be careful where you clique
This is a Purple Martin. It’s the largest swallow in the Americas. It’s 20cm long and weighs about 50 grams. This bird is not outstanding for it’s looks… or even it’s song (It doesn’t help that it’s categorized as a swallow). It may have been much cooler before men came along and named it that. Actually it is much cooler.
To understand why it got labeled the way it did, we have to go back to Sweden in 1758 where Carolus Linnaeus is compiling the work of his lifetime.… Systema naturae. Illustrated below is a scandalous portrait of Carolus… scandalous because his lilywhite abdomen is exposed in the ruffles. Given this man’s attention to detail, I can only assume that the artist was given specific instructions… “be sure to make my chest and waistcoat look like a ripe vulva”
Linnaeus was a freakin’ genius… of the sex-crazed, Swedish sort. A botanist, an inventor, a doctor, an explorer…. his contribution to man is reflected in the taxonomy and system he derived for classifying living organisms.
Long before our understanding of genes, evolution, and hereditary transference, it was Linnaeus who devised classifications of animals, minerals, plants… he even divided up human races- based on things like phlegm and bile content (he carefully left space for categories of sartyrs, dwarfs and troglodytes) . It was also Linnaeus who converted plant anatomy into an erotic venture- covering his concupiscence with monotonous Latin.
And so it comes to the Purple Martin, a type of swallow. Why Swallow? Oddly enough, it’s not a lecherous connotation. The Swedish term for the bird is Ladu Svala. (lit. barn consoler) The word svala means to console. Apparently some Northern European monks in the 11th century penned accounts that these birds were flying around singing to J.C. while he was gasping for air on the cross. Hence… the swallow becomes the bird of consolation.
The reason I bring all this up in the first place is that last month, scientists in Canada reported findings on the migratory patterns of the purple martin. Up until now, nobody knew much about the exact travel habits of seasonal birds. In the study, 14 birds were caught in Canada during the summer months and a light sensor was affixed to the leg. Here’s a similar sensor on the back of a thrush.
The sensor, which is about the size of your pinky fingernail, was only sensitive to light and it recorded the time that the sun rose and the time it went down … wherever the bird happened to be.
Upon the spring return of the birds to Canada, the scientist were able to retrieve 5 of the original 14 birds. They plugged the data from the sensors into an algorithm (using recorded sunrise-sunset times from the past year) and were able to calculate the latitudes and longitudes of where the birds had been, and how long it took them to get from point A to point B.
What’s crazy is that one male traveled from the edge of the Orinoco River in the Amazon to the outskirts of Toronto in 13 days- that’s more than 300 miles per day.
Pretty wild for an organism that’s about as long as your hand. Scientists postulate that such hurried returns have to do with better mating outcomes and laying early claims to prime territorial real estate. Love shacks