

"... On the 24th, we were almost entirely becalmed. Fowl of various descriptions hovered over the sea, but particularly a sort of divers, which were to be seen in immense flocks. We shot one of them, but found its flesh more fat than savoury. This bird, which is a native of the Frozen Ocean, is about the size of a common duck, with a white body, an ash-coloured back, head, and neck, a white and round tail, a cylindrical pale-green bill, red legs, and webbed feet. It lives on the fat of dead whales, is very bold, and often lights on the vessels. ...

Chap. X. Description of Unalaschka.

"Among the birds are eagles, with white heads and tails, hawks, woodcocks, and many kinds of small birds, some of which sing very well. Sea-fowls of different kinds are also numerous, as urilas, owls, &c. which frequent the ledges of the rocks, and are caught in their nests by the inhabitants, who convert their skins into garments as before described. The urilas are about the size of a wild goose, have long necks, sharp beaks, and black feathers, with a beautiful green ring round their necks. The breast and necks of the males are frequently variegated by a mixture of white feathers. Their legs are so near the tail, that when they sit on the rocks, they appear to be standing; their bodies and necks being almost perpendicular. The owls are about the size of a duck; their breasts are white; end the rest of their feathers black. The Toporkas are nearly of the same size their feathers being gray, their beaks red, broad, flat, and prominent; their eyes shaded with a row of white feathers, arched like eye brows. The skins of these birds are much valued for their firmness, and are mostly made into garments for the men; Their beaks are used by the women for the decoration of their cloaths. There are no birds so difficult to shoot as these, from the extreme closeness of their plumage, which repels the shot; besides which, they frequently plunge into the water, and when they swim clap their wings as in flying. Two sorts of geese also occasionally visit the island; the first, which come from the southern countries in the middle of April, and reside on the lakes during the summer, are of a moderate size with grey plumage, and the head and neck black; in September and October they disappear again, and are succeeded by others of a similar size, with an ash coloured plumage speckled with white. These latter come hither from the north, live the whole winter on the cliffs, that are often under water, and feed on the sea weeds that abound in time parts.
"In April, at the commencement of spring, they fly to the northern clime were they probably bred. Yet we saw none of them in the county of the Tschuksbens, whence I should draw the conclusion, that they make the shore of North America their summer residence." ...

A second narrative provides other bits of tantalizing bird details in addition to those given by Major-General Gavrill Sarychev, using a referential spelling of the name.

"An Account of a Geographical and Astronomical Expedition to the Northern Parts of Russia, for Ascertaining the Degrees of Latitude and Longitude of the Mouth of the River Kovima; of the Whole Coast of the Tshutski, to East Cape; and of the Islands in the Eastern Ocean, Stretching to the American Coast.

By Command of Her Imperial Majesty Catherine the Second, Empress of all the Russias,
By Commodore Joseph Billings,
In the Years 1785, & c. to 1794.
The whole narrated from the original papers, by Martin Sauer, Secretary to the expedition.
London : Printed by A. Strahan, Printers Street. 1802.

"Their dances are proper tournaments, with a knife or lance in the right hand, and a rattle in the left; the rattle is made of a number of thin hoops, one in the other, covered with white feathers and having the red bills of the seaparrot suspended on very short threads; which, being shaken, strike together, and make a very considerable noise: their music is the tambourine, and their fangs are warlike. They frequently are much hurt, but never lose their temper in consequence of it. In these dances they use masks, or paint their faces very fantastically. The dances of the women are only jumping to and fro upon their toes, with a blown bladder in their hand, which they throw at any one whom they with to relieve, and who always accepts the challenge. ...

... "The birds that I observed hereabout were such as I saw at Oonalashka, and about Shumagin's Islands: wild geese; different kinds of gulls; the crested and tufted auk; blue pettrel, of a rusty dark brown, very like the swallow; the foolish and black guillemot; divers, and a great variety of ducks: the flesh of which are eaten by the natives, the skins used for dresses, and the bills, particularly of the sea-parrot, employed for ornament." ...

... "At the distance of four miles from the south-west extremity of Gore's Island, ... is another rocky island ... There appeared to me to be no earth upon the island, except the dung of animals, and of myriads of sea-birds, whose shrill notes almost prevented our hearing each other speak: these consisted of every species that we had seen on the coast of Kamtshatka, and all the Aleutin islands. I am inclined to think, that the birds, their eggs, and the sea animals cast on shore, constitute the chief food of the foxes in the summer; and that early in the winter the straits freeze over, when they pass to the opposite island, which, from the verdant appearance of the low lands, seems likely to afford them edible roots for their support during a long winter. I did not observe any fragments of shells of any kind on the beack, nor the least trace of any inhabitants." ...

... "These parties were furnished with muskets and ammunition for shooting wild fowl, which were also scarce and shy." ...

"A Bird of the Auk kind caught at Oonalashka - Portion of a Journal of a Russian Officer

"Bill orange colour, very little curved; both mandibles tipped and edged with black; the nostrils long and narrow, running parallel with the mouth; an elevation upon the nostrils of a light green colour, edged with black. The feathers commence at the base of the bill, and are of a dark ash, which is the colour of the head and neck. From the upper part of the eye, along the head, to the back of the neck, is a row of fine white satin feathers; and another row, broader and shorter, leads from the corners of the mouth. The eye of a pale yellow, the pupil being small and a very dark blue. The back, scapulars, coverts of the wing, and tail, are dark, with a paler edging; primaries something lighter; throat a light colour; breast and belly a dirty white; the fore part of the legs of a livid colour; the hind part, web, and claws, black, with three toes. It resides about the rocks and coast of Kamtshatka, and upon all the Aleutian islands, and is about the size of a black-bird."

These are the few words given in the language dictionary appendix.

English - Kamtshatka - Aleutan - Kadiak
Goose - Ksoais - Llak - Nachklaitt
Duck - Alshingush - Tshakutshadok - Sakoligak
Egg - N-gach - Shamlok - Mannik
Nest - I-i-itsh - Tshungangen - Oongolut

The next known voyage of Russian discovery is readily ascribed by its title.

A Voyage of Discovery, into the South Sea and Beering's Straits, for the Purpose of Exploring a North-East Passage, Undertaken in the Years 1815-1818, at the Expense of his Highness the Chancellor of the Empire, Count Romanzoff, in the Ship Rurick, under the Command of the Lieutenant in the Russian Imperial Navy, Otto Von Kotzebue Illustrated with numerous plates and maps. In three volumes.

Among its sea-faring, the ship was at Chamisso Island, near 66o 35' 18", through the Bering Strait and along the Seward peninsula.

"The island, which has only a small landing place, rises almost perpendicularly out of the sea; the rocks round about, and the islands to its west, are inhabited by numerous puffins; and the many egg-shells which we found on our way, were an indication that foxes destroyed the nests; hares and partridges were here in plenty; and cranes, on their passage, rested on the island. On places protected against the north wind, grow willows from two or three feet high, and these are the only trees that we saw in Beering's Straits."

It was August 3rd, 1815. A few day's later, was arrival at the sound, with a bird note for August 12th. Captain Kotzebue was visiting with the Americans about their summer-dresses, made of local animal skins.

"As we were proceeding farther, I observed a snipe, and wishing to know if my companions were acquainted with fire-arms, and what impression a shot would make on them, I was induced to shoot it. The sound occasioned the greatest fright, they looked at each other, not knowing whether to stay or fly; but, when they perceived that nothing had happened to them, they took courage, and cautiously looked round at my fowling-piece; the old man, who had carried one, without suspecting what he had in his hand, quickly returned the gun to the owner. The dead snipe, which he would not venture to touch, had inspired him with the greatest respect for the terrible instrument, and they could not get over their astonishment ..."

After the visit to Kotzebue's Bay, waterfowl got some mention in early September, at St. Paul Island, Oonalashka. The next note was during August, 1816 at the islands Oonemack and Akun, of the St. Lawrence Islands of Alaska.

"On the 23rd, the wind veered to the south, and disappointed my hope of soon reaching the tropics. A number of albatrosses flew round our ships: the idea of many learned men now struck me, that these birds fly from the north of Cape Horn to build their nests. Common sense contradicts this assertion. The Aleutians are accustomed to search for the nests of the albatrosses on the summits of their mountains, and are very fond of the eggs. On the island of Oonemack and other volcanic islands, the birds build so high that it is difficult for the Aleutians to reach their nests. They shoot them with arrows in autumn, when they are fattest: their fat is esteemed a great delicacy. The black albatrosses, which are by many thought to be the young of the white ones, are asserted, by the Aleutians, to be a distinct species."

There was a naturalist's account by Fr. Eschscholtz as a section of the Captains thorough report, which discussed various species of butterflies, among other natural history topics. Birds were discussed for the environs of San Francisco, obviously based on a time when there was a dearth of bird activity.

"There is an uncommon number and variety of birds, the Oriolus phaniceus is found in innumerable flocks. We did not see a single kind of the family of creepers, and a splendid humming-bird seemed to be a stranger which had strayed hither from the south."

Later in the remarks, the small albatrosses were mentioned again:

"Many land birds have spread over to Oonalashka from the nearest coast, of which the white-headed American eagle is predominant. With respect to the albatrosses, Diomedea exulans, we have to correct a very common error, which has gained credit order the authority of Pallas. The albatross does not visit the north as a transitory guest from the southern hemisphere, merely to appease its hunger for a short time, and then to return at the breeding season to its southern home. The albatross builds its nest of feathers on the highest summits of the Aleutians islands, namely, on Umnack and Tschatirech Sobpotschnie ostroff, (the Island of the Four Peaks.) It lays two very large eggs, of a blueish colour, and hatches in the summer season. The black variety mentioned by authors is the young one. The Aleutians ascend these summits towards August, and take the eggs from the nest; they also throw darts, made for the purpose, at the sitting birds, and are particularly eager after their fat, with which they abound at this season."

Captain Kotzebue kept sailing along in his career. The next volumes were about a new voyage around the world in 1823-1826. It reached the Russian Post at Bodega Bay, and went further southward into the great interior bay. A common species of the coastal waters was noted September 28, 1824 while near the Mission at Santa Clara.

"The death-like stillness of these beautiful fields is broken only by the wild animals which inhabit them; and as far as the eye can reach, it perceives no trace of human existence; not even a canoe is to be seen upon the surrounding waters, which are navigable for large vessels, and boast many excellent harbours; - the large white pelican with the bag under his bill, is the only gainer by the abundance of the fish they produce."

Later in the day...

"Our island was surrounded by wild ducks and other sea-fowl; the white-headed eagle hovered over the oaks, and seemed to be pursuing a very small species of hare, and a pretty partridge, of which there are great numbers.
"We enjoyed for a few hours the recreation of the land, so welcome to sailors, and then continued our voyage with a favourable wind."

The wild birds continued to impress the Captain, enough to scribe it in the entry for the next day.

"I now ordered the horses tube and we set off for the mission, the buildings and woods of which bounded the view over these prodigious corn-fields. Our way lay they the stubble, amongst flocks of wild geese, ducks, and snipes, so tame that we might have killed great numbers with our sticks. These are all birds of passage, spending the winter here, and the summer farther north. We fired a few shots among the geese, and brought down adult a dozen: they differ but little in size from our domestic goose, and some of them. are quite white."

Another pertinent mention is from the forested coast of Sitka, in the mid-April of 1825.

"There is no great variety of birds native to this coast; but the beautiful white-headed eagle, and several sorts of pretty humming-birds, migrate from warmer climates to build their nests in Sitka. It is extraordinary that these tender little creatures, always inhabiting hot countries, should venture thus far northwards."

An eagle's wing or tail was used as a fan. The importance of bird objects as an effigy, is given in account of a ceremonial dance.

"Their song, accompanied by the dull music of the tambourine, consisted of a few hollow and unconnected tones, sent forth at intervals to keep time with the stamping of their feet. The men made the most extraordinary motions with their arms and bodies, varying them by high leaps into the air, while showers of feathers fell from their heads. Every dancer retained his own place, but turning continually round and round, gave the spectators an opportunity of admiring him on all sides. One only stood a little apart; he was particularly decorated with ermine-skins and feathers, and beat tithe for the dancing with a stab ornamented with the teeth of the sea otter. He appeared to be the director of all the movements."

"Sitka Island

"Of birds we remarked: the Aquila leucocephala, Astur, Corvus Corone and Stelleri, and some varieties of the species Turdus, Sylvia, Troglodytes, Parus, Alcedo, Picus, Ardea, Haematopus, Scolopax, Charadrius, Anas, and Colymbus. Trochilus rufus is not only often found here, but also under sixty degrees of latitude. A small shoal of Procellaria furcata was once driven into the Bay by stormy weather.

"Bay of San Francisco

"In consequence of the lateness of the season, most of the birds that breed here had already left the neighbourhood; we therefore saw only such birds as pass the winter here, and also a number of aquatic birds that were daily arriving from the north. Of the former we met with five kinds of Icterus; one quite black, except the shoulders, which were red; these were extremely numerous, and sleep, like the Icterus phoenicius, among rushes. The Sturnus ludovicianus and Picas auratus of the United States, are also found in California; the Percnopterus californicus, Corvus mexicanus, and Perdix californica, are already known. A large grey crane, probably from the north, remained here: Upon the whole, the number of birds observed, amounted to forty."

Russian territory north of California continued to be a place visited by bird watchers. The Commandante of the Spanish Mission near San Francisco, had to provide documents to allow passage into the neighboring country, as well as the practical matter of horses to ride. It was a first of September weekend, 1837 when Faxon Dean Atherton visited Fort Ross. Don Pedro Kostromitinoff was the governor, and Don Alexander Rotcheff was the pending commander of the presidio at Bodega Harbour.

Atherton noted no birds during his visit to Russia, though he was familiar with species elsewhere and mentioned them - the large vulture for example - in his journal for south of the San Francisco Bay, in the Upper Division of California, Mexico.











Emperor Goose



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Cackling Goose



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Canada Goose


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Tundra Swan

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Unidentified waterfowl

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Willow Ptarmigan

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California Quail









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Northern Fulmar

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Red-faced Cormorant



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Pelagic Cormorant

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Bald Eagle


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Sandhill Crane









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Black Oystercatcher

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Glaucous-winged Gull

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Red-legged Kittiwake

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Common Murre




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Black Guillemot




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Pigeon Guillemot

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Ancient Murrelet

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Whiskered Auklet




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Crested Auklet




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Horned Puffin

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Tufted Puffin

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Snowy Owl



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Short-eared Owl

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Rufous Hummingbird









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Belted Kingfisher









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Northern Flicker









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Steller's Jay









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Black-billed Magpie

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Common Raven

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Hermit Thrush

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Snow Bunting

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Red-winged Blackbird







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Western Meadowlark









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Unidentified birds

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Bird effigy

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Bird-motif garment

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This list is preliminary and possibly subject to change with further review and editing.

07 January 2008

Ancient Codex a Guide to Birds in Mexico in the mid-1500s

An ancient and fragile codex well studied and rendered by many scholars of a particular sort has not been known to most bird historians. Its exquisite biotic details have not been consider amongst the first history for wild birds in North America.

The particular bird details remained unknown along one sporadic trail of search during a dozen years of readings, map studies, sorta-literal travels, shelf-browsing and other book-work on the history of wild birds in North America prior to A.D. 1750.

There were no especial surprises expected in an ongoing search hither and yon for details of avian history. When there was a hint of something different, its was not realized at the time this winter. It was after a review of the first bird glyphs from the Mayan culture revealed their depiction of birds in many a manner. The feathered shamen, of Yaxchilan, was typically representative.

Other shamen also were depicted by permanent glyphs shown among the community buildings. The men of the tribe wore elaborate garlands of feathers. Plumage simply flowed in these dynamic representations of the leaders. For generations. Macaws were important to warriors in these times, maybe 15 centuries in the past. A pelican is oddly shown atop the head of a supplicant, speaking with an administrator.

Birds were mystique for their culture.

Central American lands were vibrant home for many species. Figures depict the screech owl, turkey and vulture in the graphical imagery of the times in a former millenium. Macaws were shown in several ways. Birds were symbols using with the great, ancient Mayan calendar, by the printers in the contemporary media, representing some species prevalent in the tropical forests and waters.

After due consideration of the Maya motifs, the history continued. It was a steady flight of print across the pages, book and online, ambling along the path among the feathered edges of history. With improved norms for watching, there were new finds of birds among the words. When something interesting was located, a close look nearby on occasion would provide another bird find worth a look.

A mid-morning among the upper stacks dramatically changed the view of bird history for a continent. It was there among a bunch of related volumes, closely bunched on the shelf. Then were red, tall and thin and worth a look.

There were illustrations and descriptive text for a variety of bird species. It was the a codex from Florentine. It has been attributed to the A.D. 1540-1585 era, with the original author Fray Bernardino de Sahagun. He was around Tlatelolco, Texcoco and Tenochtitlan at Lake Texcoco, central Mexico.

Generations from the earlier Mayans had improved the local knowledge of bird life in their country. It was captured by the missionary and recorded in a long and elaborate document that went from Spainsh American to a Florentine library.

More than one hundred bird species are represented among the various chapters of bird groups a few centuries ago. There are more than a hundred images of bird types, scenes, coloration and feathers, their calls occasionally, anatomy, and other details of birdly interest.

Different types of feathers were shown in the illustrations. Species accounts discussed habitats and geographic distribution. There was a sketch of fowl hunters in a boat in pursuit of western grebes.

Book 11 - Earthly Things
Second Chapter, which telleth of all the different kinds of birds.

First Paragraph, which telleth of the many different kinds of birds, of whatever sort.

Quetzaltototl - Resplendent Quetzal
Tzinitzcan - Mountain Trogon
Tlauhquechol - Roseate Spoonbill
Also its name is teoquechol. It is a waterfowl, like the duck: wide-footed, chili-red footed. It is wide-billed; its bill is like a palette knife. It is crested. Its head - as well as on its breast, on its belly - and its tail, and its wings are pale, pink, whitish, light-colored. Its back and its wing-bend are chili-red, a well-textured, dried chili-red; the bill becomes yellow. The bill is yellow, the bill becomes wide; the legs become yellow, the legs become very yellow, chili-red. [Its plumage] becomes pale, pink, chili-red, well textured.
Caquan - Troupial
Aioquan, also Ayoquan - Yellow-winged Cacique
Chalchiuhtototl - Red-legged Honeycreeper
Xiuhtototl - Lovely Cotinga
Xiopalquechol - Turquoise-browed Motmot
Xochitenacal - Emerald Toucanet
Quappachtototl - Squirrel Cuckoo
It is tawny, completely tawny: smoky, even-colored, well textured. It is smoked; it is smoky; it turns smoky.
Elotototl - Blue Grosbeak

Second Paragraph, which telleth of birds like the young yellow-headed parrot and the scarlet macaw, and still others.

Toznene - young Yellow-headed Parrot, adult
Alo - Scarlet Macaw
Cocho - White-fronted Parrot
Quiliton - Parakeet [Aratinga astec = ??]
It resembles the young yellow-headed parrot and the white-fronted parrot. It is small, tiny; the small head is chili-red. Everywhere [the body is] herb-green, dark green. The wing coverts are dark red. Its food is maize. It eats grains of dried maize.
I give it grains of dried maize to eat.
Tlalacuecali - Red-crowned Parrot
Vitzitzili - Hummingbird
Quetzalhuitzilin - Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Xihujtzilli - Costa's Hummingbird
It is entirely, completely light blue like a cotinga, pale like fine turquoise. It is resplendent like turquoise, like fine turquoise.
Chalchihuitzili - Broad-billed Hummingbird
Tlapalhuitzilin - Rufous Hummingbird
Aiopalhujtzili - Bumblebee Hummingbird
Tlevitzilli - Allen's Hummingbird
Quappachvitzilin - Cinnamon Hummingbird
Hecauitzilin - hummingbird
Totozcatleton - Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Popocales - Rail

Third Paragraph, which telleth of the waterfowl.

Canauhtli, also Tzonyayauhqui - Duck
Concanauhtli, also Tlalalacatl - probably Greater White-fronted Goose
Colcanauhtli - Mallard
Tocujlcoiotl - Sandhill Crane
Xomotl - Heron species
Atotolin - American White Pelican
Quachilton, Yacacintli is the same as the American Coot
Vexocanauhtli - Black-crowned Night-heron
Acolin - Wilson's Snipe
Atzitzicujlotl - Red-necked Phalarope
Acuicuialotl - Cliff Swallow
Cuicuitzatl - Barn Swallow
It is small and black, with small, pointed bill, with small, short legs. It is charcoal-colored, very black, like the American cherry. It is a warbler, a crier, a constant warbler, an awakener of the sleeping. It is a builder of mud nests in house roofs, in house fronts. It is a traveler, a disappeared; later it comes, in [the month of] Atemoztli. It awakens sleepers, it brings them from their sleep; it warbles, it cries out; it flutters; it cleans itself, beautifies itself; it hurls itself into the water, it bathes itself.
Aztatl - Snowy Egret
Axoquen - Little Blue Heron
Totoli, Huexolotl (male) - Wild Turkey
Acoiotl - Anhinga
Acitli - Western Grebe
Tenitztli - Black Skimmer
Quapetlaoac - Wood Stork
Quatezcatl - Purple Gallinule
Tolcomoctli - American Bittern
Covixin - Black-bellied Plover
Icxixixouhqui - American Avocet
Quetzaltecolocton - Green-winged Teal
Metzcanauhtli - Blue-winged Teal
Quacoztli - Canvasback
Hecatototl - Hooded Merganser
Amanacoche - Bufflehead
Atapalcatl - Ruddy Duck
Tzitzioa - Northern Pintail
Xalquani - American Wigeon
Yacapitzaoac - Eared Grebe
Tzonyayauhqui - a species of duck
It is named tzonyayauhqui because its head is very black, much like charcoal, reaching to its neck. Its eyes are yellow; its neck, its breast very white; its back dark ashen. Its tail is quite small, also dark ashen; its belly black, [but two] white [feathers] are placed on both sides near its tail. Its feet are black and broad. It does not rear its young here; it just comes [and] goes. Many come. They eat what is in the water, [as well as] the sand from the rocks and water plant seeds. Good-tasting is their flesh; it is fat, like bacon.
Colcanauhtli - Mallard
Chilcanauhtli - Cinnamon Teal
Achalalactli, Achalalactli - Belted Kingfisher
Iacapatlaoac - Northern Shoveler
Oactli - Black-Crowned Night Heron
Pipitztli - Gull, probably Larus franklini
Acachichictli - Western Grebe

Fourth Paragraph, which telleth of all the birds [of prey].

Quauhtli - Golden Eagle
Mixcoaquauhtli - Crab-Hawk
White Eagle - Bald Eagle
Nocturnal Eagle
Tlacoquauhtli - Northern Harrier
Water Eagle - Eagle
Aitzquauhtli - Osprey
Cozcaquauhtli - King Vulture
Oactli - Laughing Falcon
It resembles the king vulture. It sings in this manner: sometimes it laughs like some man; like a man speaking it can pronounce these words: yeccan, yeccan, yaccan. When it laughs, it says ha ha ha ha ha, ha hay, ha hay, hay hay, ay. Especially when it finds its food it really laughs.
Tzopilotl - Black Vulture
Owl - cf. Great Horned Owl
Cacatecolutl, inludes Tlalchiquatli - Burrowing Owl
Cacalotl - Common Raven
Acacalotl - Jabiru
Pipixcan - Franklin's Gull
Tlhotli - Prairie Falcon
Quauhtlotli - also turcuello, its feathers are yellow; also Ecatlotli and Ayauhlotli - Falcon
White Falcon
Obsidian Falcon
Youaltlotli, Youaltlotli - Lesser Nighthawk
Tetzompa - Loggerhead Shrike

Fifth Paragraph, which telleth of still other kinds of birds, of whatever sort.

Xochitototl - Bullock's Oriole
Aiacachtototl - Band-backed Wren
Quauhtotopotli - Golden-Fronted Woodpecker
Poxaquatl - suggests Whip-poor-will
Vitlalotl - suggests Crested Guan
Chiquatli, also Chichtli, includes Tapalcatzotzonqui - Barn Owl
Ilamatototl - Canyon Towhee
Tlatuicicitli - Wren
Chiquatototl - Eastern Meadowlark
Cacatlatli - Sparrows
Tlapaltototl - Vermilion Flycatcher
Its body, its feathers are an over-all chili-red, but its wings, its tail are ashen, well colored, well textured. It is very chili-red, the color of dried chili. It is a night-singer. It becomes chili-red, it becomes ashen. Four times, five times at night does it sing. It is not fat.
Chiltotopil - Red Warbler
It is the same as the vermilion flycatcher. Its flesh is inedible. It has no blood; its blood is only like serous fluid.
Molotl - Finch, Carpodacus species
Quachichil; Quachichil and Nochtototl - House Finch
Cocotli: Scardafella inca - Inca Dove

Sixth Paragraph, which telleth of still other kinds of birds.

Colin - Montezuma Quail
Ouaton - Quail

Seventh Paragraph, which telleth of still other birds, of their habits.

Tzanatl - Slender-billed Grackle
Teotzanatl - Boat-Tailed Grackle
Acatzanatl or Acatzunatl - Blackbird
Coyoltototl- suggests Agelaius gubernator grandis; the yellow-breasted species suggests the Yellow-headed Blackbird - Yellow-headed Blackbird
Uilotl - Mourning Dove
Tlacuailotl - Common Ground-Dove

Eighth Paragraph, which telleth of the birds which are good singers.

Cuitlacochin - Curve-billed Thrasher
It has long legs, stick-like legs, very black; it has a pointed, slender, curved bill. It is ashen, ash-colored, dark ashen. It has a song, a varied song.
It is named cuitlacochtototl, which is taken from its song, because it says cuitlacoch, cuitlacoch, tarati, tarat, tatatati, tatatati, titiriti, tiriti.
It is capable of domestication; it is teachable. It breeds everywhere, in treetops, in openings in walls. Wherever it is inaccessible, there it breeds. Its food is insects, flies, water flies, flesh, ground maize. And in winter it does not sing, it does not cry out, it does not produce songs. When the rains come, when they threaten, when it becomes warm, then it begins to sing. Toward whence the wind comes, there it settles facing it, continuing to call, to sing.
Centzontlatole - Northern Mockingbird
Chuqujmoli - Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Chachalacametl - Plain Chachalaca

Ninth Paragraph, which telleth of the native turkeys.

Totoli; Huexolotl (male) - Wild Turkey

Tenth Paragraph, which telleth of the parts of the different birds.

... The names of [the feathers] of all the different birds are, caquan, quechol, tzinitzcan: and of them it is understood that they are the precious ones. The proverb speaks of "the precious feathers of the lord."
The property, the possession, which belongs to all the different birds and to turkeys is feathers. And those which appear on their heads, even the not precious, are called tzinitzcan. Those which appear on the head of a resplendent trogon are called quetzaltzinitzcan. And those which appear on the neck are called tapalcayotl; its tapalcayotl feathers. So one refers to the eagle's tapalcatl feathers. Those which appear on its belly and on its back are called alapachtli and its tapalcayotl feathers. Those which are right on its skin are called tlachcayotl. So one refers to the tlachcayotl feathers of the eagle, the scarlet macaw, the xamotl. And those which are at the edge of its rump, which cover the base of the tail, are called olincayotl, poyaualli, poyauallotl. Imaxtli, so it is said, are the eagle's moloctli feathers, the resplendent trogon's olincayotl feathers, the tzinpoyauacayotl feathers of a turkey, of a bird, the imaxtli feathers of a heron.
Wings - tzinitzcan - lesser coverts; tzicoliuhqui - middle coverts; chilchotic - greater coverts
Primaries - ahauitztli, also called nacatl
Wing - Ahaztli
Body - Aztlacapalli, the two joints of the wing
Tip of the wing - Ahauitztli

This portion of the codex - edited by Messrs. Dibble and Anderson - is an effective guide to the species of the Mayan lands nearly 500 years before the common era. It may be the first guide to birds in North America? It includes the essential components for an illustrated guide to different species.

Some of the bird species accounted for by the ancient document are still elusive, with their contemporary name not known. Further clues might be available in the original color version of the Florentine Codex. Those few colorful items that were published are quite lush and expressive.

There are many published observations for birds during these historic times. Christopher Columbus and clan introduced North America to Europe around A.D. 1500. They referred to some species at a particular locale. Other visitors scribed narratives of numerous variety through each subsequent decade.

The Spanish had a special interest in Mexico. Many a missionary visited, and they filed a report that has become one of the annals. They made brief mentions of this or that bird, but nothing with an account and illustrations.

Then there was the comprehensize codex by the reverend Bernardino de Sahagun. Nothing comparable was printed for long time that followed. In 1649, there was a bird list prepared for Virginia, though not illustrated. Mark Catesby published an exquisite account of bird life at the Carolinas of the 1720-30s. Historic and modern ornithology sprung from these first efforts.

The Atotolin ... capture and eating.

02 January 2008

Birds Depicted for Centuries in Rock Art by Native Americans

By James Ed. Ducey. Each original image is Copyright 2008 J.E. Ducey and may not be copied or used in any manner. All rights reserved.

A very unique aspect of ancient avifauna is their graphic presentation in rock art. Petroglyphs and pictographs by native peoples of North America are often little more than carved incisions or pecks on a rock surface.

These images are the first artistic depictions of the bird life of the continent that still exist. The artistic depictions - including a great variety of bird-like images, as well as a myriad of other forms or shapes - date back many centuries, and occur throughout North America.

Sites where rock art was drawn were sacred places, with a special significance due to distinctive features of the landscape, unique cave or alcove, bluffs, a notable boulder, a mountain peak or other unique places. Many of these representations were made along prominent rivers.

"Rock art sites chronicle the long histories, the hunting ceremonies, and the religions of ... diverse Native peoples," (Keyser and Klassen 2001: 5). "They reveal their relationships with the spirit world and record their interaction with traditional enemies and the earliest Europeans, Americans and Canadians who explored and later colonized the area. Although some rock art conveys only enigmatic messages from an unknown past, many sites can be dated or attributed to a specific group or culture. Some rock art can even be read almost like a simple sentence."

Numerous meanings have been attributed to rock art, with a detailed list of potential reasons given for glyphs of woodlands in the northeast region of the continent (Lenik 2002: 11):

  • "Petroglyphs are the work of shamans who recorded their trance visions or spiritual experiences.
  • "They are an attempt by the Indians to make contact with and gain access to the spiritual power and energy at a site.
  • "Glyphs are sacred images that provide a way to tap into the Great Spirit.
  • "They were created to establish a site as a sacred place, the deliberate enhancement of a special place.
  • "They are a means of magical control over other people, spirits, or events.
  • "Certain images or symbols are boundary or territorial markers.
  • "Individual glyphs may be clan or personal symbols.
  • "Some may be a record of historical events or objects such as the coming of Europeans, ships, guns, and houses.
  • "Some glyphs may represent a record of astronomical events or observations.
  • "Some may depict animal figures as hunting magic, an attempt to secure success in hunting or increase the supply of game animals.
  • "Some may incorporate effigy heads as symbols of male authority.
  • "Some may be mortuary markers.
  • "They are meaningless graffiti or doodling."

There is an obvious transition in styles through the decades. Very simple images comprised of lines are typical of the first depictions. Next came an increase in the details shown, and towards the mid-1800s, there were stylized images with a greater extent of detail.

Since the winged ones were a powerful symbol of nature, they were regularly depicted, as indicated by their occurrence at numerous rock art sites. The images show an increased extent in detail at the more recent sites.

Examples of bird petroglyphs and pictographs may represent the Chimney Swift, Crane, Duck, Falcon, Kite, owl petroglyph, Passenger Pigeon, raven, quail, Ruffed Grouse, Sandhill Crane, swallow, unidentified waterbird, and Wild Turkey. Stylized imagery could indicate a species or bird type, but the details are known only to its creator.

Petroglyphs are inscribed on a stone surface by pecking, drilling, abrading or scratching. A pictograph is a drawn image, and may involve the use of colored pigments, usually applied using fingers or simple brushes.

Ancient Bird Depictions

The variety of rock art for a hundred distinct occurrences, is presented from oldest to more recent time period, with dates based chronology given in the source material. Images were recreated from document images.

There are likely other bird-related rock art that is not included with this article. Some simple images may have been noted during research, but the certainty that they are a bird-related image cannot be obvious since some renderings can have different interpretations. What may look like a bird track, may actually have a completely different meaning.

For standardization purposes, the year Anna Domino 2000 is used as a figurative point of reference to calculate the years before present (y.b.p.).

Shucks Cave, Black Hills, South Dakota: Bird petroglyph, in a pecked realistic style; dates to a time within the period from 2500 B.C. to A.D. 700.

Canyon de Chelly, Black Mesa region of Painted Desert, Colorado Plateau, Arizona; A.D. 450-1100.

Birds were an important rock art motif in this area, with multiple depictions of the Wild Turkey, and also a duck and the rarely depicted crane. "The conventional gobbler is basically a bi-colored bird, with head and neck of one color and the body another," according to the researcher. "The beak is usually curved downward and sometimes the fleshy protuberance on the forehead is depicted. Turkeys are usually shown with two legs, never with feet, and occasionally with only one leg or four legs! Wings are never depicted, but an effect of flight is achieved by extending the neck of the bird forward and angling the feet back."

The Pueblo Indians depicted many variations of the turkey at different sites, painted in gray and white, or red and white, or red brown and white. They also had different varieties of "bird-headed human figures" as petroglyphs or paintings.

Yihkao River, north of Grenora, North Dakota: Bird pictograph; boulder with winged effigy prominently drawn; ca. 500 B.C. into new millenium. Noted by Chinese explorers.

Jeffers Petroglyphs Site, rock ledge on a tributary of the Cottonwood River, upper Mississippi Valley, southern Illinois: Bird track drawings; 3000 B.C. to 500 B.C., and A.D. 900 to A.D. 1700

Indian Rock, near Brattleboro, southern Vermont: pecked thunderbird glyphs; 1000-2000 years before present.

Thousand Hills, west of Kirksville, Missouri: Bird petroglyph; circa A.D. 600-900.

Tar Springs Rockshelter, in the lower Ohio Valley, Kentucky: Bird petroglyph; circa 1250 y.b.p.

Burnt Ridge Rockshelter, Kentucky river valley, Cumberland Plateau, Kentucky: Raptorial bird petroglyph; ca. 1250 y.b.p.

Washington State Park, Mississippi River valley, Missouri: Bird petroglyph; ca. A.D. 1000

Rocky Hollow, Mississippi River valley, northeast Missouri; ca. A.D. 900-1050. An interesting variety of birds are shown at this site. The petroglyphs have been tentatively identified to six different types.

Colliers, near Colliersville, New York: Owl petroglyph; late Woodland period, or ca. 1000 y.b.p.

Mitchell Rockshelter, lower Missouri River valley, Missouri: Bird petroglyph; ca. A.D. 900-1050.

Lohraff Cave, on Roubidoux Creek, south central Missouri, northern Ozarks: spotted eagle/owl/hawk pictograph; A.D. 900 to A.D. 1400.


Paint Lick Mountain

Paint Lick Mountain, along Clinch river, western Virginia: Bird petroglyph; ca. A.D. 1200.

Great Murals of Baja California, Mexico

Many of these images have a great size, often several feet in height and grouped in vivid murals on the rock surface, and depicted using colored pigments.

Los Pozos, central desert in the vicinity of San Ignacio; Bird pictograph, eight elements of quail feet; dated to A.D. 700 to A.D. 1100.

Cerrito de Cascabeles, south of El Rosario: Bird petroglyphs rendered using a pecked style; post A.D. 1100. The glyphs may represent a duck, an eagle, and an outline of a bird.

Rincon Grande, 60 kilometers from San Isidro and La Purisima, central Baja California peninsula: Bird petroglyph, three winged forms with one similar to a depiction of an eagle, and two other winged images; dated to 800 y.b.p.

The bird rock art at the following sites are attributed to the period from A.D. 500 to A.D. 1500, by one researcher, while another suggests A.D. 1000-1500 for the era when the murals were created. During this latter period, many examples of naturalistic art were done, in the mural style.

El Brinco, north of San Ignacio, Sierra de San Francisco: Bird pictograph, four birds rendered in dark red, pink and white representing a shore or water fowl, one perhaps a cormorant, one perhaps a duck or goose, according to the researcher.

Arroyo de San Gregorio, north of San Ignacio, Sierra de San Francisco: Bird pictograph, phoenix-like image.

Arroyo de Los Cerritos, north of San Ignacio, Sierra de San Francisco: Bird pictograph, image reminiscent of the phoenix.

El Barco, south of Mulege, Sierra de Guadalupe: Bird pictograph.

Rancho Rosarito, south of Mulege, Sierra de Guadalupe: Bird pictograph, subjects at this site predominantly birds. A second study of pictographs in this region attributes the murals to a date 800 y.b.p., based on an analysis of material.

Las Cerezas, northeast of San Ignacio, Sierra de San Juan: Bird pictograph, three red birds.

Tinaja de Refugio, Vizcaino Desert east of San Ignacio: Bird pictograph, several bird forms depicted; similar imagery dated to ca. A.D. 1432. The bird figures have outstretched wings and feathers, and are said to be similar to eagle figures in other California rock art.

Cochiti Sites, on Rio Grande River, in White Rock Canyon, New Mexico; Bird petroglyph; A.D. 1200 to A.D. 1400.

Navajo Reservoir Site LA 4398, along the San Juan River at Burnt Mesa, Colorado Plateau, New Mexico: Bird pictograph; A.D. 700 to A.D. 1500 (Pueblo).

Machias Bay, east-central coast of Maine, near Machias: birdlike anthropomorphs, or thunderbirds; 3000 to 380 y.b.p.

La Moille Cave, along Trout creek near confluence with Mississippi river, Minnesota; Bird petroglyph; ca. A.D. 900-1650

Youess Site, Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, Missouri River, North Dakota: Bird petroglyph, duck, unidentified birds; ca. A.D. 1420.

Millstone Bluff, Shawnee National Forest, Ohio River valley, southern Illinois: Bird petroglyph; ca. A.D. 1300-1550.

Upper Ohio River Valley

The numerous rock art sites along the upper Ohio River valley, depict several types of birds, including the duck, goose, Sandhill Crane, thunderbird, Wild Turkey, wading bird and water bird (Morrow 1974). Tracks, wings and assorted features are also depicted.

The Monongahela Man people, a late prehistoric group, are the designated creators. These sites date to the period A.D. 1200-1750.

Timmons Farm Petroglyphs Site, upper Ohio River valley, Ohio: Bird petroglyph.

Sugar Grove Petroglyphs Site, upper Ohio River valley, Pennsylvania: Bird petroglyph.

Smith's Ferry Petroglyphs Site, just north of Georgetown Pennsylvania: Bird petroglyph.

Rainbow Rocks Petroglyphs Site, upper Ohio River valley, near Van, Pennsylvania: Bird petroglyph.

Petroglyphs opposite Millsboro, upper Ohio River valley, east from Millboro, Pennsylvania: Bird petroglyph.

Parkers Landing Petroglyphs Site, east bank of Allegheny river, one-half mile from Parker, Pennsylvania: Bird petroglyph.

New Geneva Petroglyphs Site, east bank of Monongahela river, north of New Geneva, Pennsylvania: Bird petroglyph.

Harrison County Petroglyphs Site, west of Goodhope, West Virginia: Bird petroglyph.

Hamilton Farm Petroglyphs Site, Clinton township, West Virginia: Bird petroglyph.

Francis Farm Petroglyphs Site; southwest of Perryopolis, Pennsylvania: Bird petroglyph.

Dunn Farm Petroglyphs Site, northeast of Masontown, German township, Pennsylvania: Bird petroglyph.

Brown's Island Petroglyphs Site, Ohio River valley, Butler township, West Virginia; Bird petroglyph depicting two Sandhill Cranes.

Saxon Petroglyphs Site, Ohio River valley, southeast Ohio: Bird petroglyph; protohistoric period, ca. 500 y.b.p.

Newark Track Rock, Licking River valley, central Ohio: Bird petroglyph; protohistoric period, ca. 500 y.b.p.

Leo Petroglyphs Site, Ohio River valley, northwest of Leo, Ohio: Bird petroglyph; protohistoric period, ca. 500 y.b.p.

Barnesville Track Rocks, southwest of Barnesville, Ohio: Bird petroglyph; protohistoric period, ca. 500 y.b.p.

Babbs Island Petroglyphs Site, Ohio River Valley, upriver from East Liverpool, Ohio: Bird petroglyph, including a representation of a duck, a waterbird, and stylistic motifs; protohistoric period, ca. 500 y.b.p.

Amherst Petroglyphs Site, near Lake Erie, northern Ohio: Bird petroglyph; protohistoric period, ca. 500 y.b.p.

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Navajo Reservoir Site: Bird pictograph; A.D. 1550-1775 (Navajo people).

Wrangell, Alexander Archipelago, Coast Mountains, Gulf of Alaska, Alaska: Bird petroglyph; late period of ca. A.D. 1600-1800.

The Dalles, Columbia River valley, Oregon: Bird petroglyph and owl petroglyph; late period of ca. A.D. 1600-1800. Site inundated by dam construction.

Petroglyph Park, near Nanaimo; Alexander Archipelago, Coast Mountains, Gulf of Alaska, Alaska: numerous examples of Bird petroglyph and Owl petroglyph; late period of ca. A.D. 1600-1800.

Noeick River, near Vancouver, British Columbia: Bird petroglyph; late period of ca. A.D. 1600-1800.

Etoline Island, by Wrangell, Alexander Archipelago, Coast Mountains, Gulf of Alaska, Alaska: Bird petroglyph; late period of ca. A.D. 1600-1800.

Clo-oose, Strait of Juan de Fuca near Vancouver Island, British Columbia: Bird petroglyph and Owl petroglyph; late period of ca. A.D. 1600-1800.

Cape Mudge, Quadra Island, Georgia Islands, British Columbia: Bird petroglyph; late period of ca. A.D. 1600-1800.

Rock Art of Southern Minnesota

The variety of petroglyphs from southern Minnesota are recognized as being carved by Dakota Indians. Each of these sites date to the period of A.D. 900-1650.

Brown's Valley, Red River valley, Minnesota: Bird petroglyph; ca. A.D. 1750.

Catlinite Quarry, at Pipestone National Monument, Minnesota: eleven forms of Bird petroglyph.

Cottonwood County, south and west of Minnesota river, southern Minnesota: Bird petroglyph.

Dayton's Bluff Cave, at bluff in St. Paul, Minnesota: Bird petroglyph.

Harvey Rockshelter, on St. Croix river near Stillwater: Bird pictographs.

Reno Cave, mouth of Crooked Creek: Bird pictograph, two abstract bird forms.

Eastern North America

Chronology details provided with these locales is vague or not provided, so the sites have been attributed to the protohistoric period.

Big Indian Rock and Little Indian Rock, near Safe Harbor, on Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania: pictographs of thunderbird, bird tracks and miscellaneous birds.

Wapanucket Site, north shore of Assawompsett Lake, southeast Massachusett: thunderbird figures inscribed on pebbles, pecked design on a bird in flight, said to be a thunderbird.

Stein River Valley

Stein River Valley various locations, northeast of Vancouver, southwest British Columbia, Canada: Bird effigy, bird petroglyph, bird pictograph, and owl pictograph as red ochre writings of the raven, thunderbirds, other bird forms, and the Stein Owl, a figure with two animals, that is now a cultural symbol; unidentified bird - grey breast, blue on back and green on wing and head; bird people, including the bird boy. "Some warriors named their arrows after fierce animals or birds, whose pictures they painted on the shafts ..." according to historic lore. Attributed to the protohistoric period about 250 y.b.p.

"That's Hwo'laák, the raven. And down below, the boy, Hiihií'ha, is being pulled with a stick, by that bear. It's a story. He's up in the sky now. He was a bird in the mountains, like a pigeon. He says, 'Hii'hií'ha! Hii'hií'ha!'"

Columbia River

A number of the sites in the Columbia River valley were inundated by construction of dams, and the resulting reservoirs. In some cases, notable renditions were salvaged, and may still be extant.

These locales have been attributed to the late protohistoric period, about 300 y.b.p.

Bums Cave, Jefferson County, northern Oregon: Bird petroglyphs represented by four bird track designs.

East Hook, near Hook, Oregon: a stylized Bird petroglyph.

McMeen Pasture, Crooked River National Grassland, Oregon: three Bird pictographs in the "classical thunderbird style"; possibly from the late protohistoric, or early historic period.

Petroglyph Canyon

Petroglyph Canyon, area of The Dalles, mid-Columbia River valley, Oregon: several designs of Bird petroglyph, Owl petroglyph.

The Castle, east of Six-Mile Canyon, south bank of Columbia River, northern Oregon: Bird petroglyph, older depictions, with a profile of a bird 12 inches across that may be of historic origin.

Snake River

Buffalo Eddy, along the Snake River in west-central Idaho: Bird petroglyphs; probably dating to the late protohistoric or early historic period.

Nebraska Pictographs

Each of these sites are attributed to native peoples along the Missouri River, correlating to ca. A.D. 1750.

Atwood Farm, north of Rock Bluff, Missouri River valley, eastern Nebraska: Bird pictograph, representing a thunderbird.

Indian Cave, Missouri River valley, southeast Nebraska: Bird pictograph.

Santee Cave, bluff of the lower Platte River, west of Missouri river confluence; pictograph, a "conventional drawing of a bird."

Atwood Farm pictograph.

Indian Cave pictograph.

Santee Cave pictograph.

Rock Art Parks

Parks have been established at many of the prominent places with rock art. Examples include Petroglyph Park in New Mexico, Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona, Washington State Park Rock Art Site in southeastern Missouri, Thousand Hills State Park in Missouri, Petroglyph Provincial Park on southern Vancouver Island, Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta, etc.

Select Bibliography

There are numerous web-sites with details and images of rock art.

Harry W. Crosby. 1984. The Cave Paintings of Baja California. Copley Books, La Jolla California. 189 pages.

Carol Diaz-Granados and James R. Duncan, editors. 2004. The Rock-art of Eastern North America. Capturing Images and Insight. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa. 426 pages.

Edward J. Lenik. 2002. Picture Rocks. American Indian Rock Art in the Northeast Woodlands. University Press of New England, Hanover. 280 pages.

Beth Hill and Ray Hill. 1974. Indian Petroglyphs of the Pacific Northwest. Hancock House Publishers Ltd. Saanichton, B.C., Canada. 320 pages.

James D. Keyser and Michael A. Klassen. 2001. Plains Indian Rock Art. University of Washington Press, Seattle. 332 pages.

James L. Swauger, with artwork by Clifford J. Morrow, Jr. 1974. Rock Art of the Upper Ohio Valley. Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, Graz/Austria. 136 pages and 108 plates.


Examples of bird petroglyphs from the Pacific northwest (Hill and Hill 1974, page 271).

Many of the images that have been preserved through the efforts of historians decades ago are no longer present due to vandalism, destruction for modern developments, or other human activities.