Over at the ABA blog today, pondering the European discovery of our 2014 Bird of the Year.
The Latin word cornix — the crow — has been beloved of punsters for millennia now. Medieval schoolboys learned that
cornix est alba si cor tollatur ab illa.
Giordano Bruno recorded another one in his Spaccio de la bestia trionfante, mocking the “childish sophistry” that could delight in a line like
cor est fons vitae, nix est alba, ergo: Cornix est fons vitae alba.
Silliness aside, it turns out that by 1687, we actually knew how to produce white crows — or at least one bird seller did.
In the markets of Frankfurt in that year, eight white crows were offered at a very high price; their owner shared his recipe with the Eisenach physician and scholar Christian Franz Paullini:
Rub newly laid crow’s eggs, the fresher the better, with the grease of a white cat; coat them with the brains of the same cat, then give them to a young white hen that has laid only her first egg to incubate. During the entire period of incubation, keep the hen in a place out of the sun, and lay white cloth everywhere in that place. The crows that hatch from the eggs will be white.
Paullini was skeptical, and he didn’t even bother trying it.
Simple words, aren’t they, even bland? But they’re magic in the ears of birders, who know what fall at Cape May really means.
Every weekend at North America’s birding mecca is a good one, but the weekend coming up is a special one even by the exalted standard of Cape May. This is the time when the Cape May Bird Observatory welcomes us all to a festival packed full of field trips, lectures, and other events.
I’ll be speaking at noon on Saturday, then signing books at 3:30 that same afternoon. And during the time around and between those happy obligations?
Birding. Lots of it.
See you there!
October 25: Book signing at Cape May Autumn Weekend.
November 20-29: Private Birds and Art tour: Venice to Florence.
January 31: Birding New Jersey with the Brooklyn Bird Club.
February 11: Lecture for the Montclair Bird Club.
February 18: Lecture and book signing for the Queens County Bird Club.
February 20: Lecture and book signing for the Wyncote Audubon Society.
March 21-26: Birding Nebraska with WINGS.
April 18-25: Birding Catalonia with WINGS.
A hundred years ago today, Joseph E. Gould of Norfolk, Virginia, was in New York City. At noon, he attended a service at Trinity Church, then birded the churchyard, “overshadowed by ‘sky-scrapers’ and flanked by surface and elevated street cars.”
Among the house sparrows he found two slate-colored juncos, a white-throated sparrow, a hermit thrush, and a brown creeper,
diligently scrambling up an old scarred and weather-beaten tombstone, peering into every crack and crevice for some tender morsel.
Sounds like autumn in the city.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons