Thursday, January 9, 2014

Birdlore: Osprey The Fish-Hawk

The name Osprey takes its roots from the Medieval Latin phrase, “avis prede,” which translates as, “bird of prey.”

This Latin phrase is separate from the Latin taxonomic classification name, Pandion haliaetues.   Other names for the Osprey are Balbuzard pécheur (French) and Gavilán pescador (Spanish).

Here at the World Bird Sanctuary I am called Bennet , but I go by other names as well. 
Many Native American cultures referred to the Osprey as the “Fish-Hawk”, as the Osprey will dive into shallow waters for its strict diet of fish.  They are also very successful hunters as they can catch fish with a success rate as high as 70%, and usually they can achieve a successful catch after 10-15 minutes of hunting.

The Osprey is revered with the same level of respect regarded to Bald and Golden Eagles by Native Americans, especially among the coastal tribes, where the Fish-Hawk is most commonly seen.  In these cultures, Ospreys are seen as guardians, or a warning against approaching danger.  Sometimes birds or other animals are assigned human characteristics in a story for people to better relate to, and the story is used as a teaching lesson.

 Following is a legend of the Micmac tribe, in which the Osprey is both a prideful and arrogant character.

Fish-Hawk and the ScapegraceA Micmac Legend

“Two men met and greeted: one was Fish-Hawk, the other was Scapegrace (a scoundrel). Fish-Hawk was a prideful bird; he could fly higher than any sea bird and was very particular about his food.  Only to the Great Eagle does Fish-Hawk yield, but to anyone of lesser status he gives no ground. 

“So, when the Scapegrace, who will eat anything upon the ground and is slow and heavy in flight, approaches Fish-Hawk that they should become equals, Fish-Hawk rages with fury, but keeps this to himself.  Instead, he cleverly devises a plan to humiliate the other. When Scapegrace suggested a race with Fish-Hawk, the proud hawk said, “Let us go together to an Indian village near here.”

“Fish-Hawk arrived long before the other and called the villagers together saying, “Beware of the one who follows after me.  He is ugly and heavy and will offer his own coarse food.  Beware!  It is poisoned!  He aims to kill you.  Do not eat it or you will die.”

“Then he left, quite pleased with himself. 

“Scapegrace appeared a short while later and was treated with great caution.  He gave out his food, but the people only pretended to eat it.  They subtly let the food slip past their lips and threw it away.  Scapegrace told the chief that he was in search of a wife, and asked if there were any daughters available to be wed.  The chief then said there were several daughters within the Raccoon tribe.

“So Scapegrace went in search of those daughters, but Fish-Hawk’s misleading words preceded him again.  He was met with fright and disgust and welcomed like filth on fine cloth.  The mother of the daughters refused his request and turned him away. 

“Fish-Hawk returned again and asked if all had transpired as he said it would.  They said it had been so.  Feeling clever again, Fish-Hawk decided to use the opportunity to pass himself off as a great prophet or wise magician.  To the villagers he said, “All is well.  You would all have died today if not for my foresight.  That scoundrel would have poisoned you.  But do not worry, I will watch over you in the future.”

“To a man of the village, Fish-Hawk said that should he ever see a great bird flying overhead it would be a sign of great danger approaching.  The proud bird then left.

“The man, being wise and shrewd, thought for a long time and thought that Fish-Hawk foretold the coming of Scapegrace, so and now he tried to pass himself off as a great sorcerer.  “They shall see!” he said.

“A few days later, the man saw a bird flying high above the village.  He called out to Fish-Hawk and said, “You spoke of danger to our people.  What comes this way?”

“In a few days time, your village will be attacked by a Kookwes (man-eating ogre or giant).  You must retreated from the village or be devoured.”

“When will he come?”  The man asked.  “Where shall we go?”

“In a week’s time,” Fish-Hawk answered.  “You must take your canoes and flee far before then.  You must get beyond the Kookwes’s reach, but you will not get far enough in time to escape his terrible roar.   All who hear it will die.”

“How may we escape this fate?”  The man asked.

“You must close the ears of all the villagers, so no one can hear anything.  Then when the danger is past, you may return.”

“The man, Oscoon, led the people away.  He had them close their ears, but he did not close his own.  He heard a whoop far-away, but it did not sound so terrible.  He kept his silence.  Scouts returned with news of the departing Kookwes.  All was safe.

“The people held Oscoon in high regard and appointed him their chief.  Days later, Fish-Hawk returned and asked, “Did the Kookwes come?  Did you escape?  What direction did he go?”  But Oscoon countered with, “He did come and we escaped unharmed.  But surely, as great and knowledgeable as you are about him, you would know better than we do.” 

“Fish-Hawk then realized his ruse had been discovered.  And he went away, never to return to that village to play the prophet.

“He who would cheat must watch his words well.”

Submitted by Jessica Bunke, World Bird Sanctuary Trainer

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