Archive for the ‘Mythology’ Category

Tarzan of the Apes – and Kookaburras

February 26, 2010

Tarzan lived in Africa and, if you watch any of the old Tarzan movies, you know what the birds of the African jungle sound like: Kookaburras calling. But even before the technological times that made it possible to create entire new worlds like the one in Avatar, movie makers mixed things up however they wanted.

Kookaburras don’t live in African jungles or anywhere else in Africa. They live in Australia and New Zealand. But their calls made for just the right “jungle” sounds for Tarzan.

Here are two samples for you and if you can listen to them without beginning to chuckle, “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.” (Wait. Gunga Din wasn’t in Africa either.)  Anyway, we bet you’ll laugh.

Here is an MP3 file that lasts about a minute and is worth listening to all the way through. (Be patient. It’s very soft at the beginning.)

And here is a short video of another Kookaburra.

“Surely,” you are thinking to yourself, “they won’t do a post about Tarzan’s jungle without giving us a sample of Tarzan himself?”

Of course not.

You will find a childrens’ song about the Kookaburra here.
A sample of the lyrics? Sure.

Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree
Counting all the monkeys he can see
Stop Kookaburra, stop Kookaburra
That’s no monkey, that’s ME!!!

For more on birds down under, go here.

Songbird Creation

November 6, 2009

Modern science tells us that birds evolved from dinosaurs.  Other stories are told too, such as this one from the Navajo creation story which tells about the creation of the smaller birds.
flying-lg dinosaur museum
It is said that Monster Slayer went to his mother Changing Woman to ask where he would find the Bird Monsters. (Tsé Ninájálééh) At first, his mother refused to tell him, fearing that her son would be killed by the awful bird-like monster that lived in those days on Tsé Bit’a’í, the Rock with Wings, now called Shiprock in northwest New Mexico on the Bilagáana maps.  But Monster Slayer was insistent and eventually she told him and he set off, intending to kill those monsters.

The bird monsters had two chicks and, like all bird chicks everywhere, they were ravenous and kept their parents busy all day, every day just feeding them.  But their parents brought only people for them to eat.  The two adult bird monsters flew over the land, grabbed living people, flew back to Rock with Wings and then dropped the victims from a great height onto the huge rock where their chicks could feast on the bodies.

Which is why Monster Slayer set out to find and kill them.

Finding them turned out to be easy. The male monster bird saw Monster Slayer coming from miles and away and, after making three passes at him, grabbed him in his huge talons, flew high above Rock with Wings and dropped him on the rocks far below.
But Monster Slayer came prepared.  He had an eagle feather his father had given him and he used it to float gently down to the rocks.  Once there he cut open a bladder of blood from a different monster he had slain so blood flowed over the rocks as if Monster Slayer had really died.

Satisfied that his chicks could now eat their latest meal, the male bird monster flew off in search of more food for them. But the chicks were in for a surprise.

As they approached Monster Slayer, he leapt up and demanded that the baby bird monsters tell him exactly when both of their parents would return and where they would land on the Rock with Wings.  Terrified, the chicks told him.  Their father would return with the next male rain and their mother with the next female rain.  They also pointed out exactly which rocks their parents would land on.

Soon a male rain came with its lightning, thunder, wind, and hard rain.  The male monster bird returned as foretold by his chicks and Monster Slayer killed him by hurling a lightning bolt right through him.

Later, a female rain, with its soft, gentle, quiet rain arrived; the mother monster bird arrived, and Monster Slayer killed her too.

The baby chicks started an awful howling, fearing that they were next.  But Monster Slayer saw that they were still little and could be turned into useful birds and so he made one into an eagle and the other into an owl.

But now it was late afternoon, the sun was declining in the west, and Monster Slayer was stuck high up on the Rock with Wings with no way to get down.

c-pallid-batusgsJust then he spotted Bat Woman walking on the ground by the great rock and he called to her, asking for her to help him down.  But Bat Woman did not want to help because she thought of herself as being very ugly and she did not like for others to look at her.

Eventually though she agreed to help Monster Slayer down based on his promise to her that she could have all the feathers from the male Monster Bird with which she could adorn herself and become beautiful.  So Bat Woman helped him down, though not without trouble because Monster Slayer kept ignoring her commands to keep his eyes shut.

After he was down, he gave her all the feathers which she put in her basket.  But she did not want Monster Slayer or anyone else watching her put the feathers on and become beautiful so she started walking off toward a field of sunflowers.

Monster Slayer warned her not to go that way but she ignored him, just he had ignored her when she told him to keep his eyes shut.  As she walked, something fluttered in her basket but she kept going, right into the field of sunflowers.  Suddenly birds of all kinds started flying out of the basket containing the feathers of the monster bird.  When she realized that all those birds were coming out of her basket, she tried to stop them but couldn’t.

Finally she gave up trying to keep them in the basket, set the basket down and just watched as all those birds flew away.  “They flew away as wrens.  They flew away as warblers.  They flew away as sparrows. They flew away as titmice.”  All of them flew away until her basket was empty.

And there she sat, in the middle of the sunflowers, “. . .as ugly as she ever was and as ugly as she would always be.”  Which is why, it is said, that bats are still ugly and fly only at night so no one can see them.

And that is where songbirds came from.

We leave it to you to speculate on this question: How did this creation myth, which was told long before modern science discovered that birds evolved from dinosaurs, know about the Monster Birds from which, according to modern science, all songbirds derived?

The entire story of the Navajo creation story about small birds can be found in Zolbrod, Dine Behane: The Navajo Creation Story, UNM Press 1984, pp 230-241.

The photo of Shiprock is from the NPS, the bat from the USGS, and the feathered bird monsters from the Dinosaur Museum.

Bad Birds

June 30, 2009

This blog is for the birds.  Really.  If something relates to birds, we think you might be interested in it.  We certainly don’t waste your time talking about such silly things as the sexual peccadillos of politicians.

David and Bathsheba

David and Bathsheba by Jan Matsys

Nonetheless, Governor Mark Sanford’s recent extramarital activities reminded  of us of a myth involving a bird.  Sanford, in one of his “apologies” last week compared himself to King David of the Old Testament who, Sanford said, fell as mightily as has Sanford.  Presumably Sanford was referring to David’s adulterous liaison with Bathsheba.

You will recall the story.  David sees Bathsheba without clothes on and is so smitten that he ends up arranging to have her husband killed off so he can marry her.  He does and is soon visited by a prophet who foresees many calamities as a result of his philandering.

Now on to the bird myth associated with the story.  In the story as told by the Midrash, Bathsheba is hidden behind some kind of screen, and is not visible to David.  But Satan wants to create trouble, so he comes to earth disguised as a bird which David tries to kill, perhaps with a sling shot.  The bird/Satan easily dodges the missile which then hits and knocks over the screen behind which the naked Bathsheba is standing.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Satan Cast Out of Heaven by Dore

Satan Cast Out of Heaven by Dore

This is not the first time we’ve come across Satan disguised as an innocent little bird.  Why was he trying to give birds a bad name?  They don’t deserve it, not even the pigeons.  David may also have learned that gratuitously trying to kill birds isn’t such a good idea either.

Messenger Birds

June 24, 2009

magpie (1 of 1)

For a bird of the air shall carry the voice,
and that which hath wings shall tell the truth.

Ecclesiastes 10:20


June 1, 2009
Correggio's Zeus with Io

Correggio's Zeus with Io

In Greek mythology, Hera was Zeus’s wife.  In some versions of the myths she was also his older sister, but let that go.  You will remember that Zeus was not exactly faithful to Hera.  In fact, he seduced or raped anyone, mortal or immortal, who caught his eye.

Displeased with his philandering, Hera often caught him at it.  Zeus was always attempting to fool her by turning his paramours into various animals.

So it was with Io.  Just before Hera caught him in the act, he turned himself into a cloud and the beautiful Io into a cow.  Hera was no dummy; she saw through his cloud disguise, suspected the cow was really a beautiful maiden, and demanded that Zeus give her the cow as a present.  With no handy way of refusing, Zeus did so.

Hera promptly turned the cow over to Argus, her trusted watchman, to keep an eye on the heifer.  Argus, depending on which version of the myth you choose, had either four eyes or 100 eyes.  We’re going with the 100-eyed version.  Argus always had several eyes wide awake with which to keep watch.  He rotated which eyes slept.

Zeus wanted Io back; so he sent Hermes, one of his sons, to get her.  Hermes accomplished the task by playing his pipes and telling such boring stories that Argus fell completely asleep, all 100 eyes of him.  Hermes beheaded him and ran off with the cow. Zeus turned the cow back into a beautiful maiden.  Who knows what he did after that, but you can guess.

“What’s all this got to do with birds?” you ask.

When Hera discovered her trusted watchman dead, she took all 100 of his eyes and put them on the tail of a peacock.

Peacocks are, of course, male peafowls.  The national bird of India, they live in semi-arid forests and grasslands, eating seeds, fruits, insects and small animals and reptiles.  The Phoenicians took them on their trading routes which is how they ended up in Egypt and the Middle East.  King Solomon brought them to Jerusalem.  (Kings 10:22, 2 Chron. 9:21)

In Egypt they told a different story about Argus who kidnapped Queen Isis, hid her in his castle, and announced that he was the new king of Egypt.  Osiris, the rightful king and husband of Isis, put a curse on Argus, turning him into a peacock and making all Argus’s spies eyes on Argus’s tail; thereby creating the children’s game, “I spy a . . . .”
In Islam, peacocks were thought to stand guard at the gates of Paradise.  A Kurdish sect believed they were messengers from God.  Ancient Christians thought the bird symbolized the mother church.  St. Augustine conflated peacocks with the mythical phoenix, holding that peacock flesh did not decay and was incorruptible.  It became a symbol of resurrection.  “By the peacock” was an oath of truth-telling for Christians, who often placed the bird in scenes depicting the manger of Jesus’ birth.

In Europe, the peacock’s scream was an evil omen, but Marie Antoinette didn’t care; she wore peacock feathers in her hair.  Until she lost it.



In their native land of India, peacocks played many mythical roles. Indra sits on a peacock throne.  A peacock was the bird of Krishna who wore peacock feathers in his hair.  More successfully than Marie Antoinette.  (Peacocks molt annually so acquiring their feathers is not difficult nor fatal to the bird.) Skanda, the son of Shiva and brother of Ganesha, and his friend the god Murugan  rode peacocks as did Sarasvati, goddess of music, poetry and wisdom. Smoked peacock feathers were used to cure snake bites.  (We don’t recommend that actually. Better to go to the hospital.)

In China, peacocks were fertility symbols and young women could become pregnant by merely looking at one.  Later they — the peacocks — became the symbol of the Ming Dynasty.

pavoAnd we’re still not finished.  If you live in the Southern Hemisphere you can see the constellation Pavo in your night sky.  Pavo means “peacock.”  It is one of the twelve southern constellations named by Dutch navigators in the 16th century.  The brightest star in the constellation is Alpha Pavonis which is another way of saying it is the alpha peacock.  The asterism within the constellation shaped like a saucer will lead you to the south if you can’t find the Southern Cross.  (One of us once went on a “barefoot cruise.”  It was my first time far enough south to see the Southern Cross.  So I asked the captain to point it out.  He did so.  A few minutes later one of the crewmen came up to me and told me the captain had it wrong and pointed to the true Southern Cross.  The crewman was right; the captain wrong. It’s a good thing that captain used GPS navigation, otherwise I might still be wandering around the southern oceans and unable to tell you all about peacock mythology.)

That would be a bad thing, wouldn’t it?

Don’t answer that.

The top photo of a peacock was taken by BS Thurner Hof.

The Wisdom of Owls

March 30, 2009
Juvenile Spotted Owl by David Utterback

Juvenile Spotted Owl by David Utterback

The most often read post on this blog is now “Halloween and Barn Owls.” Sometime ago it passed even “Crows and Ravens Part IV” which is the post where we tell you precisely and clearly how to tell the difference between a Crow and a Raven and even help you identify which kind of crow and raven.  Now we are hard at work on a post telling you how to identify various owls.

In the meantime we thought we would remind you of one of James Thurber’s fables.  Specifically the one about the owl who was God.

Once, according to Thurber, on a dark night, an owl, perched in an oak tree, heard two moles scurrying about on the ground.  The owl said, “Who?” startling the tiny mammals one of whom sqeaked, “Who?”  To which the owl replied, “You two!”  The moles ran off and reported to all the animals in the forest that the owl could see in the dark, answer all questions, and therefore must be the wisest of all animals.

The Secretary bird wasn’t having any and charged off to test the owl.  Arriving at the oak tree the bird demanded that the owl, in pitch darkness, answer the question, “How many fingers am I holding up?”  (Secretary birds, of course, don’t have fingers but Thurber is telling us a fable here, not reporting scientific fact.)  The owl answered — correctly — “Two.”  The secretary bird then asked the owl for another word which means “that is to say” or “namely.”  From the tree came the answer, “to wit.”  So the secretary bird asked its last question, “Why does a lover call on his love?”  “To woo,” answered the owl.

sagittarius serpentarius

sagittarius serpentarius

Secretary birds live in sub-Saharan Africa, spending most of their time on the ground.  They are not small birds; some grow to a height of 4 feet.  Thurber was a writer, not an ornithologist.  We may suspect he chose a Secretary bird for his fable because of its name and for no other reason.

So this secretary bird returned to all the animals, reporting that the owl could see in the dark and knew everything.  There was a doubter in the group as there always is in any group.  The fox wanted to know if the owl could see in daytime too but all the other animals laughed at the fox.  They sent a messenger off to tell the owl they wanted him for their leader.

secretary-birdThe owl appeared among them at noon the next day with huge globular eyes and all the animals thought he was God and started following him everywhere he went.  When he bumped into trees, so did they; when he started walking down the center of a highway, they followed.  Pretty soon a hawk saw a truck bearing down on them and reported to the Secretary bird who said to the owl, “There’s danger ahead!”  The owl calmly asked, “To wit?”  But about that time the truck ran them over.  Except for the fox who had refused to go along. Since this is a kind of a fairy tale, he probably lived happily ever after.

As you can tell, Thurber was using the fable story-telling form – invented, so far as we know, by Aesop – so, in addition to the conflict introduced by the fox, the story has to have a moral.  Here is how Thurber described the moral of this story: You can fool too many of the people too much of the time.

But for us, as birders, the moral might be stated differently: There is a reason you don’t often see owls during the day.


Keven Law took the photo of the yawning secretary bird; Chris Eason took the photo of the entire bird.  You can read more about David Utterback here.

We read Thurber’s owl fable in our copy of Thurber: Writings and Drawings, published by the Library of America. Thurber’s fables were originally published as Fables for Our Time and Further Fables for Our Time. For more about Thurber himself, try this.

The Birds of Moby Dick

March 3, 2009

Moby dick by Rockwell Kent

Moby Dick by Rockwell Kent

Call me Ishmael.  No, wait.  Don’t.  That’s been taken.  By Herman Melville, writing Moby Dick, and by Abraham long before him.  Melville knew a thing or two about birds, sea birds especially.  He wrote Moby Dick from a depth of personal sailing knowledge which included sailing on a whaling ship in 1841-1842.

Birds play several roles in Moby Dick.  Ishmael, the narrator is compared to a Catskill Eagle, a bird according to Melville, able to fly  into the darkest canyons  or the brightest sun, invisible in both places and fitting for the tale’s narrator. No bird by that precise name exists in either BNA’s Birds of North America or Avibase’s The World bird Data Base.  We are left to assume that Melville was referring to some brand of eagle that frequented the Catskill Mountains in the early 19th Century, probably a Golden Eagle.

Melville uses many birds to foreshadow foreboding events yet to come.  For instance, vultures swirl about the whale-boat “Rosebud.” In chapter 51, “sea-ravens” appear and are oblivious to the humans on the Pequod, almost as if the birds know they are irrelevant. “Close to our bows, strange forms in the water darted hither and thither before us; while thick in our rear flew the inscrutable sea-ravens. And every morning, perched on our stays, rows of these birds were seen; and spite of our hootings, for a long time obstinately clung to the hemp, as though they deemed our ship some drifting, uninhabited craft; a thing appointed to desolation, and therefore fit roosting-place for their homeless selves.”

That implacability of Nature may be the main point of Moby Dick.  As T.H. Huxley wrote, “It is even more certain that nature is the expression of a definite order with which nothing interferes, and that the chief business of mankind is to learn that order and govern themselves accordingly.”  The Pequod and its sailors are going to learn that lesson.  In spades.

Yet often the birds represent the ethereal, heavenly qualities of Nature.  White sea birds appear in conjunction with the novel’s supreme mythical image of Nature, the White Whale. Making expectant happy cries whenever Moby Dick is near, “longingly” lingering over the “agitated” pool the whale leaves behind when he dives beneath the sea; the birds are what one observer has called a part of the “serene tranquility of nature that the Pequod disrupts.”

wandering-flying1Best of all is the Albatross.  Here, in Chapter 42, is Melville on that marvelous white emblem of the sea.  “Bethink thee of the albatross, whence come those clouds of spiritual wonderment and pale dread, in which that white phantom sails in all imaginations?”

He continues,

I remember the first albatross I ever saw. It was during a prolonged gale, in waters hard upon the Antarctic seas. From my forenoon watch below, I ascended to the overclouded deck; and there, dashed upon the main hatches, I saw a regal, feathery thing of unspotted whiteness, and with a hooked, Roman bill sublime. At intervals, it arched forth its vast archangel wings, as if to embrace some holy ark. Wondrous flutterings and throbbings shook it. Though bodily unharmed, it uttered cries, as some king’s ghost in supernatural distress. Through its inexpressible, strange eyes, methought I peeped to secrets which took hold of God. As Abraham before the angels, I bowed myself; the white thing was so white, its wings so wide, and in those for ever exiled waters, I had lost the miserable warping memories of traditions and of towns. . . in the wondrous bodily whiteness of the bird chiefly lurks the secret of the spell.”

The albatross Melville saw was caught and a leather strap tied around its neck with the date and the ship’s position written on it and then released.  “But I doubt not, that leathern tally, meant for man, was taken off in Heaven, when the white fowl flew to join the wing-folding, the invoking, and adoring cherubim!”

Red-billed Gull

Red-billed Gull

Into the third grouping of Melville’s symbolic birds go the “red-billed sea hawks.”  No bird by that name exists, so we are left to assume that it was a sailor’s name for some sea bird seen in the far waters of the great oceans where whalers sailed.  Perhaps it refers to some species of sea eagle.  Or perhaps a species of Skua. The only sea bird with a red-bill in its official name is the Red-billed Gull but it seems strange to refer to a gull as a “sea hawk.”

No matter.  Just before the final climatic three day chase between Moby Dick and the Pequod, Captain Ahab is aloft on the mast, searching for the whale when, “. . . one of those red-billed savage sea-hawks which so often fly incommodiously close round the manned mast-heads of whalemen in these latitudes; one of these birds came wheeling and screaming round his head in a maze of untrackably swift circlings. Then it darted a thousand feet straight up into the air; then spiralized downwards, and went eddying again round his head.” Ahab ignores the bird which then swoops down before Ahab’s eyes and, yanks his hat from his head. “. . . the long hooked bill at his head: with a scream, the black hawk darted away with his prize.”

So now the bird is black with a red beak.  That lets out the Red-billed Gull; it’s white.

Inexorably the book marches on to the end.  The three day chase, the harpooning of the great whale, the entangled Ahab whisked into the sea to his death, and the whale’s destruction of the ship, killing all the humans aboard her except for Ishmael who survives to tell the tale. The “savage sea hawks” sailing overhead with “sheathed beaks” trouble Ishmael no more.


But as the Pequod sinks, the last images of the book are of birds. With only the top mast still showing, Tashtego trys to hammer the ship’s flag into the top of the mast when,

A sky-hawk that tauntingly had followed the main-truck downwards from its natural home among the stars, pecking at the flag, and incommoding Tashtego there; this bird now chanced to intercept its broad fluttering wing between the hammer and the wood; and simultaneously feeling that etherial thrill, the submerged savage beneath, in his death-gasp, kept his hammer frozen there; and so the bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his imperial beak thrust upwards, and his whole captive form folded in the flag of Ahab, went down with his ship, which, like Satan, would not sink to hell till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it.

Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.

Wild Swans

February 20, 2009


Writing adequately about swans and their place in mythology and literature would take a very long time indeed.  We started the process early in the history of this blog when we began our series about bird sex.  (Part I, Part II, Part III)


Today, while waiting for the end of winter, that season during which the constellation Cygnus the Swan is not flying up the Milky Way high overhead, we turn to Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem of a woman inspired by wild swans to open her heart to all the myriad joys of life.

Wild Swans

I looked in my heart while the wild swans went over.
And what did I see I had not seen before?
Only a question less or a question more:
Nothing to match the flight of wild birds flying.
Tiresome heart, forever living and dying,
House without air, I leave you and lock your door.
Wild swans, come over the town, come over
The town again, trailing your legs and crying!

Edna St. Vincent Millay


Photo Credit: Ginger Holser, WDFW photos.

St. Dominic and the Sparrow

January 22, 2009
Male House Sparrow

Male House Sparrow

House sparrows, like pigeons have a bad reputation. They are often reviled because there are so many of them around human habitations.  Like pigeons, they are synanthropic, meaning that they do well when living in close proximity with humans.  If you build a city, they will come.  Native to Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia, they are an invasive species in the Americas.  100 were released in Brooklyn in the 19th Century and they spread almost immediately to most temperate habitats in North America.

We’ve written before about what Chairman Mao thought of them.

They will drive you nuts if you live in bluebird habitat.They drive bluebirds out of their nests with regularity and, so far, no one has devised a bluebird house that is also sparrow proof, although we will test a new design this Spring as soon as the bluebirds return. The sparrows never leave.

St. Dominic

St. Dominic

Their reputation today is not as bad as it was in the days of St. Dominic.  Saint Dominic, you will remember, was the founder of the Dominican Order in 1217.  He preached and lived in voluntary poverty, his followers exhorted to live and behave with charity and humility.  Rumors about his involvement as an inquisitor in the first medieval Inquisition have never been established.  And even if he was one, he died in 1221, thirty years before Pope Innocent IV got around to authorizing torture in 1252.  (In his defense, Pope Innocent did not allow torture methods which resulted in bloodshed, mutilation or death.)

St. Dominic didn’t trust sparrows.

Readers with a faint heart will want to skip the next paragraph. St. Dominic may not have tortured humans but sparrows were a different story.

According to the blessed Cecilia, who knew him personally and preserved her memories of him when she was in her nineties, St. Dominic once was preaching to the sisters — from behind a grille —  in a convent, warning them against the Devil, who could take the shapes of animals at will, just to deceive pious Christians.  A sparrow suddenly flew into the chapel and hopped on the head of a sister.  She grabbed it at Dominic’s command and handed it to him.  Holding it in one hand Dominic commenced to pluck the feathers from the living bird, yelling that it was the Devil which had come to interrupt his sermon.  People in those days saw the Devil often and in myriad costumes. The bird screamed in pain as it was plucked alive. When Dominic finished plucking it, he pitched the poor bird, still alive, out the window telling it to fly if it could.  “Fly now if you can, enemy of mankind! you can cry out and trouble us, but you can’t hurt us!”

So, take pity on the lowly sparrow. They really can’t hurt us.

House Sparrow feeding a fledgling

House Sparrow feeding a fledgling


This is not the only story told about Satan as a bird.  Here is another.

“Y” Chromosome Day

June 15, 2008

Today is the greeting card industry’s celebration of the “Y” chromosome in human beings. Also known as “Father’s Day,” it is a day, in my family anyway, where I am invited to take my kids out to lunch or dinner. Which got me to thinking about ratites. We’ve written about them before, in our series about bird sex as well as the Cassowary poem.

There are four new Rhea chicks at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Here is a photo of the Dad and some of the chicks, taken by Mehgan Murphy of the National Zoo.
Rhea chicks

Rhea fathers raise Rhea chicks. The Rhea species depends on the father Rheas to do this, otherwise it would not survive: Rhea mothers are given to eating their offspring and it is the fathers who protect them. The dads also build nests, incubate the eggs, and take care of the babies for their first six months on the planet. Perhaps the polygamous males are feeling guilty about all the females they court each mating season. But they don’t need to feel guilty; as soon as the female lays her eggs, she is off after other males.

Native to South America, they are named after the Mother of the Gods, Rhea. Rhea, in Greek mythology, was the daughter of the sky (Uranus) and the earth (Gaia). She married Cronus and was the mother of Demeter, Hades, Metis, Hera, Hestia, Poseidon, and Zeus, in that order. Cronus, you will remember, had a guilty conscience. He had castrated his father Uranus and imprisoned him. (Yes, he was both husband and brother of Rhea but that is OK for gods. They don’t have to worry about chromosomes and inbreeding.) Anyway, Uranus and Gaia tell Cronus that one of his sons is going to do to him what he did to Uranus. But Cronus is resourceful, as Rhea gives birth to each of their children, he swallows them alive. (Perhaps that is where the male Rhea got his guilty conscience and leads him to protect his chicks.) Eventually, Rhea gets tired of going to all the trouble of bearing young, just to have her husband/brother eat them so she arranges to hide young Zeus and gives Cronus a rock wrapped in swaddling clothes to swallow rather than a young god. Zeus eventually grows up and the rest, as they say, is history. Cronus is given an emetic and regurgitates all the other children. There is a war, Cronus loses and accounts of his end vary. Most are not happy, although in one Zeus makes him the king of Elysium.

Why Paul Heinrich Gerhard Möhring, the German physician, botanist and zoologist who named Rheas, chose the name is unknown. Möhring wrote a book called Avium Genera, published in 1752. It was one of the earliest attempts to group and classify birds. Traces of his organizing efforts are still visible in modern groupings of birds. Which is remarkable, considering that he knew nothing at all about “Y” chromosomes.

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