Can I actually produce 50 blog entries about the ABA’s 2013 Bird of the Year? I’m going to try — from here until the end of the year, Tuesday will be Common Nighthawk Day here at birdaz.
It’ll be a challenge, of course, to rise to the standard set by the video introducing this year’s regnant. It’s a viral masterpiece — but one niggling little criticism has, inevitably, already reared its head on line. As Thomas Young wrote on the ABA facebook page, “The tiny mouth in this subspecies will undoubtedly be selected against.”
Indeed. If there’s one thing the nighthawks and their goatsucking cousins are known for, it’s their extravagant oral cavities. (Fuertes’s nighthawk is terrifying blown up to so much more than “nat. size”!). One species, the dramatically marked Nacunda Nighthawk, is even named for that character: “nacunda” is widely reported to be a Guaraní word meaning “bigmouth.” (Just incidentally, South American languages would appear to have lots of words for those who blab; “nanday,” as in Nanday Parakeet, means “noisy talker.”)
Living in this scientific age of ours, we “know” “why” nighthawks have such big pie holes. The Pima, though, also knew how:
All the people — Indians and animals and birds — gathered around and drank nah-vite — the wine…. Choo-hook Neu-putt — the night-hawk — who was dressed up in gray and yellow, did not wish to spoil his breast feathers so he brought a stick of cane to drink through. All the Indian girls thought this very wonderful of Choo-hook Neu-putt and he received a great deal of attention. And Saw-aw — the grasshopper — was very jealous to see the attention given Night-hawk. Grasshopper felt he must do something to make the people notice him. So he pulled off one of his hind legs and stuck it on his head. When Night-hawk saw Grasshopper with his new headdress he laughed and laughed and laughed until he could not stop laughing. He laughed so hard he split his mouth. And it is that way even to this very day. That is why the night-hawk never flies in the daytime. His mouth is so big and white and ugly that he has to fly at night so people will not see him. And that is why he darts past you so quickly in the evening.
- Harold Bell Wright, Long Ago Told (1929)
So be careful next time you make a bird laugh.