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Third Day of Christmas

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

…three moorhens!

…two mourning doves!

…and a replacement for a Bradford pear tree!

Technically our hamster is behind the times, since the American form of the moorhen is now known as the common gallinule. But he’s trying very hard.

Moorhens (or in our case, gallinules) are a type of rail. Around here, the American coot is the more common rail, but we do get the occasional moorhen too. (Given that this is black and white, the bird there looks more like a coot anyway, since they have white bills, and moorhens had red bills, but we’ll go with it.)

Alert readers may note that I once nearly killed a man over the difference.

I do not have enough wetland here to attract either coots or gallinules (and would be very surprised if they were to show up in the frog pond) but if you go about two miles towards town, there’s a very nice little lakelet that gets the occasional rail visitor. And a coot showed up at my friends’ place down the road. The theory is that it was exhausted and saw their ducks and thought “Flock! It’s a flock!” and landed with them. The coot was fine after a few days of recuperation, but my friend Marq said that it took the poor bird the length of a field to get airborne. Rails are shy, graceful beasts among the reeds. In flight, they’re…somewhat less graceful.

Our American form of this species is not endangered, not threatened, and not apparently in decline. There is a Hawaiian subspecies that’s probably in trouble, by virtue of being a native bird in Hawaii. It’s called the ‘alae ‘ula, and supposedly in legend is the bird that brought fire from the gods to the people. Which is really quite lovely, particularly compared to comparable Greek myths involving people’s livers.

Originally published at Squash's Garden. You can comment here or there.


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Given that many hawaiian bird species persist only at altitudes above 4000 feet, due to introduced avian malaria, I'm a bit surprised the 'alae 'ula (which live in low altitude wetlands) is still around.

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It was a rich tapestry of murderous rage.

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These "12 birds of Christmas" are just lovely - thank you! :)

I love coots. There were tons of them hanging around my field sites, they'd bebop around in flocks of 20-30, walking on the dikes, panicking whenever the truck got close (at least for the 10 feet until they were in the water, then they forgot about the big scary truck.) They were hilarious little punks.

There is a coot native to New Zealand that seems to be fairly prolific around the upper North Island. However being native to New Zealand doesn't explain to me why it is called an Australian Coot - if anyone has any ideas I'd be happy to hear them.

Many folk think of NZ as being an island off the coast of Australia, and so it is on a global scale, but it still takes over 3 hours for a 737/747/767 to fly between the nearest cities in the two countries (SYD or MEL to/from AKL or WLG).

This is the NZ Pukeko, a member of the family, and noteable for their lovely blue and green colouring

To be fair, there are also birds in the Greek myth - it's an eagle eating that liver.

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Thank you! I missed that part.

That'll larn me not to scrutinize every bit of the drawing. It's the only way to get the full benefit of an Ursula Vernon image.

The fire chickens are very pretty. you know...I would probably have a HUGE enviable birders list if i jotted everything down. *grins* Or took pix so I could figure out the ones I don't know.

Brings new meaning to being "ridden out of town on a rail"...

Hawaiian moorhen ('alae'ula) 2
Here's a Hawaiian Moorhen at Waimea Bay nature preserve. It just sort of walked up and said "Hi! Take my picture?" So I did.

Edited at 2012-12-17 05:43 am (UTC)

I thought you nearly killed him over the nearly extinct Ivory billed woodpeckers

"supposedly in legend is the bird that brought fire from the gods to the people"

I'm picturing this bird flying up going, AAAAAAAAAAAA!

More like plummeting down from the heavens, trailing smoke and flame. The Gods always were bastards. And that way they don't have to risk one of their intelligent birds becoming the first ever roast.

But... there's only one free moorhen!

I've seen these before! I didn't know they were "moorhens". We don't know if they are in trouble or not, because they like to hide out which makes counting them accurately difficult. I've mostly seen them in Nu'uanu Valley, though the State of Hawai'i site says they're common in Waimanalo.

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