The Return of the Great Auk
This month scientists announced that it may be possible to use DNA to reintroduce the Great Auk, a bird extinct since the middle of the 19th Century.
The Great Auk was great indeed, standing at over 30 inches. Get a tape measure. That is a big bird!
When not making baby Auks, these birds would hunt the North Atlantic, weaving gracefully through the water. Unfortunately, on the ground they shared the same failings as the Dodo; they couldn’t fly, they couldn’t run very fast and they were damned tasty.
The Great Auk is no more.
The last pair were killed in 1844 on an island near Iceland but a reliable sighting was reported in 1952 of a single bird off Newfoundland. Great Auks mated for life, and the thought of a solitary bird is especially sad.
I recently finished a set of Warwick Goble illustrations from Charles Kingsley’s ‘The Water-Babies – A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby’. Mr Goble’s illustration below must undoubtedly be based on the last Great Auk, his ‘last Gairfowl’ sitting on the ‘Allalonestone’, all alone.
The announcement then is amazing news; the word ‘extinct’ may no longer mean ‘gone for ever’. That these impressive birds might be living and breeding again in the Farne Islands, (off the coast of Northumberland, England) towering over the Puffins and Razorbills that nest there, is incredibly exciting.
Please click on the cards below to see my Great Auk and Gairfowl products. Thanks for visiting!
‘Lost’ Novel to be Published After 55 Years
A few days ago, the internet (and appropriately Twitter) was a flurry of excitement over the news of a sequel to Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. The rediscovered manuscript, actually written before Mockingbird, is called Go Set A Watchman, and takes place 20 years after the original story.
I would like to celebrate this exciting news, not with a Finch, Peck, rabid dog or chifferobe but with real Mockingbirds.
Firstly, a classic from the bird-meister himself, John James Audubon. This famous illustration of mockingbirds defending their nest against a scary rattlesnake caused Audubon a certain amount of trouble. Rattlesnakes, many naturalists mocked, do not climb trees, even on the promise of mockingbird eggs for breakfast. Audubon insisted that he had sketched the scene after witnessing it first hand. Whatever the truth, it’s pretty impressive.
Below is Mark Catesby’s Mock-Bird in a Dogwood Tree from his Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, published from 1729 to 1747. This two volume, 220 plate epic took Catesby seventeen years to complete, following four years of travelling and collecting, and was the first fully illustrated natural history of North America.
The last illustration is from Alice E. Ball’s A Year with the Birds, published in 1916; just one of fifty-six beautiful images of American birds by Robert Bruce Horsfall.
‘But hark! what is that? Distinctly we hear
The pop of a cork, a whistle clear,
A call to a dog, a whip-poor-will’s cry,
A phoebe’s hoarse note. Against the blue sky,
The same gray-coated, white-vested bird
Is uttering all the sounds we have heard.’
Alice E. Ball