Monday, September 8, 2014

Birdlore: The Wedged-tailed Eagle: Bunjil

On the continent of Australia, the land down under, lives a unique raptor known as the Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax).

The name of this bird of prey comes from its characteristic diamond-shaped tail. The Wedge-tailed Eagle can be seen widespread throughout the continent, as well as Tasmania, and parts of southern New Guinea.

A wedge-tailed eagle in flight with broad wings stretched out and its diamond-shape tail easily seen (photo: the Wikipedia files)
The Wedge-tailed Eagle is the largest raptor found in Australia and fills in the niche as nature’s scavenger, as there are no native vultures.  Despite past persecution due to accusations of predation on cattle and sheep herds, the Wedge-tailed Eagle population has thrived well from the introduction of rabbits, a pest species introduced in the early 1800’s, as well as the usual sources of carrion.

In many early cultures, apex predators were regarded as gods or spirits, responsible for the elements or even the creation of the world, the Wedge-tailed Eagle being no exception to this.

One creation story belonging to the Kulin, an aboriginal people of Australia’s Victoria state, tells the story of Bunjil, in the form of a
Wedge-tailed Eagle, and his creation of the world and humanity.

Bunjil, the Great Spirit and All-father, created the entire earth with the plants and animals to inhabit it.  He also made the form of man, which proved a greater undertaking than the rest of his creation, for man would require the complex power of thought and reasoning to separate him from simple animals. 

After much consideration, Bunjil selected two slabs of bark and crafted them into shapes suitable for his greatest creation, being sure to incorporate the necessary traits of mobility and dexterity into his design.  Next, he took soft clay from the earth and molded it around the bark sheets, smoothing it.  Completing this task, he danced around the still figures, implanting the seeds of knowledge, thought, and reason.

Granting them the names, Berrook-boorn and Kookin-berrook, Bunjil knew this was necessary so that they could retain individual personalities and spirit.  His creations ready to be filled with life force, Bunjil danced around them once again and proceeded to fill their mouths, nostrils, and navels with breath and life.

Dancing around them a third time, Bunjil weaved complex patterns in the dust.  As he did so, Berrook-boorn and Kookin-berrok rose from their place on the ground and linked hands with Bunjil.  They joined their All-Father in celebration of the dance of life, singing with Bunjil with the first song from the lips of man.

Duncan, WBS's resident Wedge-tailed Eagle (photo: Gay Schroer)

To see a flesh and blood example of Bunjil come visit us at the World Bird Sanctuary where you can meet Duncan our resident Wedge-tailed Eagle who usually resides in one of our exhibit enclosures on the path just past the Wildlife Hopital.

Submitted by Jessica Bunke, World Bird Sanctuary ETC Trainer

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