Rhinoceros Auklets swimming in bright blue water.

Rhinoceros Auklets swimming in bright blue water.

On the Wing: The wild’s unnaming of names

Seeing them as ‘other’ makes wildlife vulnerable to everything we continue to do that threatens their very survival.

A Peregrine Falcon swept over the dunes this morning. It was a gorgeous bird, fully adult and eyeing robins on the green. Undeterred, the robins continued to feed and sing in the early morning light. In the alder, two or three Northern Flickers called back and forth. A plethora of Song Sparrows suddenly appeared and sang all over the place. Some fed in the long grass, one pair surreptitiously plucked some for a possible nest.

Other than robins, none of the migrant songbirds have shown up yet, but they will any day now. Although it’s still nippy out, spring is definitely in the air thrushes are calling back and forth and a Fox Sparrow blasts out two clear whistles from the bush. We had neither heard nor seen one for months. Perhaps it’s been there all along, biding its time until the long days.

And of course, the perky little wren, the smallest bird with the longest song, rattles away in the dark forest. It’s now known as the Pacific Wren, not the Winter Wren. To itself it doesn’t have a name it simply is. What if we gave all the names back to all the creatures in the wild world? How would we view them?

Ursula LeGuin wrote a great short story called “She Unnames Them,” where Eve decides to return the names Adam gave to all the wild creatures, thereby putting himself in charge of everything. One writer explains that LeGuin’s story is about “tearing down barriers. Names serve to emphasize the differences between the animals, but without names, their similarities become more evident…(the story) is a defence of the right to self-determination.”

The whole thing is quite existential, deep waters. Although I know that in writing this column I often give birds human qualities: ‘perky’ ‘surreptitious,’ etc. But being a human animal, it’s how I observe them. I attempt to make them equal in my mind. Seeing them as ‘other’ makes wildlife vulnerable to everything we continue to do that threatens their very survival. Giving them equality with equal rights should be a matter of course, not a cause for environmental revolution.

Here is a further quote from this delightful story: “The insects parted with their names in vast clouds and swarms of ephemeral syllables buzzing and stinging and humming and flitting and crawling and tunnelling away. As for the fish of the sea, their names dispersed from them in silence throughout the oceans like faint, dark blurs of cuttlefish ink, and drifted off on the currents without a trace.” (The New Yorker, 1985)

A seabird dropped in just now. It was picked up near Chief Matthews School after being found hiding under a tree. It seemed to be in good shape, just a little shocked at being handled by human hands. It is a Rhinocerous Auklet (should I name it?). These lovely birds sweep up Masset Inlet in flocks throughout the summer and nest on rocky, shrub, or grass-covered slopes somewhere else. They winter as far south as Baja, California. There are no nesting sites that we know of for these birds along Masset Inlet, so who knows where they are going all summer? There was a known nesting colony on Lucy Island just off Prince Rupert, but as no nesting surveys have been done for at least 30 years on Haida Gwaii, we don’t know any more about them. The bird was released unharmed. hecatebird@gmail.com