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Birds of the USSR

May 7, 2010

A few days ago, I found myself in front of the window at Balfour Books on College Street. They happened to have a fabulous display of bird books. I found myself quietly drooling over a book called Birds of the USSR and would have bought it right then and there had the store been open. It’s not so much the fact that I’m dying to know all the species of Russian birds, but that I love the idea of owning a bird book about a country that no longer exists. I imagine that the birds are pretty close to what I’d find in Canada anyhow. So, as usual, just a bit of bird-induced nostalgia for a geography I never really knew in the first place.

If I end up in Little Italy again one day soon, I’ll buy the book. I seriously doubt there’s anybody else out there who’s dying to own a book about birds in the USSR. I hope I’m not wrong.

Every time I go out birding, my mother in law calls to ask me what I’ve seen. (Like Jonathan Franzen writes in “My Bird Problem”, I too find that one of the most enjoyable moment of birding occurs when I come home, and I’m immediately asked “So, what did you see?”) I find bird names rather odd, to say the least. What does this mourning dove have to do with actual mourning?

The day I saw a winter wren up close, I looked up the bird in an English-Russian dictionary. Turns out it’s called a “little king” — королёк. It gives me a whole new perspective on the wren — what a kingly indeed, especially when you hear its song!

In other, more global, bird news, it appears that Canada doesn’t have a national bird (yet) and the country is currently in the process voting on a new national bird! What will it be? You too can cast your vote! Check out my friend’s fabulous bird blog where she makes a great case for Lincoln’s Sparrow to win the national bird competition. Here’s another picture of bird in question, thanks to a photo from here.

Don’t forget to cast your vote! This is a milestone in Canadian Nationalism! I’ll leave you now — the ricotta cheesecake in my oven is, once again, demanding my full and undivided attention.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 8, 2010 4:38 pm

    The idea of the wren as king has a long and complex history at least in Indo-Germanic. It’s often a roitelet in French, a regulus in Latin, Zaunko”nig in German… and on and on. (Many of those names are also used for or eventually transferred to the “crests,” which in North America are called—kinglets.) The names are related to a widespread narrative recounting the contest between the eagle and a small bird regulus for dominion over the remaining birds. Cool stuff.
    Flint, or Dementiev and Gladkov in its crumbly six-volume glory? Neither is of much use as a field guide.

    • May 9, 2010 9:52 pm

      Good heavens, no! Not the 6 volume option — I was actually just taken with the title…

  2. Fireweed permalink
    May 9, 2010 2:26 pm

    I went to vote, but the only bird that I can see voting for as a national bird is the common loon, and Ontario already has that as their official bird, so I can’t vote for it! I hear loons early every morning and late every evening. I am wondering if they overnight on our pond, then take off to nearby larger lakes with more fish during the day. In any case, it is the call of the common loon that evokes everything the Canadian wilderness is about for me – but I guess it already has it’s own coin, so is a true celebrity, even if it can never be the national bird.

  3. May 9, 2010 9:16 pm

    I thought it was the morning dove because it sang in the morning. Next thing, I’ll discover it’s called a knightengale.

  4. Asya Graf permalink
    May 11, 2010 4:53 pm

    I love the sentence, “So, as usual, just a bit of bird-induced nostalgia for a geography I never really knew in the first place.” Something about the idea of these (part-time) landless creatures making you recall a land that was never really yours. A neat twist on nostalgia:)

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