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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I came to your site to research the Tzinizcan, which you call the Mexican Trogon, but if you compare the trogon to Sahagun's picture (given) it is clearly not the same bird, however similar the colors. FYI

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