A Bird by Any Other Name

Whap! Whap! Whap!

The first night I awoke to the slap of someone running in sandals, or so the unexpected rain sounded in the jungle darkness.Was it a horse? A tapir? Jaguar with heels? Someone who was here at Mamanoots last year said they discovered the footprint of one of the big cats in the sand right outside the room where I now slept. I fell back asleep. Later I woke again, astonished at the crashing of water around my ears. It was like sleeping in a car wash.

It was past dawn and pouring out. Dripping, drowning, pouring, streaming, running, sopping, slapping wet. The road washed out so the day’s outing had to be scrapped. Even our most dedicated birders watched from behind a screen in the dining cabana as the waves deluged the surrounding landscape, leaving everything in a misty haze. Every path was sodden and water squished from beneath our boots at every step. Our guide, Robert, predicted the rain would last all day.

Good thing it was the dry season.

As the hours passed, Gordon, Fred, Charlie, Phil and Stiles sneaked out during occasional lulls to report back a White-necked Jacobin or Clay-colored Robin. A Long-tailed Hermit hummingbird fluttered among an array of persimmon flowers on the other side of the screen while I watched, and it was then I learned the bird’s name had been changed to Long-billed Hermit. I have not kept up with these avian name changes, so for me, it will probably remain Long-tailed Hermit because, well… the bird has a long tail. Many hummingbirds have long bills. There is no such thing (that I know of) as a short-billed hummingbird. Besides, calling a bird by appearance helps me remember it. Birding has always been sketchy in this area, or so it seems to me, but then, I am not “hard core.”

It’s all relative. My nonbirder friends call me and exclaim, “There’s a Red-headed Woodpecker at my suet feeder!”

I answer patiently, “Does the red color cover its head like a hood, or is it a swipe down the back of its skull?”

“Uh…well…it’s not around its head. It’s red down the nape of its neck.”

“Then it’s a Red-bellied Woodpecker,” I say.

“But it doesn’t have a red belly!” they whimper.

Now it would make sense to a non-birder that you would not call a Red-bellied Woodpecker a Red-bellied Woodpecker unless it had a red belly. Saying there is a rosy wash where they are expecting the same raging scarlet that is on the bird’s head just does not cut it. But there you have it. Potential birders fall silent at this point, contemplating how you would name a bird by attributes it does not seem to have. It would even baffle Einstein, whose theory of relativity suddenly makes sense.

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This entry was posted in Einstein, hummingbird, jaguar, Mamanoots, rain, red, season, woodpecker. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A Bird by Any Other Name

  1. Bevson says:

    I love the way you have written the sounds of the rain. Reminds me of CR. Was it cold too?

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