— Vermivora bachmanii
At times the insect-like song of the elusive songbird seemed to emanate from all round, as if the trees themselves were singing, but investigation invariably showed the bird sitting motionless upon the same limb. Often it was heard from the tip of a sweet gum or cypress in the pale and gloomy woods and bottomland swamps of the southeastern states and after leaving a tree it would fly a great distance before alighting again. It was impossible to follow through the dark forest and could only be detected by its song. Males mostly yellow, with olive green on the upper parts, females olive above and yellowish below, both with black eyes and dark bills. Females could rarely be disturbed while incubating the eggs and both took part in feeding the young, males feeding the male chicks and females feeding the female chicks. Only the male sang – the female had no song.
Notes on the Guadalupe Storm Petrel
|Five photos:||lateral view (left), lateral view (right), ventral view (two positions), dorsal view. Wings straight down at its sides, as if plummeting into oblivion, inch-long beak hooked slightly downwards, a glass bead for an eye, black feathers except for a few white ones on its rump. (Forked tail not visible.) Altogether no bigger than a robin.|
|A tag tied to its foot:||Catalogue #6885. Oceanodroma macrodactyla. Collected by Beck/Anthony 3-24-1897.|
|Oceanodroma:||runner on the ocean|
|macrodactyla:||large fingers, referring to its webbed feet.|
|petrel:||diminutive of Peter, the saint who walked on water; the bird’s ability to hover over water, sometimes letting its legs dangle in, gave the appearance of walking|
|storm-petrel||lives at sea, beyond the horizon; approaches land when storms threaten, often sheltering in the lee of ships, hence known as harbingers of doom.|
|inhabited the Pacific winds off Baja; only sought the island of Guadalupe for nesting|
|Habits:||avoided avian predators by only landing at night, its black feathers invisible in the dark; known to nest in burrows, otherwise behaviors unknown.|
|Calls:||recent reports of calling at night raises hope it survives, but no other evidence exists|
|Threats:||degradation of habitat on Guadalupe by introduced goats (numbering up to one hundred thousand), now removed, and predation by feral cats, also removed.|
|Classification:||critically endangered, possibly extinct, not seen since 1912.|
|From The Song of the Storm-Petrel (Maxim Gorky):
||Above the gray plain of the sea, the wind gathers storm-clouds. Between the clouds and the sea soars the storm-petrel, like a streak of black lightning.|
The Heath Hen
— Tympanuchus cupido cupido
A hollow hooting sound like the subdued and distant echo of a tugboat tooting in the fog. A wailing of the wind spirit. A blowing in the neck of a bottle that carries further than a gunshot.
How else to describe the mating calls of the male heath hens when they gathered on the ancestral mating grounds each spring?
A vital, virile expression of the fecundity of old Mother Earth that could be heard a mile away. A booming.
Relatives of the prairie chicken, they were plump, short-tailed birds with vertical brown and white stripes and dangling neck feathers that could be raised into a V-shape when they were ready to show off. They puffed up the air sacs on their necks till they were as large as oranges, bowed their heads, raised their neck feathers like rabbit ears and charged one another in comical stutter steps, booming all the way.
As much a dance as a joust, the goal was to impress and intimidate, not to vanquish, so contact was rare. They veered off or jumped and spun half-circles in the air, challenging all creation, before landing and carrying on in the opposite direction. They paced about, as if summoning the courage to fight, and leapt over one another. Among the incessant booming, they cackled and laughed and the field became an absurd visual and oratory fiesta for the dawn hours, with a repeat at dusk.
Into the fray of strutting and bowing, some females went about their business, calm and unconcerned, pecking here and there for a grain of corn. Sometimes a male took a brief run towards a female, body inclined forward, tail feathers erect, circling this way and that, stamping, stamping and when it happened again and again, the field resonated with the drumming of feet.
The Song of the O’o
Once there was a love song that floated through the trees on the island of Kauai. Anyone who heard the melody was smitten by its beauty. They said it was the sweetest song on the island. Like the sound of a flute echoing a few notes early in the morning, it was by turns melancholy and haunting. Who was the lover who sang such a song? When would the beloved respond? These were mysteries for the heart of hearts.
One day some researchers walked into the forest with a recording of the song. They played it for the ōhi’a lehua trees with their succulent flowers and leathery leaves, for that’s where they thought the lover lived. Much as they hoped for an answer, none came. Today, the song of the o’o is heard no more.
— Eriocnemis godini
A heart the size of a pencil eraser, beating ten
times a second, hammering faster than we could hear.
— Luisa A. Ingloria, Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser
Thumping in a wild flutter, in the ravines of Rio Guiallabamba, south of Perucha, Pichincha in the north of Ecuador and south of Colombia, as it seeks the red tubular flowers where it can extend its long straw-like tongue and lap up the hidden nectar. The males showing gold-green on top with hints of blue on their rumps, a turquoise love patch on their throats, the females less bright, more golden on their bellies, lacking the patch, both featuring snow-white downy leg puffs like frayed cotton balls or woolly panties. Found at altitudes of a few thousand meters darting among the flowers, aggressively defending the high-energy nectar, only hours from starvation. Their hearts slowing to tortoise speeds – torpor – to survive the night. Never abundant, an unconfirmed report from 1976, much of its habitat erased. Its heart driving the diversification of ecosystems, the evolution of flowers, once humming so strong.
Daniel Hudon, originally from Canada, is an adjunct lecturer in astronomy and math. He is the author of The Bluffer’s Guide to the Cosmos (Oval Books, UK), a chapbook of prose and poetry, Evidence for Rainfall (Pen and Anvil) and a forthcoming book about the present biodiversity crisis, Brief Eulogies for Lost Species (Pen and Anvil). Some recent writing links can be found at people.bu.edu/hudon. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
Image Credit: Mark Cromwell/Color Club