06 March 2012

Mysterious Two-headed Eagle from 1723 Mexico

A newspaper report from 1724 conveys an intriguing account of a mysterious "spread-eagle" from Mexico. The bird was shot, captured and then mounted which is nothing unusual. The significance of its abnormal anatomy meant it was sent to the King of Spain. Other indicated details convey a unique situation, which was eventually indicated by a newspaper article.

The reality is either a figment of a rich imagination or a condition of genetic mutation never since denoted in annals of the myriad of sources about birds which comprise any consideration of historic ornithology.

This is the actual account as published. The letter S replaces the archaic use of the letter F as was the norm in print topography during this era, with a couple of other trivial and obscure edits:

"Extract of a Letter from Cadiz, dated Sept. 8, 1723.

"The Vice King of Mexico, who came on board the Azougue Ships, brings to the King of Spain a dead Spread-Eagle, which was shot thro' the Right Wing and Side by a Spaniard, as it was talloning a Faun near a Place called Gaxaca, who sent it to this Vice King, Eighty Leagues to Mexico. It remained Four Days alive. The Vice King ordered above 500 Indians well-skilled in Game, to ply all the Country for the flown Spread-Eagle, and promised a Thousand Pieces of Eight to the Person who brings it alive. This is a young Bird, not bigger than a middling Turkey, of the common Colour of an Eagle, but a larger Breast and Shoulders than ordinary, out of which spring Two Necks Seven or Eight Inches long asunder. On each Neck there is a perfect Head of an Eagle, nearly proportioned to each other, save that the Right Head has the Beak something stronger and sharper towards the Extremity. It was seen he watcher with one Head, while he fed and preyed with the other, and used both either Way. It has its Feathers still, except what fell off from the Right Head and Neck, through the Mismanagement of the Person who endeavoured to cure it. The Right Head faces, thro' his Blunder, to the Left Side, otherwise it would form as it lies the Imperial Arms. As no History makes mention of such a Bird, the Admiration is very great, it having always been supposed that the Eagle was first painted with Two Heads on the Devision of the Roman Empire, with out any Intention to allude to the reality of such a Creature. It made so much Noise In America, that the Notaries Publick lived on the Attestations taken of it for some Weeks."

If the bird taken was actually capturing a fawn, it must have been a large species of raptor, especially as it reached the size of a mid-sized turkey.

It is possible that Gaxaca could refer to Oaxaca.

Whatever the truth, the account is certainly a profound bit of lore conveyed by a relative few words on a the page of a newspaper published nearly 29 decades ago in Pennsylvania. This is one of the earliest articles about birds available from the newspaper chronicles of America.

There are numerous depictions of the two-headed eagle from past times.